MLK's Depravity

MLK’s “Depravity”

on June 30, 2019

Robert George and Eugene Rivers responded recently to the latest revelations about America’s most iconic civil rights leader, asking: “Does the sexual depravity of Martin Luther King, Jr. negate his work and witness in the cause of racial justice?”

George is a white Catholic philosopher at Princeton University, and Rivers is a Harvard educated black Pentecostal preacher. They believe that MLK’s behavior must be historically acknowledged and condemned even while he still merits honor for his work on behalf of America’s highest ideals of human equality.

MLK’s chronic infidelities have been widely known for decades. But a recently discovered 1964 FBI memo, based on an FBI eavesdrop of MLK’s DC hotel room, reports MLK and another pastor hosted an orgy with several women. MLK is described laughing as his pastor friend forces one woman into a sexual act she resisted, arguably making MLK complicit in rape.

The memo was written by FBI official William Sullivan, reputedly a devout Catholic who was particularly preoccupied by MLK’s sexual misdeeds. FBI recordings, originally justified to monitor MLK’s ties to leftists like his longtime friend and former Communist Party USA member Stanley Levinson, reportedly chronicle MLK’s encounters with 40 women during the 1960s. These recordings will not become publicly available until 2027. Sullivan’s memo about MLK at the Willard Hotel in 1964, which also included a second orgy the following night with 12 people, offers the most graphic account yet available of MLK’s torrid personal life.

But discovery of Sullivan’s memo was not the first account of MLK in a DC hotel. In 2011 recordings of Jackie Kennedy emerged in which she recalled Bobby Kennedy had told her about an FBI tape of MLK organizing an orgy at a Washington hotel during the 1963 March on Washington. President Kennedy, she recalled, urged her not to be judgmental of MLK, which is unsurprising, since JFK’s own infidelities were as epic as MLK’s. In a 2012 memoir, a former JFK mistress recalled she was seduced as a 19 year old intern, and the President once asked her to perform sex on a JFK male aide while he watched in the White House pool.

So how should great and widely admired figures like JFK and MLK be assessed amid such revelations?

Robert George and Eugene Rivers wrote of the new MLK revelations:

All of this is to be condemned. It is to be condemned unequivocally—no ifs, ands, or buts. It was against the biblical Christian faith that King presented himself as holding and in whose name he spoke against racial injustice. It was against the natural moral law, which he rightly invoked in denouncing segregation and Jim Crow. It was against the Gospel proclaimed then and now by faithful Christians of all traditions and, with special force, by those of the Black church tradition which King inherited from his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.

But they also defend MLK’s civil rights legacy:

Does knowing the truth about King, however much it diminishes our esteem for him, negate his work and witness in the cause of racial justice? This is the crucial question, and the answer is “No.”

As we’ve noted, the truth is the truth. It doesn’t cease being the truth because of who spoke it or for what reasons. What King said about racism and segregation was true: they are contrary to the biblical teaching that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is, as such, the bearer of inherent and equal dignity; they violate the natural law—the law “written on the hearts of even the Gentiles who have not the law of Moses,” but who, by the light of reason, can know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice; and they contradict our nation’s foundational commitments, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. At a time when these truths were ignored, and even denied, King proclaimed them boldly.

George and Rivers believe MLK should continue to be honored:

Shocked by what has recently come to light, some may call for monuments to King to be taken down and for boulevards, schools, and the like that are named in his honor to be renamed. We ask our fellow citizens not to go down this road. The monuments and honors are obviously not for King’s objectification and exploitation of women, but for his leadership and courage in the fight for racial justice. Everyone understands that. Future generations will understand it too. Just as we ought not to strip the slaveholding George Washington of honors but continue to recognize his courage and leadership in the American Revolution and the crucial role he played in establishing an enduring democratic republic, we should not strip King of honors for his wrongdoing. While acknowledging his faults and their gravity, we should continue to recognize and celebrate all he did to make our nation a truly democratic republic—one in which the principles and promise of the American founding are much more fully realized.

MLK’s moral failures are a reminder not to deify any human, no matter how heroic, or to trust in the arm of flesh. God deploys whom He will to achieve His purposes. Ultimately we trust in and thank Him, not His sinful human instruments.

This ultimate trust in God should not inhibit honoring the people through whom He works, as their example should inspire others to yield to God’s purposes. Nor should admitting all are sinners by nature preclude high moral expectations, especially for leaders who profess to be champions of biblical justice. Divine grace is available to all, and this grace suffices to protect anyone from gross moral failure. Realism should not equate with cynicism.

We inevitably reflect most on the great and the famous by worldly standards. But the greatest servants in God’s Kingdom may turn out to be persons whom the world ignored, yet they will shine most brightly for all eternity.

  1. Comment by Kevin Davis on July 1, 2019 at 1:30 am

    It’s striking that George and Rivers are far more favorable to MLK’s personage and legacy than any leftist toward a figure on the right, even hypothetically under the exact same circumstances. If the shoe were on the other foot, these revelations about MLK, were he a hero of the right, would be one of the biggest stories of the year. City councils across the country would be erasing his name from streets and school buildings. Especially in this era of “me too,” MLK would be completely vilified and cast aside. But, he’s basically given a pass.

