Article

Bureau Clergyman: How the FBI Colluded with an African American Televangelist to Destroy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Authors:
To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.

Abstract

This article explains how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) partnered with African American minister Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux to discredit and neutralize Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The Elder, the nation's first minister (black or white) to have his own weekly television show, colluded with the Bureau to shape public opinion against King and cast doubt upon King's religious commitments and activities. Michaux was, what I call, a Bureau Clergyman: A minister who was an FBI "Special Service Contact" or on the Bureau's "Special Correspondents Lists." Far from secret informants, black and white male clergy in these official Bureau programs enjoyed very public and cooperative relationships with the FBI and were occasionally "called into service" to work in concert with the FBI. The FBI called upon Michaux and he willingly used his status, popular media ministry, and cold war spirituality to publically scandalize King as a communist and defend the Bureau against King's criticisms. In the end, the Elder demonized King, contested calls for black equality under the law, and lionized the FBI as the keeper of Christian America. The story moves the field beyond the very well known narratives of the FBI's hostility towards religion and reveals how the Bureau publicly embraced religion and commissioned their clergymen to help maintain prevailing social arrangements. Michaux's relationship with the FBI also offers a window into the overlooked religious dimensions of the FBI's opposition to King, even as it highlights how black clergy articulated and followed competing ideologies of black liberation during the civil rights movement. © 2018 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Reprints and Permissions web page.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... Many authors strongly departed from the inspiration view also in the context of the CRM. They stressed that, although Black preachers were qualified to play an active role in the CRM (and a number of them did), others remained sceptical and unengaged (Raboteau 2001, Harvey 2005, 2011, 2016a, Harris 2001, Best 2006, Marable 2015, Martin 2018. In 2008, Barbara Savage noted that the mobilization of Black churches in the civil rights era mostly concerned those churches that were urban liberal Protestant and dedicated to the Social Gospel. ...
... Raboteau (2001:114) noticed that it was mostly evangelical ministers who disagreed with Martin Luther Kings philosophy of social activism, because they believed that society could only be changed by converting individuals to obey Gods commandments, not by mass political agitation. Lerone Martin (2018) analysed the arguments of Elder Michaux, an evangelical preacher who was the most vocal critic of King. According to Baldwin (2003: 15), the interrelationship between worldly and otherworldly concerns provides the best hint to understand the nature and levels of Black Churchs social involvement. ...
Article
Full-text available
The article analyses the evolution of the academic debate on the role of the Black Church and Black religion in encouraging or undercutting the political and social activism of African Americans. By reviewing the most important literature on the subject in the context of the so-called opiate and inspiration view, it will be possible to present the dominating trends and shifts in the debate in particular periods of time.
... This culminated in pictures of religio-racial groups as antithetical to the aims of "the Christian Century" (Johnson 2015, pp. 312-62;Martin 2018a), the increasingly prominent U.S. White-Christian ideal that American Christians would make good on the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20, and proclaim the salvific name of to the very ends of the earth in the 20th century (Toulouse 2000, p. 80; The Christian Century 2000, p. 77). As historian Susan Curtis put it, "Worldwide social salvation would come at the hands of the United States . . . ...
Article
Full-text available
This thought experiment in comparison ponders a Black man’s conviction that his Hebrew identity would make him immune to COVID-19. Surfacing the history of the claims and the scholar’s own suspicions, the paper examines the layered politics of identification. Contra an essentialist understanding of the terms, “Hebrew” and “Hebrews” are shown to be classificatory events, ones imbricated in the dynamics of racecraft. Furthermore, a contextualization of the “race religion” model of 19th century scholarship, 20th century US religio-racial movements, and the complicated legacy of Tuskegee in 21st century Black vaccine hesitancy help to outline the need for inquisitiveness rather than hubris in matters of comparison. In so doing, this working paper advances a model of the public scholar as a questioner of categories and a diagnostician of classification.
