An uncensored and infamous letter sent to Martin Luther King Jr. following his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech serves as a chilling reminder of the federal government’s ability to do wrong.
The letter, which berates King as an “evil, abnormal beast,” ends by attempting to convince the civil rights leader that there is “only one thing left for you to do.” That “thing” is believed to be suicide. King was supposed to believe the letter was from a disenchanted follower, who had suddenly become disgusted by the man he once believed to be a man of character.
"King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader," the letter reads.
While King had his suspicions that the FBI and its notorious director J. Edgar Hoover were behind the letter, his hunch would later be confirmed by the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach.
The paper eventually became known as the “suicide letter.”
The New York Times has more background on the letter:
The word “evil” makes six appearances in the text, beginning with an accusation: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” In the paragraphs that follow, the recipient’s alleged lovers get the worst of it. They are described as “filthy dirty evil companions” and “evil playmates,” all engaged in “dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk.” The effect is at once grotesque and hypnotic, an obsessive’s account of carnal rage and personal betrayal. “What incredible evilness,” the letter proclaims, listing off “sexual orgies,” “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Near the end, it circles back to its initial target, denouncing him as an “evil, abnormal beast.”
The unnamed author suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life, identifying one possible lover by name and claiming to have specific evidence about others. Another passage hints of an audiotape accompanying the letter, apparently a recording of “immoral conduct” in action. “Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” the letter demands. It concludes with a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”
“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the author warns vaguely in the final paragraph. “You know what it is.”
Read the entire letter here:
The Times notes that only "significantly redacted copies of the letter" were previously made available. However, Yale professor Beverly Gage said she found an unedited version of the letter at the National Archives while doing research for a Hoover biography.