Tom Leonard, Daily Mail, May 30, 2019
Listening through headsets into the bugged hotel suite next door, the small group of FBI agents couldn’t quite believe the sordid events that were unfolding.
It was January 1964 and they were hearing what sounded like a pastor raping a female member of his congregation while his boss looked on, laughing and offering advice.
The voices of both men were familiar.
According to the agents sitting in the Willard Hotel, Washington DC, the rapist was an assistant to civil rights leader Martin Luther King. And his chortling companion was the anti-racism icon himself, the man whose ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, delivered a year earlier, continues to inspire activists to this day.
But King’s exalted status could be about to unravel. For, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of King, newly released FBI files reveal that the binge-drinking preacher had affairs with 40 to 45 women, indulged in hotel room orgies and even fathered an illegitimate child. The documents also paint a violent picture of King, whose lust could soon turn to anger.
In May 1965, for example, one agent reported that the civil rights leader had gone to the home of one of his female staff and ‘torn her clothes off of her in an apparent attempt to attack her’.
In the era of today’s #MeToo movement, with its zero-tolerance approach to powerful men who commit sexual misconduct, one might think these shocking revelations would have rocked America’s conscience to its core. The nation even has an annual public holiday to celebrate King’s birthday.
The response, however, has been silence. When David Garrow, whose 1986 biography of King received international acclaim, first tried to publish his new findings, he was turned down by every great liberal publication, including the Washington Post and Atlantic magazine, both of which he has written for in the past.
Eventually, in despair, he gave his findings to a British magazine, Standpoint.
And as of yesterday, only the British media (though not the BBC, which usually has an insatiable appetite for Martin Luther King) had dared to follow up the Standpoint article.
This hesitancy to question the integrity of a man regarded as a saint is all the more astonishing, as these accusations hardly come out of the blue.
While nobody before has alleged that he egged on a rapist, King’s womanising reputation isn’t new. Even close friends admitted that he had a problem with staying faithful to his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The Rev Ralph Abernathy, who cradled King’s head as he lay dying from an assassin’s bullet in 1968 and who took over as the civil rights movement’s leader, confirmed long-standing rumours about his friend’s rapacious sexual appetite. King had a ‘weakness for women’, he said.
Even King acknowledged — without being too specific — that he was a ‘sinner’, regularly telling congregations that ‘there is a Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll in all of us . . . you don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint’.
David Garrow, however, has been specific. With forensic precision, he has analysed a vast archive of FBI documents which expose the full extent of King’s misbehaviour as he and his entourage travelled across Sixties America campaigning against racial injustice.
The audio tapes and written transcripts of the FBI’s secret recordings won’t be publicly released until 2027, but Garrow found official summaries that U.S. officials have confirmed to be true and accurate.
While King was campaigning in the early Sixties, the FBI became increasingly concerned that he posed a national security risk — not only because they believed he was a communist, but because they were convinced his adultery made him vulnerable to blackmail.
And so Robert F. Kennedy, attorney general in his brother John’s administration, agreed to allow the FBI to bug King’s phone calls, his hotel rooms and a hideaway in Atlanta where he took his girlfriends.
According to Garrow’s research, the FBI planted transmitters in two lamps in the Willard Hotel room that King had booked for himself and his friends in January 1964.
When King arrived, his close friend, Logan Kearse, the pastor of a Baltimore Baptist church, invited King and his friends to meet women, ‘parishioners of his church’, he had brought to Washington with him.
What followed was a disturbing act of sexual violence.
‘The group met in his room and discussed which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural or unnatural sex acts,’ said an FBI summary document based on the recordings made from the two adjacent rooms.
‘When one of the women protested, the Baptist minister immediately and forcibly raped her.’
It added: ‘King looked on, laughed and offered advice.’
The following evening, say the files, King and his friends ‘participated in a sex orgy’ involving 12 people at the hotel.
