The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. : from "Solo" to Memphis /

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Main Author: Garrow, David J., 1953-
Format: Book
Language:English
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A quiet bombshell. University of North Carolina political scientist Garrow investigated FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King in the course of other researches into King's public career; and he has not only uncovered some crucial missing links--preeminently, the identity of the two ""still active"" double agents who fingered King confidante Stanley Levison as a Communist conspirator--and reconstructed the surveillance in unprecedented, documented detail; he has also taken a very hard look at the overriding question of why the FBI developed ""such a viciously negative attitude toward King."" Three distinct phases of FBI surveillance emerge, each differently motivated. The first, involving N.Y. attorney Levison, has enough bizarre twists for a political thriller--including an ex-business partner and ex-Communist (married, moreover, to the ex-Mrs. Levison) whom Levison wrongly suspected of being the FBI informant. (The true informants, according to Garrow, were two brothers, Morris and Jack Childs, whose highly successful/deeply damaging operation--code name ""solo""--""began in the early 1950s and lasted until the eve of the publication of this volume in 1981."") Levison, Garrow brings out, had been a CP insider between 1952 and '55; apparently terminated that connection in '55; had no known CP contact from the time he met King in '56; was evidently a sincere civil-fights supporter when his friendship with King came to light in '62--touching off the first, red-herring period of FBI surveillance. But, Garrow concludes, the FBI did ""honestly"" believe that Levison was a ""conscious and active"" Soviet agent--and in this he takes issue with theories that ascribe FBI pursuit of King either to his criticism of the Agency or to ""bureaucratic politics."" The second phase of the FBI investigation--surveillance of King's personal, and especially sexual, activities--is a nastier story. Here, Garrow plays down the particulars of what the FBI learned to highlight the FBI ""obsession"" with gathering and disseminating the information--consciously, to destroy King. His explanation implicates the Puritanism and racism of some (notably, agent-in-charge William Sullivan) and the voyeurism and racism of others (J. Edgar Hoover), and does not reflect adversely on King; but, he points out, both ""offended Puritan"" Robert Kennedy and ""entertained voyeur"" Lyndon Johnson reacted negatively toward King as a consequence. The third phase of the surveillance was triggered by King's opposition to the Vietnam War and focused on him as a ""political threat to the reigning American government."" But, Garrow hypothesizes, did he not represent, in all three phases, ""a challenge to the established social order that the FBI believed in and faithfully represented""? Scholarly detection put to impressive analytical use. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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