Notes on the 20th Century

by Michael H. Burchett

[Posted Nov. 17]:  I apologize for the delay in posting installment 23 of Notes on the 20th Century.  I have been sidelined by a nasty respiratory infection, & am just now getting back up to speed.  I hope to have it posted within the week. Meanwhile, click here to view the first installment of my new series, Notes on America  ---MHB.

"The Origins of American Racial and Ethnic Slurs:"  the most popular pages in the Notes On the 20th Century Series

TNT NEWS : Headlines Updated Daily


Michael H. Burchett: affordable editing, proofreading, writing for hire

Terraplane Publications: specialized titles, historical fiction

India Notebook: Indian politics and culture

Mike's Mall: Books, Clothing, Electronics, Music , more

Free Page: Links to coupons, product samples, services, and information

From the Attic: Trivia, Culture, etc.

Mike's Reading List: an ever-expanding bibliography

FOR SALE: Kimball Spinet Piano


NUMBER 22: September-October 2002

Memo Outlines FBI Plan to Destroy Martin Luther King

[The following is a transcription of an internal FBI memorandum to A.H. Belmont, Assistant to Director J. Edgar Hoover, from W.C. Sullivan, head of the Intelligence Department, proposing that the FBI pursue "various ways" to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and remove him from his position as leader of the civil rights movement.  This memo vividly illustrates the attitudes and activities of Hoover's FBI, and indicates clearly that the Bureau entertained some very naive beliefs about the civil rights movement and African Americans in general.  This memorandum, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, has been moderately redacted and cut off at the margins in places.  Redacted portions are indicated within the text, and inferred portions of words are enclosed in brackets.  Click here to view a scanned image of the memo.]


United States Government                                      [redacted]


[To:]          Mr. A.H. Belmont               Date:  January 8, 1964

[Fro]m:      Mr. W.C. Sullivan

--ect:         [redacted]

                  ATTORNEY-AT-LAW               1- Mr. Belmont

                                                                      1 - Mr. Mohr

                                                                      1 - Mr. DeLoach

                                                                      1 - Mr. Sullivan

                                                                      1 - Mr. J.A. Sizco

                                                                      1 - Mr. D.E. Moore

                                                                      1 - Mr. D.J. Brennan

                                                                      1 - Mr. R.W. Smith

Declassified by:  [illegible]

On:  3/11/86 1


     We know that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, [readcted] represents a very real security problem to this country, [redacted].  Apart from the security factor, [redacted]. Obviously he has the capacity to deceive people very [su]ccessfully.  this was made evident most recently by his being selected [by] "Time" magazine as the Man of the Year. [small reaction after sentence]2

     Further, we know that he has been able to cleverly deceive [bo]th very important Protestant and Catholic organizations, securing [t]hereby support from them which gives him added stature.  It should be [ve]ry clear to all of us that Martin Luther King must, at some propitious [po]int in the future, be revealed to the people of this country and to [h]is Negro followers as being what he actually is -- a fraud, demagogue and [redacted].  When the true facts concerning his activities are [pr]esented, such should be enough, if handled properly, to take him off [hi]s pedestal and to reduce him completely in influence so that he will [no] longer be a security problem and no longer will be deceiving and [mi]sleading the Negro people.

     When this is done, and it can and will be done, obviously [mu]ch confusion will reign, particularly among the Negro people.  There [wi]ll be embarrassment, frustration, confusion, resentment, et cetera.  [Be]cause of this and the emotional reaction that will set in, it is not [un]likely that movements like the Nation of Islam could benefit greatly. [Fu]rther, other ridiculous developments similar to the Old Father Divine [an]d Daddy Grace organizations may appear. The Negroes will be left witho[ut] [a na]tional leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them [in] the proper direction.  this is what could happen, but need not happen [if] the right kind of a national Negro leader could at this time be [gra]dually developed so as to overshadow Dr. King and be in the position [to a]ssume the role of the leadership of the Negro people when King has been [comp]letely discredited.3

[Page two]:

[Memoran]dum for Mr. Be[lm]o[n]t                                           [redacted]



For some months I have been thinking about this matter.  One [d]ay I had an opportunity to explore this from a philosophical and [s]ociological standpoint with [redacted], whom I have known for [s]ome years.  As I previously reported, [redacted] is a very able fellow, [a] former Oxford scholar and professor, and one on whom I can rely.  I [a]sked for [redacted] to give the matter some attention and if he knew any Negro of outstanding intelligence and ability let me know and we would [h]ave a discussion. [redacted] has submitted to me the name of the above-captioned person, [redacted].


