|Hoover in 1961 (Public Domain)|
A National Archives letter from erstwhile FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows just how dangerous government misuse of personal information can be.
This letter, recently published in its entirety by The New York Times, is also rife with examples of blatant racism. For example, King is directly referred to by such epithets as “evil, abnormal beast.” This is reflective of the Jim Crow view that African Americans are somehow sub-human.
In her essay “What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals,” Beverly Gage points out that “the unnamed author [now known to be Hoover] suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life…” This knowledge had been illicitly gained via “wiretaps in King’s home and offices and bugs in his hotel rooms.”
The information that the government had gained surreptitiously was then used to humiliate, threaten, and perhaps kill King. In this letter, Hoover told King that his days were numbered, and urged King to commit suicide.
Although we may have taken some steps forward from those Jim Crow days, we have also taken some (huge) steps backwards in terms of government access to personal information. The careful reading of Hoover’s letter serves as a warning about what can occur when government intervention runs amok.
Copyright November 2014 by Linda Van Slyke All Rights Reserved