These FBI documents claim Martin Luther King Jr. laughed as his friend raped a woman

Wikimedia CommonsMartin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • A historian and Martin Luther King Jr. biographer unearthed previously secret FBI documents that claim the civil rights leader laughed while his friend raped a woman at a hotel room in Washington, D.C.
  • The claim is based on transcripts of audio recordings that FBI officials collected from an illegal surveillance campaign against King, which extended to recording his telephone conversations and bugging rooms he booked at hotels.
  • The memo containing the allegation turned up in a tranche of documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, many of which were declassified by President Donald Trump in 2017 and 2018.
  • You can read the documents below.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s private life, and the FBI’s illegal surveillance campaign against him, have been studied and dissected for decades. But historian David Garrow, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1986 biography of King, recently unearthed startling new details about the civil rights leader. The most explosive revelation, as Garrow claims in a new article, is that FBI wiretaps recorded King laughing as a friend sexually assaulted a woman in a Washington, D.C., hotel room.

The article, in the British current-affairs magazine Standpoint, was published this morning. But advance news of the shocking allegations has reverberated since earlier this week, when The Times of London revealed the thesis of Garrow’s article. Below are some of the FBI documents on which his account relies.

5cef3f6c11e2052c39382982 750 476National Archives and Records AdministrationTwo pages from William Sullivan’s memo about Martin Luther King Jr.

Garrow found the documents hiding in plain sight: on the web site of the National Archive and Records Administration. NARA employees had quietly posted them and other records over the course of several months in 2017 and 2018, in response to President Donald Trump’s declassification of thousands of pages of records concerning the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Those records included documents the FBI provided to the Church Committee, formed by the U.S. Senate in 1975 to investigate the federal government’s illicit intelligence-gathering activities, and therefore contain internal accounts of the FBI’s secret campaign to discredit King.)


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The most disturbing revelation is a claim, found in a memo from the personal file of former assistant director William Sullivan, that King looked on in laughter as his friend “forcibly raped” a woman. The alleged incident took place in January 1964 at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., where King was staying to attend oral arguments in the landmark Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan. Tipped off to King’s attendance, the FBI bugged his room, as well as that of a “Baptist minister from Baltimore,” whom Garrow identifies as Cornerstone Baptist Church pastor Logan Kearse.

On the evening of January 5, the memo claims, Kearse brought several “women ‘parishioners'” to his room:

The group met in his room and discussed which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural or unnatural sex acts. When one of the women protested that she did not approve of this, the Baptist minister immediately and forcibly raped her.

The author of the memo is unclear, but the handwritten notes in the margin, which Garrow attributes to Sullivan, add more detail, as though the document had been edited to include more specific charges. “King looked on and laughed and offered advise [sic],” the notes read.

Over the next two nights, the memo says, King and his entourage engaged in orgies.

[A]t least 12 individuals-nearly equally divided between men and women and including King, officers of the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference], and others bearing the title of “Reverend”-participated in a sex orgy…. Excessive consumption of alcohol and the use of the vilest language imaginable served only as a backdrop to acts of degeneracy and depravity, many of which were committed in a communal atmosphere with the onlookers as “entertained” as the participants. Many of those present engaged in sexual acts, natural as well as unnatural. King more than once boasted of his drunken condition as he took a leading role in the debauchery.

When one woman shied away from engaging in an unnatural act, King and several of the men discussed how she was to be taught and initiated in this respect. King told her that to perform such an act would “help your soul, it will help you.” King announced that he preferred to perform unnatural acts on women and that he had started the International Association for the Advancement of Pussy Eaters. The following day when he was late in arising, and was asked by one of the women why he was so late, King replied, “I’ve been reading the Bible and praying.” Everyone laughed.

The memo appears to be based on transcripts of recordings taken from the FBI’s extensive wiretapping of King Jr. Verifying this particular detail is tricky, however, because those transcripts, and the underlying recordings, are sealed until 2027. Garrow insists, however, that Sullivan would have had access to such tapes. “Without question,” he writes in Standpoint, “Sullivan and his aides had both the microphone-transmitted tape-recording, and a subsequent full transcript at hand while they were annotating their existing typescript.”

It’s possible, of course, that the audio was misunderstood or the transcript contains mistakes. Sullivan was part of a concerted effort to undermine and destroy King-he was, Garrow claims, the author of the notorious “suicide letter” that was anonymously sent to King outlining his sexual secrets and urging him to end his own life-and his evidently prudish attitude toward sex does not make him the most reliable interpreter of audiotapes of sexual encounters. It’s possible that the tapes clearly depict a sexual assault; it’s also possible that Sullivan was inclined to interpret them that way.


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When asked if he believes the account in Sullivan’s memo is accurate, Garrow told INSIDER: “Yeah. Back in 1977, two different internal Department of Justice investigations listened to the tapes, checked the transcripts, and found them accurate.”

“I interviewed a lot of those lawyers in 1980, and heard their stories,” he continued. “It’s in my book, but it’s completely unsourced, because the FBI was threatening to prosecute people who talked.”

Garrow is not the first historian or journalist to sift through the Kennedy assassination records in search of fresh material. When NARA released the first wave of documents in late 2017, reporters seized on evidence about King’s infidelities and alleged ties to the Communist Party.

Until Garrow, however no one appears to have noticed the allegations that King may have directly observed, and even encouraged, a sexual assault.

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