Whilst watching the documentary “Citizen King” last week, I was struck by the impact of J. Edgar Hoover’s disdain for Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. In the days following President Kennedy’s assassination, President Johnson “was eager to befriend the Movement,” and “anxious to hear (King’s) advice.” FBI Director Hoover, however, “was always sitting on Johnson’s ear spilling poison in it about Martin.” A commentator of the documentary even went so far as to say that Hoover “had a pathological hatred of Black people,” and “he just couldn’t stand Martin.” This intense annoyance was rooted in the fact that “Dr. King was threatening to the America that Mr. Hoover believed in and saw and wanted.” Commentators went on to say that “Hoover was more popular than most presidents,” and because of his long stay in the federal government, “he was seen as the great bulwark against whatever people feared,” be it the atom bomb or rising crime rates. Armed with this impeccable public opinion and dangerous prejudices, he set out to defame King with accusations of associating with the Communist party; these misleading claims were based on King’s working relationship with Stan Levison, a known former, short-term affiliate of the Party. In this way, Hoover set up Dr. King to fail; he played directly into the two biggest fears of White Americans- racial equality and Communism.If Hoover’s opinion carried as much weight as is implied in the documentary, I can only imagine how differently the Movement would have played out in its’ heyday if this “bulwark” for the White American ideal had not intentionally frustrated the workings of King and his circle by planting false accusations in the nation’s conscience; white opinion towards the Movement may have been softened more quickly if he had not. Had Mr. Hoover, by some miracle, instead come out in support of both Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole, our parents would have experienced a very different political decade in the 1960s. If the defender of the preferred America had been on board, there is a very good chance that White men and women in opposition to integration would have found themselves either accepting or acknowledging equal rights for all races much, much sooner than they did.
I see this as an indictment on how much trust we put in our government to consistently do the good, moral thing by all its citizens. White Alabamians must have felt that their racist views were, by some merit, acceptable, because, if nothing else, their Governor, Bull Connor, did more to further violent segregation than most any other elected official of the time. Rural, White Mississippians must too have felt that their hate crimes were acceptable because neither the local nor the state government did anything to thwart their fatal forms of bigotry. We, as individual American citizens, cannot blindly follow the regulations- or lack thereof- handed down to us from Capitol Hill. When our elected officials ignore racial injustices in the future, we must fight it like the revolutionary citizens of Mobile did- from the bottom up.