MLK's Hideous Legacy
Remembering Reverend King for who he really was.
January 1964. The historic Willard Hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the White House. A group of men, including some ministers, gather in a room with young female parishioners. They discuss which of the women would be suitable for various sex acts, each more debased than the last. When one of the girls raises her voice in disapproval at the talk, a Baptist minister forcibly rapes her as another minister of the gospel “looked on, laughed and offered advice.”
The man who laughed was Martin Luther King Jr., according to author and historian David Garrow. Nine months after that alleged rape, on October 14, 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ahead of MLK Day this year, Boston unveiled a monument with all the aesthetic charm of a malignant tumor that represents the hug King shared with his wife, Coretta Scott King, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Some of King’s fans have lamented its appearance, but its grotesqueness accords well with the hideousness of his real legacy, which you won’t find with any ease these days, and for a good reason: King’s hagiography is integral to the mythos that rationalizes the incumbent political order; whether something is good or bad depends on whether it is closer to or further from King’s ostensibly color-blind “dream.” But it, like his official biography, hides the rot beneath a mawkish veneer of moral decency.
King was more than a sexual predator. He inaugurated the age of anti-whiteness and the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” regime. He supported affirmative action and racial quotas, contrary to conservative fairytales that cling to King’s blather about character over skin color. He gladly accepted help from known communists and was, in fact, funded by them. But it is the moral bankruptcy evinced by his adultery that sets the stage for reckoning with the rest. Plutarch wrote that he “must have his own house in good order who undertakes to order the affairs of his friends and the public,” for “ill-doings on the part of husbands to their wives” will eventually come to light and call all the rest into question.
No one has brought more damning evidence against King’s standing as archon of America’s morality in this regard than Garrow. No conservative critic is he. Garrow is a democratic socialist who donated to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign with bylines in The New York Times, The Nation, The Financial Times, and The New Republic. In 1987, he even won a Pulitzer Prize for a biography about King, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The back cover makes clear the significance of Garrow’s contribution to the corpus of King lore.
Winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, this is the most comprehensive book ever written about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Based on more than seven hundred interviews with all of King’s surviving associates, as well as with those who opposed him, and enhanced by the author’s access to King’s personal papers and tens of thousands of pages of FBI documents, this is a towering portrait of a man’s metamorphosis into a legend.
But in 2019, the historian published a discovery that rocked the foundations of the shrine he had helped build for King. Garrow found never-before-seen evidence of King’s extensive extramarital affairs with dozens of women and his presence in a hotel room when one of King’s colleagues, a Baptist minister, allegedly raped a parishioner as the civil rights leader “looked on, laughed and offered advice.”
Garrow submitted an article with his findings to The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and the Times. Naturally, all rejected his submission. He turned his efforts across the pond again to Standpoint, a British right-of-center magazine, which agreed to publish his exposé: “The troubling legacy of Martin Luther King.” It was the culmination of weeks that Garrow had spent painstakingly poring over hundreds of FBI reports and surveillance summaries just recently made available through the Byzantine National Archives website.
In 1977, U.S. District Judge John Lewis Smith signed a court order requiring the FBI to hand over all materials concerning its electronic surveillance of King to the Archives. “Said tapes and documents,” Smith stated, would be “maintained by the Archivist of the United States under seal for a period of fifty years.” And when that seal breaks on January 31, 2027, Garrow believes that “a painful historical reckoning concerning King’s personal conduct seems inevitable.”
But we don’t have to wait until then.
Garrow found a web of sordid affairs with many women, including some who were married. For instance, one of King’s girlfriends was Dolores Evans, the wife of a black dentist in Los Angeles. Another was a member of his Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation in Atlanta named Barbara Meredith. King’s sexual liaisons stretched from Illinois to Nevada and New York. There’s even evidence that he secretly had a child born to one of these mistresses. In all, King’s “occasional partners” included 40 or more women, free and paid. One traumatized prostitute told investigators that King subjected her to “the worst orgy I’ve ever gone through.” When Coretta complained to King about his behavior, he reportedly told her that she should have some affairs of her own.