Listening through the headsets to the bugged hotel suite next door, the small group of FBI agents couldn't quite believe the filthy events that unfolded.
It was January 1964 and they heard what sounded like a pastor who raped a female member of his congregation while his boss looked, laughed, and gave advice.
The voices of both men were known.
According to the agents at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, the rapist was an assistant to civil rights leader Martin Luther King. And his crying companion himself was the anti-racism icon, the man whose & # 39; I Have A Dream & # 39; speech, delivered a year earlier, continues to inspire activists to this day.
Newly released FBI files show that the binge-drinking preacher had affairs with 40 to 45 women, was indulgent in hotel rooms and even conceived an illegitimate child. (Pictured) Martin Luther King with his wife, Coretta, as they lead a five-day march to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, 1965
But King's lofty status is about to unravel. Because, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer from King, recently released FBI files reveal that the binge-drinking preacher had affairs with 40 to 45 women, indulged in hotel organs and even conceived an illegitimate child. The documents also paint a violent image of King, whose lust could soon become anger.
For example, in May 1965, an agent reported that the civil rights leader had gone to the home of one of his female employees and & # 39; had torn off her clothes in an apparent attempt to attack her & # 39 ;.
In the age of the #MetToo movement today, with its zero-tolerance approach to powerful men who commit sexual misconduct, you might think that these shocking revelations would have set America's conscience to its foundations. The nation even has an annual holiday to celebrate King's birthday.
The answer, however, was silence. When David Garrow, whose biography of King was internationally acclaimed in 1986, first attempted to publish his new findings, he was rejected by every major liberal publication, including the Washington Post and the Atlantic magazine, for which he both wrote in the past.
Eventually, in despair, he gave his findings to a British magazine, Position.
Revelations: Martin Luther King is warmly welcomed in 1956 by his wife Coretta
And from yesterday, only the British media (although not the BBC, which usually had an insatiable hunger for Martin Luther King) had followed the Position article.
This hesitation to question the integrity of a man who is considered a saint is all the more astonishing because these accusations hardly fall out of the blue.
While no one previously claimed to be a rapist, King & # 39; s wife's reputation is not new. Even good friends admitted that he had a problem staying true to his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who rocked King's head while he died in 1968 from a murderer's bullet and who took over the leadership of the civil rights movement, confirmed old rumors about his friend's predatory sexual appetite. King had a & # 39; weakness for women & # 39 ;, he said.
Even King acknowledged – without being too specific – that he was a & # 39; sinner & # 39; and he regularly told that there is & # 39; a Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll in all of us & # 39 ;. . . you don't have to go out this morning and say that Martin Luther King is a saint & # 39 ;.
For example, in May 1965, an agent reported that the civil rights leader had gone to the home of one of his female employees and & # 39; had torn off her clothes in an apparent attempt to attack her & # 39 ;. (Pictured) Martin Luther King with his wife across the street from the Alabama Judicial Building in May 1956
However, David Garrow has been specific. With forensic precision, he has analyzed an enormous archive of FBI documents that uncover the full extent of King & # 39; s misconduct while he and his entourage traveled through the 1960s America and campaigned against racial injustice.
The audio tapes and written transcripts of the FBI's secret recordings will not be made public until 2027, but Garrow has found official summaries that US officials have confirmed to be true and accurate.
While King was campaigning in the early 1960s, the FBI became increasingly concerned that he was a national security risk – not just because they thought he was a communist, but because they were convinced that his adultery made him vulnerable to blackmail.
And so Robert F. Kennedy, attorney general on the board of his brother John, agreed to allow the FBI King's phone calls, his hotel rooms, and a hiding place in Atlanta where he took his girlfriends, to cheat.
According to Garrow's research, the FBI planted channels 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, & # 39; parishioners of his church & # 39; he had brought him to Washington. .
When David Garrow, whose biography of King became internationally known, tried to publish his findings, he was rejected by every major liberal publication, including the Washington Post and Atlantic magazine. (Pictured) Martin Luther King with his wife in 1964 in Oslo
What followed was a disturbing act of sexual violence.
& # 39; The group met in his room and discussed which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural or unnatural sexual acts, & # 39; said an FBI summary document based on the recordings made from the two adjacent rooms.
