King's FBI File - Road to the Poor People's Campaign
This FBI teletype reports on the disastrous Memphis march King led on March 28, 1968. In a press conference the next day, King denied having run from the scene.
FBI WASH DC
1256AM URGXENT 3-29-68 DGB
FROM MEMPHIS (157-1094)
SANITATION WORKERS STRIKE, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE,
RE MEMPHIS TELS, MARCH TWENTY EIGHT, NINETEEN SIXTY EIGHT.
FOLLOWING IS SUMMARY OF MARCH TWENTY EIGHT ACTIVITIES;
[SENTENCE REDACTED] ADVISED THAT THE MASS MARCH TO BE LED BY REV. MARTIN LUTHER King Jr., IN SUPPORT OF SANITATION WORKERS STARTED AT AROUND ELEVEN AM CST WITH ESTIMATED FIVE TO SIX THOUSAND WORKERS, MANY OF WHOM WERE NEGRO TEENAGERS. MARCH STARTED AT CLAYBORN TEMPLE, LOCATED HEART OF NEGRO AREA, AND KING JOINED MARCH AFTER IT PROGRESSED ONE BLOCK. HE WALKED WITH MARCHERS TO VICINITY BEALE AND MAIN STREETS, MADE NO SPEECHES PRIOR TO MARCH, MADE NO KNOWN UTTERANCES DURING MARCH, AND BY TIME HE REACHED ABOVE POINT RAMPANT BREAKING OF STORE WINDOWS AND LOUTING WAS BEING PERPETRATED BY MARCHERS, WHEREUPON KING AND A FEW ASSOCIATES RAN TO A NEARBY CAR AND LEFT MARCH, PROCEED TO RIVERMONT MOTEL WHERE THEY REMAINED THROUGH AFTERNOON AND EVENING. BY NOON, POLICE HAD BROKEN UP CROWD, BEING FORCED TO USE TEARGAS, BUT SPORADIC LOOTING WAS CONTINUED THROUGH AFTERNOON
AND EVENING, PRIMARILY CONFINED TO SOUTH CENTRAL AREA OF MEMPHIS, A PREDOMINANTLY NEGRO AREA, PRIMARY TARGET OF LOOTERS BEING LIQUOR STORES AND SMALL GROCERIES.
TENNESSEE STATE LEGISLATURE TODAY PASSED CURFEW BILL, WHICH WAS INVOKED BY MEMPHIS MAYOR HENRY LOEB, EFFECTIVE SEVEN PM, AND THIRTY FIVE HUNDRED TENNESSEE NATIONAL GUARDSMEN FROM EMPHIS AND WEST TENNESSEE ARE CURRENTLY ON DUTY IN MEMPHIS OPERATING AS TACTICAL UNITS, BEING ACCOMPANIED ON THEIR PATROLS BY REPRESENTATIVES OF MEMPHIS PD.
SCHEDULED MASS RALLY TO FEATURE KING NIGHT OF MARCH TWENTY EIGHT CANCELED. AT TWELVE MIDNIGHT, MARCH TWENTY EIGHT, THREE HUNDRED ARRESTS, PRIMARILY RELATING TO LOOTING AND CURFEW VIOLATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE BY POLICE DEPT. FOUR INDIVIDUALS HAVE BEEN SHOT, ONE OF THESE, A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD BOY, WAS KILLED IN ACT OF LOOTING A STORE. THREE OTHERS WERE SHOT, TWO BY POLICE OFFICERS AND ONE BY A STOREKEEPER WHILE LOOTING, NON SERIOUSLY INJURED.
[word redacted] ADVISED THAT KING, RALPHY ABERNATHY, AND BERNARD LEE, FAILED TO LEAVE MEMPHIS ON EASTERN FLIGHT THREE NINE EIGHT, NINE ZERO FIVE CST, DUE TO ARRIVE ATLANTA ELEVEN ZERO THREE PM EST. THIS ALSO CANCELS KING'S AND LEE'S FLIGHT FROM ATLANTA SIX TWENTY AM MARCH TWENTY NINE DUE TO ARRIVE BALTIMORE SEVEN FOURTY TWO AM. [word redacted]
[word redacted] ADVISED KING PLANNING TO STAY IN MEMPHIS AT RIVERMONT HOTEL TONIGHT, FUTURE PLANS UNKNOWN AT PRESENT TIME. P.
CORR PAGE TWO, PARA ONE, LINE ONE WORDS EIGHT, NINE, AND TEN SHLD BE "AREA OF MEMPHIS" AND LINE TWO, PARA ONE, WORD FIVE SHLD BE "PRIMARY"
PAGE TWO PARA THREE, LINE ONE WORD SIX SHLD BE "KING" AND LINE THREE WORD THREE SHLD BE "PRIMARILY" AND A PERIOD SHLD BE BETWEEN [word redacted] AND FOUR" ONEXXX ON LINE FOUR.
PAGE TWO PARA ONE LINE THREE WORD ONE SHLD BE "LIQUOR"
A March 29, 1968 FBI teletype from New York reports on a wiretapped conversation between King and Levison in the wake of the Memphis march. The report says King feared the Poor People's Campaign was doomed by the violence in Memphis.
