Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. is lauded as an American hero—a direct contrast to the actual reality of an activist whose own country terrorized him. In the upcoming documentary MLK/FBI, that very contradiction is explored in depth.
From the press release provided to The Root:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered today as an American hero: a bridge-builder, a shrewd political tactician, and a moral leader. Yet throughout his history-altering political career, he was often treated by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies like an enemy of the state. In this virtuosic documentary, veteran editor and director Sam Pollard (Two Trains Runnin’) lays out a detailed account of the FBI surveillance that dogged King’s activism throughout the ’50s and ’60s, fueled by the racist and red-baiting paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover. In crafting a rich archival tapestry, featuring some revelatory restored footage of King, Pollard urges us to remember that true American progress is always hard-won.
In the following exclusive clip sent to The Root, Clarence Jones, who served as King’s speechwriter and counsel from 1960 to 1968, narrates the exact moment when King was declared “the most dangerous negro in America” following his historic “I Have A Dream” speech during the March on Washington. Jones
The FBI’s William C. Sullivan sent an urgent memo declaring, “We must mark him now as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation,” adding, “and we must use every resource as our disposal to destroy him.”
“MLK/FBI is a continuation of my understanding of the contradictions in terms of how King is looked at today by most Americans, and how he was really looked at back then,” Pollard told The Root in a statement. “In the film, you see there was a poll taken after King and Hoover met—the only time they ever met—about who was more popular. Hoover was much more popular than Dr. King. Most people forget that now because Hoover is looked at as a pariah, but most Americans back then thought he was a hero—as did I, as a young African American man. I embraced the American notion of what the FBI was all about. They were heroes: beating the gangsters, fighting communism. King was pitted against this entire power structure of the government, in that the White House was privy to the surveillance.”
That contradiction is very apparent as we’ve reported extensively on the fact that the mainstream propping of King today is absolutely not embedded in the reality he faced when he was alive...which was connected to his tragic assassination.
“It’s always interesting to learn the true story behind these organizations that we mythically make so heroic,” Pollard continued. “We wanted to look at the complexity and the accuracy of the American landscape in terms of the federal government. I hope this film is a wakeup call for America. I understand how complicated this notion of being American is, and how complicated the FBI is today. What Dr. King went through and what America’s going through today is so connected.”