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The FBI tried to get Martin Luther King to kill himself with a threatening letter

The FBI tried to get Martin Luther King to kill himself with a threatening letter

"There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

This chilling threat comes at the end of an anonymous letter Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received almost 50 years ago, but which The New York Times discovered in its entirely only recently:

(National Archives, College Park, Maryland / New York Times)

The letter was written to sound like a bitter condemnation from a disillusioned ally — "You could have been our greatest leader," it reads at one point — but King was unconvinced. As reported by the Times:

King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate's Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King's suspicion. [The New York Times]

The Times' full account of the FBI's pursuit of King is worth a read. We may think of today's intelligence services as a bumbling, overreaching mess of pointless exercises and sinister plots — but J. Edgar Hoover's MLK witch hunt is still galling, five decades later.