FBI NEW YORK
1232AM URGENT 3-30-68 wth
TO DIRECTOR 100-106670 AND ATLANTA (CODE)
ATLANTA VIA WASHINGTON
ATTENTION DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE DIVISION
FROM NEW YORK 100-136585
MARTIN LUTHER KNG, JUNIOR;
[sentence redacted] (INFORMATION TO BE CLASSIFIED SECRET) ADVISED MARCH TWENTYNINE, SIXTYEIGHT, MARTIN LUTHER KING TOLD STANLEY LEVISON THEY MUST FACE FACT THAT FROM PUBLIC RELATIONS POINT OF VIEW, THEY ARE IN SERIOUS TROUBLE, AND THAT WASHINGTON, DC CAMPAIGN IS IN TROUBLE. KING SAID WILL BE DIFFICULT TO RECRUIT PEOPLE NOW. REFERRING TO MEMPHIS INCIDENT, KING SAID IT IS GREAT PERSONAL SET-BACK FOR HIM, A GREAT PUBLIC RELATIONS SET-BACK AS FAR AS HIS IMAGE AND LEADERSHIP ARE CONCERNED. KING SAID HE CONSIDERED ANNOUNCING PERSONAL FAST AS APPEAL TO MEMPHIS LEADERSHIP AS WELL AS THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN VIOLENCE, AS A WAY OF UNIFYING
END PAGE ONE
THE MOVEMENT. KING SAID HE FEELS WASHINGTON CAMPAIGN IS DOOMED. LEVISON SAID HE COULD NOT DISAGREE WITH KING MORE AND ATTEMPTED TO PERSUADE HIM THAT HE COULD NOT EXPECT TO GET ONE HUNDRED PER CENT ADHERENCE, THAT KING SHOULD NOT ACCEPT LOGIC OF PRESS THAT IF HE CAN CONTROL NINETY NINE PER CENT AND NOT ONE PER CENT, HE IS A FAILURELEVISON SAID HE COULD NOT DISAGREE WITH KING MORE AND ATTEMPTED TO PERSUADE HIM THAT HE COULD NOT EXPECT TO GET ONE HUNDRED PER CENT ADHERENCE, THAT KING SHOULD NOT ACCEPT LOGIC OF PRESS THAT IF HE CAN CONTROL NINETY NINE PER CENT AND NOT ONE PER CENT, HE IS A FAILURE LEVISON SAID KING'S POSITION SHOULD BE THAT KING CAN CONTROL HIS FOLLOWERS WHO ARE NON-VIOLENT. THEY AGREED TO DISCUSS MATTER IN DEPTH AT ATLANTA MEETING MARCH THIRTY.
This April 5, 1968 memo reports on wiretapped conversations between King's advisers Stanley Levison and Harry Wachtel, as well as entertainer and King supporter Harry Belafonte, hours after King's assassination.
April 5, 1968
Martin Luther King Jr.
Security Matter - C
A confidential source, who has furnished reliable information in the past, advised on April 4, 1968, that on that night, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Stanley Levison and Harry Wachtel and Stanley Levison and Harry Belafonte held several discussions on what they should do. It was initially agreed by Levison and Wachtel that they should go to Memphis that night so they could be of assistance there. Wachtel told Levison that he had been called by Bayard Rustin who in turn, had been called by Jim Lawson (SCLC representative in Memphis, Tennessee) and said they were trying to get all kinds of civil rights leaders down there (Memphis) to keep things from breaking wide open.
During their discussions, Levison told Wachtel that he felt they should go to Memphis because he thought there would be a whole series of perplexing questions which the (SCLC) staff would be faced with and that he and Wachtel could make a contribution. Levison said he meant (questions such as) should they go on with ""this march"" (the Memphis march scheduled for April 8, 1968) and should they go with ""the Washington thing"" (the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Wachtel secured plane reservations for six persons to fly to Memphis the night of April 4, 1968. Wachtel felt that he and his wife, Stanley Levison, Clarence Jones, Harry Belafonte and possibly Bayard Rustin would make the trip.
Levison preferred not to have Rustin present at any meeting they might have (in Memphis) because he believed the rest of the (SCLC) staff would feel hostile.
Thereafter, Levison and Wachtel began to doubt the wisdom of going to Memphis that night since they could not hold any important discussions or make any important decisions. Wachtel noted that the most important thing they would try to do is not to have violence in King's name. He indicated that Andrew Young, Executive Vice President of the SCLC, has taken that approach. Levison stated this is not the kind of approach he would have taken, that he did not mean to tell them not to be calm or to urge them into violence, but that he feels the point they should be making is, what kind of system is it that produces such a thing (King's death) when he starts to fight for the lowly, like the garbage men. Levison said that in other words he thought "we've got to be angry". Levison added that Andrew Young was probably thinking that there are a great many Negroes who are going to get hysterical and go out and get themselves shot down.
Levison subsequently told Harry Belafonte that he had talked with Jesse Jackson, an SCLC official, who told him not to come to Memphis. Levison and Belafonte agreed to fly to Atlanta at 11:30 AM on Friday, April 5, 1968. Levison told Belafonte to make the reservations for the two of them and to let Harry Wachtel and the others worry about themselves.
On April 5, 1968, the same source learned that Andrew Young contacted Stanley Levison on that date. They discussed King's successor and agreed that Ralph (Abernathy, an SCLC official) was the only logical choice. Young stated that they were going to call a press conference on the morning of April 5, 1968, "To sort of straighten things out" and to announce the establishment of the Martin Luther King Fund to perpetuate his memory. Young note that Senator Robert Kennedy had put his plane at their disposal.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Young and Levison agreed to meet at the (King) house in Atlanda around 1:30 PM
Harry Wachtel is the Executive Vice President of the Gandhi Society for Himan Rights, New York, New York.
A characterization of the National Lawyers Guild is attached hereto.
Continue to King-Levison wiretaps.