William Sullivan, then assistant director of the FBI, claimed it included ‘acts of degeneracy and depravity’ and that ‘when one of the women shied away from engaging in an unnatural act, King and several of the men discussed how she was to be taught and initiated’. He went on: ‘King told her that to perform such an act would “help your soul”.’
Later, King announced ‘that he had started the “International Association for the Advancement of P***y Eaters”’. Garrow writes that ‘anyone familiar with King’s often bawdy sense of humour would not doubt that quotation’.
And, in 1977, the Justice Department publicly attested that its own review of the tapes and transcripts revealed them to be genuine and accurate.
There can be no doubt of any duplicity or exaggeration, says Garrow (who wonders why the FBI didn’t intervene to stop the rape).
A few months later, a Las Vegas prostitute, Gail LaRue, told the FBI of her own tawdry tryst with King. Paid $100 by a Gospel singer named Clara Ward to care for a couple of visiting ‘friends’, LaRue and Ward went to King’s hotel room and began drinking. He summoned a male friend to join the trio for sex.
LaRue told an FBI agent that she was ‘getting scared as they were pretty drunk and using filthy language’, adding that it had been ‘the worst orgy I’ve ever gone through’.
The FBI also learned that, a few hours earlier, the apparently insatiable King had been with another lover — Dolores Castillo — in his hotel suite.
In late 1964 — almost a year after the Willard Hotel rape — FBI chiefs finally confronted King over his disturbing actions in an equally chilling manner.
They sent him a compromising tape of his hotel escapades with a letter calling him an ‘evil, abnormal beast’ and warning that ‘your adulterous acts, your sexual orgies’ would be revealed.
It went on: ‘King, there is only one thing left for you to do’, implying that he had to kill himself.
But David Garrow told me that King didn’t remotely rein in his behaviour when he discovered the FBI was on to him. ‘His attitude was one of defiance,’ he said.
In fact, according to Garrow, psychiatrists believed King suffered from bipolar disorder and that ‘the binge-drinking and compulsive sexuality are powerful evidence of mania’. By late 1967, the FBI documents reveal that King was dependent on sleeping pills and ‘frequently flew into a rage over relatively insignificant matters’.
At around that time, the files show that Don Newcombe, a baseball star, contacted President Lyndon Johnson to say he had information on King. Newcombe, who was related to one of King’s lovers, Dolores Evans, said an intoxicated King had once threatened to hurl himself out of a hotel room window unless she said she loved him.
More shockingly, Newcombe revealed that King had fathered a baby girl by Ms Evans and provided her with financial support. Garrow says that Ms Evans and her daughter, Chrystal, a clinical psychologist, had refused to talk to him about King.
Unsurprisingly, King’s conquests deeply upset his wife Coretta — whom he had married in 1953 and with whom he had four children. And, according to FBI chief Sullivan, when she told him he was ‘not fulfilling his marital responsibilities’, King simply ‘told her she should go out and have some sexual affairs of her own’. Not that King took much notice of his wife’s complaints.
According to his friend Ralph Abernathy, King spent the last night of his life with two lovers, followed by an encounter with a third woman whom he knocked sprawling across his motel-room bed after an argument.
Mr Abernathy, who was present, was roundly accused of lying, but stuck to his story until his death.
In his biography, Garrow related how King was warned by friends to control his ‘compulsive sexual athleticism’ but told a friend: ‘I’m away from home 25 to 27 days a month. F******’s a form of anxiety reduction.’
Some commentators have claimed that sleeping with female congregation members was the norm for preachers in the early civil rights movement. King himself admitted he didn’t know one black preacher who was chaste.
Another biographer, Taylor Branch, has revealed how — on his trip to Norway to collect the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize — members of King’s entourage were found running after naked prostitutes in their Oslo hotel.
On Monday the U.S. celebrated Memorial Day, when it commemorates its military heroes.
Clearly, there are some national heroes whose memory it is determined to keep preserved in aspic.