Pulitzer prize winning author and MLK biographer David Garrow has written a disturbing piece in the British magazine Standpoint on his review of secret tapes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There have long been stories about MLK’s affairs and even discussions of reexamining his standing in the MeToo period. However, the details in this article are different and deeply unsettling, if true. If not, Garrow has ruined his own celebrated career and defamed an American icon. Either way, one would think that there would a huge amount of coverage of the allegations in the mainstream media. Instead, there has been very little coverage of the story. While Yahoo and MSN ran foreign-based stories, most of the coverage has come from newspapers outside of the United States.
Garrow is a renowned author who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1986). He is a liberal writer who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He has taught at a variety of leading universities and published in newspapers from The New York Times to the New Republic. In other words, this is someone who comes with considerable background and expertise.
Garrow says that he has reviewed the new information and detailed how MLK allegedly discussed extramarital affairs with “40 to 45 women” and reportedly spoke openly about having sex with women working with the NAACP, which Garrow said he called “International Association for the Advancement of P***y-Eaters.” Given the coverage of the infamous Trump campaign statements, that would seem something that many publications would cover but they have not.
Then there is Garrow’s recounting of what he describes as a rape committed with MLK’s support. The FBI had placed two transmitters in lamps in MLK’s hotel room, according to The Sunday Times. In the room at the Willard was King’s friend, Logan Kearse, the pastor of Baltimore’s Cornerstone Baptist church. Garrow says that the two discussed “which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural and unnatural sex acts.” He says that the FBI report says that “When one of the women protested that she did not approve, the Baptist minister immediately and forcefully raped her” with King looking on and laughing and even offering advice. The agents also reported that King engaged in orgies in the hotel room. There is also the account of a prostitute involved in one such alleged orgy.
Garrow even tracked down an alleged daughter of King in Los Angeles though neither the mother nor child would speak with him.
There is no question that the FBI was hostile to MLK and J. Edgar Hoover viewed him as a threat. For that reason, I would not be inclined to simply accept a 302 form or internal memo on its face value. There is also the question of why the FBI would sit next door to a rape scene and not take any action. However, this is news either way. If it is false, it is an elaborate effort to frame MLK and a failure by a leading MLK biographer. If true, it means that an American hero was hiding a despicable and contempt-worthy life. So why the limited coverage? These files are now available for review.
Of course, no claim of actual libel could be brought if untrue. I have long advocated the statutory elimination of the torts doctrine barring defamation actions on the part of the deceased. The rule that “you can’t defame the dead” often protects outrageous lies written about famous deceased persons as detailed in this prior column. However, it remains the common law and the parents could not file such an action even if the filing was within the statute of limitations (which it is not).
Yet, there remains the court of public opinion and Garrow has raised questions that should be answered. If there were true, there may still be former agents or witnesses alive. There is also the question of the original tapes. This should not simply be a news story for the European press.