Thursday, March 03, 2005
No Wonder Trent Lott Loved Him
U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and his staff tried to get the FBI (news - web sites) to build a case against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 on the grounds that King was "controlled by communists," according to a recently released FBI memo on the late senator from South Carolina.
Thurmond wasn't the only conservative politician who tried to paint the civil rights movement's leaders as "red." But the FBI memo plumbs the depths of Thurmond's aversion to desegregation. And with other pages in the now-public file, it shows how much of Thurmond's politics was dedicated to fighting the "Red Menace."
Thurmond, an iconic figure in Southern political history and an ardent segregationist who later publicly embraced his black constituents, was willing to go to great lengths to vilify King in the 1960s.
The Sept. 15, 1965, memo, written by Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, a top deputy to then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, recounts a meeting in the senator's office that was supposed to include Thurmond; instead, Thurmond was represented by aides.
One Thurmond aide, according to the FBI memo, said the senator wanted King to be exposed as a communist. DeLoach's memo recounts the aide "stated that it was widely understood that King was controlled by communists in this country."
The aide, whose name the FBI edited out of the memo, also reportedly asked DeLoach "if there was a concerted effort on the part of the FBI to discredit King."
DeLoach wrote that he responded that "such matters were beyond our jurisdiction."
It was later revealed that the FBI indeed had tried to discredit King by secretly wiretapping his telephone and leaking information to reporters and others.
Dan Carter, a nationally known civil rights historian at the University of South Carolina, attested to the power of the communist smear upon the civil rights movement.
"As late as 1962 or 1963, a majority of Americans actually believed that communists were involved or were instigators of the civil rights movement," he said.
Moreover, he said, the segregationist White Citizens Councils - in their appeals to Northerners - stressed the supposed communist leanings of civil rights workers rather than segregation.
"The segregationists played the anti-communist card," Carter said. "It was the one card they could deal to both Northerners and Southerners."
The "Commie-Card" is still played by a lot of conservative southerners today.
In Thurmond's defense, he was just trying to get the FBI to find that Martin Luther King, Jr. was Essie Mae Williams' father.