  2. Comment by Eternity Matters on July 1, 2019 at 7:38 am

    Of course they should cancel his holiday and rename things now. The guy was a fraud. Yes, go ahead and teach the good things about his non-violent resistance and such. But you don’t make holidays for phonies like that.

  3. Comment by Lee D. Cary on July 1, 2019 at 8:02 am

    “In 2011 recordings of Jackie Kennedy emerged in which she recalled Bobby Kennedy had told her about an FBI tape of MLK organizing an orgy at a Washington hotel during the 1963 March on Washington.”

    Good heavens! You suggest, by implication, that the FBI (and perhaps now the NSA and, on foreign soil for the most part, the CIA surveil (AKA spy-on) prominent American citizens? But surely, that information was/is never used as leverage against indiscrete citizens. Why that’s just not possible.

  4. Comment by Bob Thornton on July 1, 2019 at 8:12 am

    This impulse to “honor” King presupposes two things, neither quite correct. The first is that he had, or appealed to, some kind of “Biblical” or “Christian” Theology. But this is highly suspect. What we know of his “theology” places him squarely in the post-Christian, socially progressive/liberal camp. He denied all of the major tenets necessary to identify oneself as a Christian (inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, you name it). To the extent he evoked anything “Christian” it was just the reigning social “gospel” of his time, what he knew certain people would be affected by.

    Additionally, the long-term legacy of the so-called “civil rights” movement is also highly suspect. Moving from forced segregation to forced de-segregation is not really much of an improvement. In both cases the State is violating private property and conscience in the name of some social good.

    Essentially, the regime of the Jim Crow Laws (and they were laws, after all) was simply elevated to the national level and given greater power. Now, of course, we have all the machinery that the “civil rights movement” created being bent to enforce the acceptance of Sodomy and all it’s attendant Satanic evil. Such is not a “high-jacking” of some supposedly good Civil Rights movement, but was built into that movement itself from the beginning.

    There is nothing about MLK to honor. Jim Crow was not defeated by him; he just gave it a new form and made it much worse.

  5. Comment by Thomas on July 7, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    You are implying that abolishing slavery was also bad because it was done against the will of the slave owners. Your logic is absurd. If Jim Crow laws were wrong they should have been abolished not matter who disagreed with them.

  6. Comment by Rebecca on July 8, 2019 at 1:21 am

    Well said.

  7. Comment by Geary on July 1, 2019 at 8:57 am

    G_d uses unlikely, and, sometimes, unsavory, characters to achieve His purpose. Rahab, who protected the spies who were sent into the promised Land, recorded in Joshua, was a prostitute.

  8. Comment by Rev. Dr. Richard Allen Hyde on July 1, 2019 at 10:08 am

    Good, thoughtful article. Thank you.

  9. Comment by Bob K on July 1, 2019 at 10:40 am

    King David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder. We are all sinners.

  10. Comment by Bill on July 1, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    There is at least one major difference between King David and MLK — David was repentant. As far as we know, MLK continued his philandering until the day he tragically died. I think the thing people are frustrated with is the widespread hypocrisy on the left. Progressives are always eager to destroy the cultural icons that are important to conservatives. However, when it comes to icons for the left (e. g. MLK), Progressives will just hold their noses and look the other way.

  11. Comment by David on July 1, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Many of our heroes are tarnished: Washington kept slaves, Jefferson likely had an affair with one, Franklin self admittedly had dealings with “low women,” and his affairs with the ladies of the French court are the subject of historical comment. Certain persons have become symbols of historical periods be it the Revolution, the end of slavery (Lincoln), Civil Rights (MLK), or the victory of Britain in WWII (Churchill). Obviously, many other persons were involved in these momentous movements, but the symbolism remains. I do not think we should become distracted with the imperfections of these symbols from the importance of their movements.

  12. Comment by Wm. "Bill" Paul on July 1, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    I make one comment only: MLK was an ordained minister of the gospel, unlike those you mention, set apart to bear witness in all aspects of his life to the good news.

  13. Comment by Rebecca on July 8, 2019 at 1:23 am

    You’ve been reading. Unfortunately, you’ve been reading revisionist history.

  14. Comment by David on July 3, 2019 at 4:28 pm

    Another difference which should be noted is that these revelations are not new. It was known at the time, but given a pass even then. Going back and finding things about someone’s history is one thing. Ignoring them while they are happening is another.

  15. Comment by Thomas on July 7, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I think we need to have absolutely sure about some of these FBI transcripts. Its true that Martin Luther King wasn`t a saint in his private life but J. Edgar Hoover was his most vicious enemy and I wouldn`t be surprise if some of these claims are exagerated or fake.

  16. Comment by Rebecca on July 8, 2019 at 1:25 am

    Do you think J Edgar Hoover made up the tapes?

  17. Comment by Thomas on July 8, 2019 at 2:50 pm

    He could have made up or distorted the transcripts, or someone for him. Its true that Martin Luther King wasn`t a saint in his private life, but J. Edgar Hoover had a deep hatred for him, so we don`t know to which point he could go to destroy his reputation.

  18. Comment by David on July 11, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Well, there was umarried Hoover and his younger male friend who was given a cushy job at the FBI and always spent vacations with him while Hoover was busy expelling gays from government jobs. I suspect most people take Hoover for what he was.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.