MLK/FBI: James Baldwin and Civil Rights

MLK/FBI’s detailed documentation of the hyper-surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement remains significant today as the over policing of black and brown neighborhoods increases the school to prison pipeline and occurrences of police brutality. The analysis of J. Edgar Hoover’s uncomfortability with his own sexuality and how he formed the FBI in his image was unexpected, but provided insight into why he was obsessed with surveillancing MLK. Further, Hoover stated that he feared “the rise of a black messiah,” which to him was MLK. The FBI pushing the agenda that MLK was “the most dangerous negro in America” and their attempts to connect him to communism demonstrates how big of a threat MLK was to Hoover and his racist agenda. The most jarring aspect of this film from my perspective was the fact that the FBI mailed a tape of MLK’s infidelity to him and his wife. The lengths the FBI went to in order to crush the image of black liberation allows me to wonder if they really cared about taking down the Civil Rights Movement, or if Hoover’s obsession with MLK’s sexuality and infidelity was the cause of these violations. Despite MLK’s actions that could potentially ruin his legacy, he still remains as a martyr for the Civil Rights Movement and black liberation. The tapes that the FBI recorded cannot be accessed until 2027 and one can only wonder what information in the tapes will change the way future generations perceive MLK. As discussed in class, MLK is ingrained in American history and embedded in the education of children across the country. As students grow older they come to learn that the leaders of this country are not the saints that they were taught about in their classrooms. I do not believe that whatever is found in those tapes will tarnish his legacy to the point where he is no longer seen as the hero of the Civil Rights Movement. 

Malcolm X: Fighting for Change

In high school, I was always confused as to why Malcolm X was never included in our textbook readings. We learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, but Malcolm X went unmentioned. In college, I began to investigate more about the Black Panther Party and the influence of Malcolm X. Many people consider them perpetrators of violence, and others a voice for much-needed change. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X gave a speech specifying the role of the NOI as a movement for change. He spoke on the goals of the social group where you can hear a direct tone of voice in a speech between 1925 and 1965 in which he demanded the construction of a hospital in Harlem after a white administrator of the NAACP halted the operation. He argued, “If you’re going to have a funeral in Harlem make sure you have a funeral downtown too, two funerals at the same time.” (The Wisdom of Malcolm X). The death of a black man must be equalized with the death of a white man. Much of this rhetoric used may seem violent to some with the purpose of stirring the pot, but it is also a demonstration of what the group holds to be true and essential. You can see how Malcolm X was not afraid of confrontation and the use of physical force to create this aforementioned change. Malcolm X was not one to mess with, to put it lightly. He had his army on the ready with the necessary artillery to fight back. This methodology may seem too extreme for a high school student to comprehend, but you must also understand the times in which he was living. As a black man, he had to suffer through the inequalities of the segregation period and endure some of the most hostile treatment from his white counterparts. Black men and women were experiencing some of the most violent treatments. Lynching, police brutality, and blatant discrimination were normalized by the society of the time and Malcolm X believed that peaceful protests would not suffice. We can still see some of the remnants of his call for justice today, but, in schools, we are led to believe that the only contributors to this change were peaceful protests. This was not the case. Unfortunately, Malcolm X did not live to see his own contributions to the movement becoming one of many assassinated victims of the white-powered opposition.