STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

'MLK/FBI' probes 'the darkest part' of the bureau's history

The government-sanctioned harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. provides the chilling spine of "MLK/FBI," a documentary timed to the annual holiday for the ci...

Posted: Jan 16, 2021 10:07 AM

The government-sanctioned harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. provides the chilling spine of "MLK/FBI," a documentary timed to the annual holiday for the civil rights icon. Director Sam Pollard's film also raises an interesting question -- namely, what historians and journalists owe King's legacy in terms of releasing material amassed specifically in an effort to sully his name.

Former FBI director James Comey describes J. Edgar Hoover's obsession with King, and his unsettling campaign to discredit him, as "the darkest part of the bureau's history." Determined to uncover communist influence within the civil-rights movement, FBI surveillance revealed a more salacious fact -- that King was unfaithful to his wife, Coretta Scott King, a disclosure that Hoover sought to use as leverage against him.

Some additional information about the FBI spying on King came out in a document released in 2017. The ugly nature of that hounding included letters threatening exposure and urging him to commit suicide. As one historian notes, Hoover's broader goal was to hobble the movement that King led by "destroying its figurehead," a mission that assumed greater urgency in Hoover's eyes after King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pollard explores the complicated relationship between King and President Lyndon Johnson, who were allies in championing civil rights before Johnson soured on King when he took a principled stand against the Vietnam War.

Former King aide and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young recalls that the movement's leadership "assumed the rooms were bugged," but they couldn't have anticipated the extent to which the FBI employed paid informants in order to spy on them.

Hoover's vendetta -- stemming from his belief that King was "morally unfit," says historian David Garrow -- offers a troubling portrait of government overreach and wiretapping. Yet the intellectual exercise buried within the film lies in the fact the intelligence gathered is scheduled to become unsealed in 2027, raising issues of how to handle material that is historically significant -- in terms of understanding the full extent of the FBI's transgressions -- and horribly intrusive to King's memory.

The film is fleshed out with fascinating footage of King in various settings, including appearances on talk shows and receiving his Nobel award. The director juxtaposes that with a study of Hoover and the FBI culture he established, while touching lightly on his biography.

"MLK/FBI" not only offers a compelling portrait of what was, but beyond just looking back, sets up a debate about what will be. In the process, the documentary sheds light on a dark part of US history while leaving viewers to contemplate just how dark its more sordid corners should remain.

"MLK/FBI" premieres in select theaters and on demand on Jan. 15.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314841

Reported Deaths: 3624
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah51325643
Washington35086277
Marion32748396
Clackamas26680275
Lane24145248
Jackson21050257
Deschutes16703103
Umatilla12736125
Douglas10795188
Linn1051487
Josephine8685169
Yamhill752099
Klamath651892
Polk629171
Malheur485567
Benton463728
Coos420669
Columbia325439
Jefferson315347
Lincoln277930
Union274838
Wasco242339
Crook213639
Clatsop213225
Tillamook182023
Baker176123
Morrow168621
Curry167817
Hood River163435
Harney82319
Grant7848
Lake6988
Wallowa50811
Gilliam1374
Sherman1283
Wheeler651
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4651497

Reported Deaths: 68087
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles144634825870
Riverside3583834802
San Diego3502674021
San Bernardino3475745507
Orange3150815355
Sacramento1507202105
Santa Clara1407321841
Kern1362881521
Fresno1361631889
Alameda1164051330
Ventura978991120
San Joaquin975341615
Contra Costa95858924
Stanislaus808921235
Tulare73111896
San Mateo52311607
San Francisco52008605
Monterey49485565
Solano44247312
Santa Barbara43189500
Sonoma39476378
Merced39446536
Placer36612364
Imperial34285755
Kings30179285
San Luis Obispo28351313
Madera21749263
Butte21379231
Shasta20763279
Santa Cruz20176211
Yolo19192239
Marin17127242
El Dorado16037127
Sutter13122153
Napa1228795
Yuba928061
Nevada850185
Humboldt831988
Tehama827784
San Benito709567
Mendocino691176
Lassen637927
Tuolumne616993
Lake605887
Amador493059
Glenn399030
Siskiyou391541
Calaveras342766
Del Norte339034
Colusa291018
Inyo166739
Mono14935
Plumas12406
Mariposa100712
Trinity72610
Modoc6278
Unassigned2120
Sierra1980
Alpine1000
Out of CA00
Medford
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 64°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
66° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 66°
Crater Lake
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 64°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 70°
Klamath Falls
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 70°
Cooler afternoon temperatures and thin haze return on the first day of fall
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events