& # 39; When one of the women protested, the Baptist minister raped her immediately and forcefully. & # 39;
It added: & # 39; King watched, laughed and offered advice. & # 39;
The following evening, the files say, King and his friends took part in a sex orgy, involving 12 people in the hotel.
William Sullivan, then assistant director of the FBI, claimed that it was & # 39; acts of degeneration and depravity & # 39; and that & # 39; when one of the women recoiled from participating in an unnatural act, King and some men discussed how to learn and initiate & # 39 ;. He continued: & # 39; King told her that such an action & # 39; your soul would help & # 39;. & # 39;
Later, King announced & # 39; that he would & # 39; International Association for the Advancement of P *** y Eaters & # 39; had started & # 39; & # 39 ;. Garrow writes that & # 39; anyone familiar with King's often shy humor would not doubt that quote & # 39 ;.
And in 1977, the Department of Justice publicly confirmed that its own assessment of the tapes and copies showed that they were genuine and accurate.
There can be no doubt about duplicity or exaggeration, says Garrow (wondering why the FBI did not intervene to stop the rape).
A few months later, a Las Vegas prostitute, Gail LaRue, told the FBI about her own tasteless rendezvous with King. Paid $ 100 from a Gospel singer named Clara Ward to pay for a couple of visiting & # 39; friends & # 39; LaRue and Ward went to King & # 39; s hotel room and started drinking. He summoned a male friend to join the trio for sex.
LaRue told an FBI agent that she was & # 39; frightened because they were quite drunk and used filthy language & # 39 ;, adding that it was & # 39; the worst orgy I have ever experienced & # 39 ;.
The FBI also discovered that the apparently insatiable king had been in his hotel suite a few hours earlier with another lover – Dolores Castillo.
At the end of 1964 – almost a year after the rape of the Willard Hotel – FBI chiefs eventually confronted King in an equally disturbing manner with his disturbing actions.
They sent him a compromise from his hotel outings with a letter in which he told him a & # 39; bad, abnormal beast & # 39; mentioned and warned that & # 39; your adulterous acts, your sexual orgies & # 39; would be revealed.
It went through: & # 39; King, there is only one thing left for you to do & # 39 ;, which implies that he had to kill himself.
But David Garrow told me that King did not restrict his behavior remotely when he discovered that the FBI was wearing him. & # 39; His attitude was one of defiance, & # 39; he said.
According to Garrow, psychiatrists believed that King suffered from bipolar disorder and that & # 39; alcohol abuse and compulsive sexuality are powerful evidence of mania & # 39 ;. Towards the end of 1967, the FBI documents revealed that King was dependent on sleeping pills and & # 39; regularly raged over relatively insignificant things & # 39 ;.
Around that time, the files show that Don Newcombe, a baseball star, contacted President Lyndon Johnson to say he had information about King. Newcombe, who was a relative of one of King's lovers, Dolores Evans, said that a stunned king had once threatened to throw himself out of the window of a hotel room unless she said she loved him.
More shockingly, Newcombe revealed that King had received a little girl from Mrs. Evans and had given her financial support. Garrow says that Mrs. Evans and her daughter Chrystal, a clinical psychologist, had refused to talk to him about King.
It is not surprising that 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 that he & # 39; was not fulfilling his marriage obligations, & quot; King simply said that she should go outside and have some sexual affairs of her own. Not that King paid much attention to his wife's complaints.
According to his friend Ralph Abernathy, King spent the last night of his life with two lovers, followed by a meeting with a third woman whom he hit over his motel room bed after a fight.
Mr. Abernathy, who was present, was outright accused of lying, but kept to his story until his death.
In his biography, Garrow told how friends were alerting King about his & # 39; compulsive sexual athletic behavior & # 39; but he said to a friend: “I am away from home 25 to 27 days a month. F ****** is a form of anxiety reduction. & # 39;
Some commentators have claimed that sleeping with female church members was the norm for preachers in the early civil rights movement. King himself admitted that he did not know a black preacher.
Another biographer, Taylor Branch, has revealed how – during his trip to Norway to collect the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize – members of the king's entourage were walking behind naked prostitutes in their hotel in Oslo.
On Monday, the United States celebrated Memorial Day when it commemorates its military heroes.
It is clear that there are some national heroes whose memory is determined to be preserved in aspic.
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