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February 13, 2013

The Presidency, the Fbi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Presidential Scholar Frank Sorrentino Discusses Surveillance of Civil Rights Leader

Not only did the FBI want to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr., it also wanted to replace him with an African-American leader more aligned with its views, said Political Science Professor Frank Sorrentino during his Black History Month lecture, The Presidency, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. on February 13 at St. Francis College.

Sorrentino also said that contrary to what many believe, President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert were both aware of and supported the FBI surveillance of Dr. King. Sorrentino says they wanted to protect themselves in case there was a reason for them to distance themselves from the civil rights leader.

During the talk, Sorrentino outlined the ways the FBI tried to undermine King. He says the FBI collected a wide variety of information about King’s associates, his links to communism and marxism, and his own infidelities then wielded its influence to get newspapers to print those stories. One effort was to paint Dr. King as a racial hypocrite.

“One of the things that they suggested was that there was a perfectly suitable hotel, the Lorraine Hotel, in Memphis that was black owned and black operated but that King preferred to be in the more plush white hotel,” said Dr. Sorrentino. “We don’t know how much these newspaper articles impacted on King, and ultimately he did move to the Lorraine Hotel, where he was shot and killed.”

As far as theories that the FBI was involved with the actual assassination, Sorrentino says that he’s seen no evidence in the tens of thousands of pages of documents he’s read or from the people he’s interviewed (including Mark Felt, who later was identified as Deep Throat from the Watergate scandal). Sorrentino adds that, politically, the much smarter move was for the FBI to discredit King and replace him; not to kill him and turn him into a hero and martyr of the civil rights movement. He says they even identified a candidate who could take on the leadership void that would be created in the civil rights movement, New York attoryney Samuel Pierce. However, Pierce, who later became Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Ronald Reagan, had no idea he’d been scouted for such a position.

This political battle for power and policy in America dovetails into the subject matter of Dr. Sorrentino’s new book, Presidential Leadership and the Bureaucratic State (Outskirts Press). A book signing of the newly published work will take place after the lecture.

Professor Sorrentino previously authored six books including American Government: Power and Politics in America, Ideological Warfare: The FBI's Path Towards Power, Soviet Politics and Education and The Review of Italian American Studies. He also served as Editor and major contributor to The Italian-American Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of the American Presidency for which he has written twenty-one articles.

About Presidential Leadership:
In the United States the most fundamental and dynamic struggles for power occur in the convoluted arena known as the politics of bureaucracy. These power struggles can be seen in The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon, the Environmental Protection Agency, and a host of lesser-known bureaucratic entities-all wielding enormous political power. Dr. Sorrentino’s latest book presents a more in-depth contextual environment to test the possibilities and limitations on presidential leadership and the bureaucratic state in a complex political terrain. Presidential Leadership eloquently analyzes the various theories of presidential leadership and their effectiveness in our unique American political system—from separation of power, federalism, undisciplined and decentralized political parties, to the increasing expertise and discretionary powers given to the bureaucracy of the modern age.

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City’s five boroughs and beyond.


St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

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