FBI files have recently been unearthed highlighting the sordid sexual past of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., revelations some say amount to a reckoning regarding the historical figure in the #metoo era.
While it has been known for years among historians that King cheated on his wife, the government documents reveal that the depth of his sexual activities were much more severe than adultery.
The London Times reported Sunday that William Sullivan, former assistant director of the FBI, penned a 1964 memo that King joked to his friends “he had started the ‘International Association for the Advancement of P****-Eaters.’” This memo was written following the FBI bugging King's room in a Washington hotel.
"In another incident said to have been recorded by FBI agents, King is alleged to have 'looked on, laughed and offered advice' while a friend who was also a Baptist minister raped a woman described as one of his 'parishioners,'" the outlet noted.
The details surrounding this particular assault is thought to be recorded on audio tapes presently being kept under court seal in a vault at the U.S. National Archives.
Historian David Garrow, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of King called Bearing His Cross, is reportedly going to be publishing a fuller report of the FBI documents in the June edition of Standpoint magazine, a monthly British publication. Garrow will recount how federal agents planted miniature transmitters in rooms King reserved in January 1964 at the Willard hotel, among other things. The agents listened in on radio receivers and tape recorders that had been installed in nearby rooms.
The FBI document states that King was with Logan Kearse that day, a friend and pastor of Cornerstone Baptist church in Baltimore. Kearse arrived in Washington with several female "parishioners" where he invited King to meet them in his hotel room and “discussed which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural and unnatural sex acts.”
When one of the women objected, Kearse forcibly raped her, the document explains, as King watched.
The next evening, at the same hotel, King and a dozen others took part in a sex orgy. King reportedly told a woman who resisted engaging in a perverse sex act that she would be initiated into it and that participating in it would "help your soul."
Garrow has said that he always thought there 10-12 other women with whom King was adulterous, but the actual number is closer to 40-45. The biographer now thinks that in the #MeToo era of intolerance for sexual misconduct, evidence of King’s passive complicity in a sexual assault “poses so fundamental a challenge to his historical stature as to require the most complete and extensive historical review possible.”
Writing on his blog at The American Conservative Sunday, conservative author Rod Dreher opined that King's sexual sins ought not be forgotten because of his civil rights contributions.
"The greatness of what King achieved in American history cannot be gainsaid. But like so many other great men, he was profoundly flawed. It is immoral to overlook or dismiss the women King exploited and possibly even abused (watching with lascivious relish as a pastor colleague raped a church lady) for the sake of protecting an idol," Dreher wrote.
"If we are going to tell the ugly truth about sexually abusive churchmen, then we have no good reason to lie when one of them is named the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King," he added, citing the words of Standpoint's editor.
Despite extensive evidence of his actions, some supporters of King have routinely balked at criticism of his sexual antics as a sinister ploy to diminish his legacy, motivated by racist animus.
In January 1977, FBI documents on the civil rights icon were sealed under court order for 50 years, including materials that contained hours of surveillance. In 2027 the FBI tapes that provide the most detail into the 1967 rape incident may finally be released.