     Enclosed with this memorandum is an outline of [redacted] [b]iography which is truly remarkable for a man so young, having been born [Se]ptember 8, 1922.  On scanning this biography, it will be seen that [redacted] does have all the qualifications of the kind of a Negro I have [a] mind to advance to positions of national leadership.  I won't go into [a]ll his accomplishments and qualifications in this memorandum, for it [w]ill only take a minute or two to scan the enclosed biography.


     On first blush I know it can be said that it is not the concern of the Bureau what happens to the Negroes when Martin Luther King has [been] discredited.  This can be said, but I think it is a very short-[si]ghted view.  It is our concern if large numbers of them go into the Nation of Islam and other extremist groups with which we are concerned as [an] investigative agency.  It is our concern if the Communist Party would be able to capitalize on this confusion.  Further, from a positive [and] constructive standpoint it would be of great advantage to have leadin[g] [the] Negro people a truly brilliant, honorable and loyal Negro who would [st]eer the 50 million Negroes away from Communism. I think in a very [prof]ound sense this necessarily must be of great interest to us.  It would be most helpful to have a man like [redacted] leading the Negroes to whom we [cou]ld go, if necessary, and rely upon in sensitive matters over which thi[s] [bur]eau has jurisdiction.


     I want to make it clear at once that I don't propose that the [FB]I in any way become involved openly as the sponsor of a Negro leader [to] overshadow Martin Luther King.  As far as I am concerned, this is not an issue at all.  But I do propose that I be given permission to explore [f]urther this entire matter with [redacted] and any other person known to both [redacted] and myself who could be helpful.  If this thinkg can be [s]et up properly without the Bureau in any way becoming directly involved, [I] think it would be not only a great help to the FBI but would be a fine [th]ing for the country at large.  While I am not specifying at this moment, [th]ere are various ways in which the FBI could give this entire matter5


[page three]


Memorandum for Mr. Belmont

RE:  [redacted]                                                             [redacted]


the proper direction and development.  There are highly placed contacts of the FBI who might be very helpful to further such a step.  These can be discussed in detail later when I have probed more fully into the possibilities.




          (1)  For the information of the Director


          (2)  That approval be given for me to explore this whole matte[r] in greater detail, as set forth above.


[handwritten:  "O.K. -- H.;" "W.C.S.;"  "See Biography outline enclosed -- WCS"6]


ADDENDUM (1/9/64), WCS/csh:

          [redacted] has been investigated by the Bureau as a Departmental Applicant (for the position of Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of NY), and no derogatory information of any kind was developed.  The investigation showed, as does the biography, that he has a remarkably fine record.

W.C. Sullivan7



1.  The heading bears several handwritten initials and other markings, most of which are illegible. 

2.  Most of this paragraph has been redacted.

3.  The bottom of this page bears several illegible markings that are handwritten, typed, and stamped.  There is one redaction. 

4.  Some have speculated that the person Sullivan recommended was William Coleman, who served as Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald R. Ford.  The birthdate Sullivan provided (September 8, 1922), however, does not match the birthdate for Coleman listed in Who's Who in America.

5. A section at the bottom right corner of this page has been redacted.

6. Presumably the initials and notations of Sullivan and Director J. Edgar Hoover.

7. The bottom portion of this page contains a redacted portion and a handwritten note that I have not yet been able to decipher.



Page design copyright 2002 Michael H. Burchett.  All rights reserved.

Memorandum is in the public domain.

Suggested Reading:




21:  The School Prayer Debate

20:  A Brief History of Tobacco Regulation 

19:  A Niggardly Debate

18:  More Nuggets of Absurdity From the 1980s

17:  Origins of American Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Part IV

16:  Origins of American Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Part III

15:  Nuggets of Absurdity from the 1980s

14: A Bad Month for Gerald Ford

13: Origins of American Racial and Ethnic Slurs, Part II

12: History of Black Radio Broadcasting

11: "The "Progressive" Origins of the War on Drugs, Part II

10: Origins of American Racial and Ethnic Slurs

 9: Technology -- the Inventors

8: Postwar Prosperity and the Birth of Mass Culture, Part II

7: Pop Culture Quiz, Postwar Prosperity & the Birth of Mass Culture, Part I

6: Black History Quiz, Message from the Publisher

5: Pearl Harbor

4: "The "Progressive" Origins of the War on Drugs, Part I

3: "The Vietnam Conflict: Facts and Figures"

2: "The Celebration of Independence Day: A Southern Perspective"

1: "The Birth of FM Radio" Banner