There’s a throwaway line in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, wherein two FBI agents who’ve been wiretapping the titular character, and are listening to him have a heartfelt conversation on the phone with his wife. One of the agents says to the other “compared to King, this guy’s a monk.”
That movie came out in 1992. Which means that, in 1992, the awareness that Martin Luther King was not a saint behind closed doors was already sufficiently out of the bag that it could be referenced in a major Hollywood film – for which the lead was nominated for an Oscar – and it would be assumed that the viewing audience would get it.
But that was 1992. In 2019, we pretend this information does not exist, and we attack the messenger naive enough to bring it to our attention.
Now, what is alleged in the article in the Spectator goes beyond mere extramarital shenanigans to include orgies and in one instance, cheering on a forcible rape. It’s lurid and sickening.
And before I go any further, let us stipulate that the article might not be true. Since the tapes themselves won’t be released until 2027, we won’t know until then whether the notes used to source the article are reflective of reality. Given that the FBI did not cover itself in glory in its treatment of King, there may indeed have been some goosing-up of the material in the notes to keep J. Edgar Hoover happy.
But then again, it might be true. The question is, what do we do about it?
We could, acknowledge the fact that those held up as heroes by the world often have feet of clay. We could allow ourselves the awareness that those of great courage are not without their flaws.
Or we could denounce this information as lies and attack the motives of those who speak it. Standard DARVO (Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim and Offender) procedure. Which would be fine if it came from those with a vested interest in maintaining the cultus of MLK pure and unblemished – progressive policy institutes and black civil rights groups and the like.
But when its the media? That is most instructive. Witness this circle-the-wagons moment by a black feminist professor of history in the New York Times:
The #MeToo movement is the culmination of decades of agitation around the pervasive problems of sexual assault and harassment. Rich and famous sexual predators have been brought down by the courageous stories of women who are finally being believed. In this climate, Mr. Garrow seems to want his own “Me first” spotlight by getting out in front of an unsubstantiated story, but the problem is this: He presumptuously tells his version of stories of women who never themselves acknowledged being victims or survivors. We cannot put the F.B.I.’s words in their mouths and call it justice.
If in 2027 when the full F.B.I. tapes are released there is credible and corroborated evidence that a sexual assault occurred and Dr. King was somehow involved, we will have to confront that relevant and reprehensible information head-on. But we are not there.
Meanwhile, to accept highly suspicious evidence as fact and to dress it up with a litany of salacious anecdotes is to complete the job J. Edgar Hoover failed to do two generations ago, when he dedicated himself to denigrating Dr. King’s life and work. Mr. Garrow’s piece also names numerous black women, most of them dead, who were allegedly Dr. King’s willing romantic partners, delving into their private lives without their consent or any compelling reason. This is as reckless and unethical as the actions of newspaper tabloids that circulate titillating gossip to sell papers.
Everyone got that? If, when the tapes come out, this turns out to be true, then it will be true. But in the meantime, the author is a fame-hunting bastard and this is all salacious gossip.
I feel like an idiot for even asking, but where was all this devotion to truth and evidence, this distinction between non-pretatory and predatory sex, when Brett Kavanaugh was being accused? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t exist, because Brett Kavanaugh is the wrong sort of person. Martin Luther King is a Martyr for the Cause, and therefore entitled to a full and exacting defense.
The Rules are not the Rules when you’re the wrong sort. Everyone who’s the wrong sort needs to absorb this.