... Placing Kofey's assassination in her church almost a century ago in conversation with Taylor's murder in her home in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic allows us to ultimately ponder these questions, and to see how Black religious institutions, and Black religious studies, have often struggled with collusion with empire-and by empire, I refer to systems of domination including but not limited to cisheteropatriarchy, antiblackness, and state-sanctioned murder. Recent scholarship by Sylvester Johnson and Lerone Martin, for example, has challenged us to reassess how we have narrated Black religious history given what we now know about the slave trade, FBI informants, and other religious actors who have colluded with the state in the maintenance of policing and surveilling in Black communities (Johnson 2015;Martin 2018). Sitting with death in Black religious studies necessitates a critique of the state and the police, and it also necessitates an honest assessment of how some Black religious actors actively do the work of the state. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article reflects on the matter of state-sanctioned death in Black religious studies, with the murder of Breonna Taylor as its central focus. It examines how scholars of Black religion engage with the issues of state-sanctioned murder, antiblackness, and misogynoir, and it endeavors to underscore ways for Black male* scholars of Black religion to respond to the religious experiences and deaths of Black women and Black people of all gendered experiences. This article’s central claim is that if Black male* scholars of Black religion continue to underscore how Black religion has been a catalyst for Black liberation without attention to how cisheteropatriarchy functions as antiblackness, then we ultimately will be unable to speak the name of Breonna Taylor in earnest.
... Mamie Till-Mobley, Death of Innocence (2003), p. 231. 40 See(Sanders 1996;Best 2006;Butler 2007;White 2012;Frederick 2016;Casselberry 2017;Martin 2018;Chism 2019).41 See(Harvey 1997(Harvey , 2005 Bennett 2005; M. Harper 2016;Mathews 2017;Jemison 2020;Turner 2020).42 ...
Article
Full-text available
This article centers Black religious women’s activist memoirs, including Mamie Till Mobley’s Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America (2003) and Rep. Lucia Kay McBath’s Standing Our Ground: The Triumph of Faith over Gun Violence: A Mother’s Story (2018), to refocus the narrative of American Evangelicalism and politics around Black women’s authoritative narratives of religious experience, expression, mourning, and activism. These memoirs document personal transformation that surrounds racial violence against these Black women’s Black sons, Emmett Till (1941–1955) and Jordan Davis (1995–2012). Their religious orientations and experiences serve to chart their pursuit of meaning and mission in the face of American brutality. Centering religious experiences spotlights a tradition of Black religious women who view their Christian salvation as authorizing an ongoing personal relationship with God. Such relationships entail God’s ongoing communication with these Christian believers through signs, dreams, visions, and “chance” encounters with other people that they must interpret while relying on their knowledge of scripture. A focus on religious experience in the narratives of activist Black women helps to make significant their human conditions—the contexts that produce their co-constitutive expressions of religious and racial awakenings as they encounter anti-Black violence. In the memoirs of Till and McBath, their sons’ murders produce questions about the place of God in the midst of (Black) suffering and their intuitive pursuit of God’s mission for them to lead the way in redressing racial injustice.
Chapter
End-to-end encryption has been a reality for at least 30 years. However, it is only with recent developments that it has become widespread on mobile phones operating over the internet. This has provided tools for terrorists to plan activities that lead directly to the deaths of innocent civilians. At the same time, it has also been used by dissidents challenging totalitarian regimes and holding liberal democracies to account. In this chapter I argue that while terrorist use of such encryption may render that encryption unjustifiable within a liberal democracy, within an international context the protection that it provides to those seeking to establish law-abiding democracies is too great to be ignored.
Article
Full-text available
Though several powerful explorations of modern evangelical influence in American politics and culture have appeared in recent years (many of which illumine the seeming complications of evangelical influence in the Trump era), there is more work that needs to be done on the matter of evangelical understandings of and influence in American law enforcement. This article explores evangelical interest and influence in modern American policing. Drawing upon complementary interpretations of the “antistatist statist” nature of modern evangelicalism and the carceral state, this article offers a short history of modern evangelical understandings of law enforcement and an exploration of contemporary evangelical ministry to police officers. It argues that, in their entries into debates about law enforcement’s purpose in American life, evangelicals frame policing as both a divinely sanctioned activity and a site of sentimental engagement. Both frames expand the power and reach of policing, limiting evangelicals’ abilities to see and correct problems within the profession.
Article
This essay explores how some Americans came to view the Federal Council of Churches (FCC) and, more broadly, ecumenical mainline Protestantism as a threat to the national security interests of the United States. By focusing on the efforts of various elements in the federal bureaucracy—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Chemical Warfare Service, and Military Intelligence—and the work of average Americans to investigate the FCC, the essay examines how techniques of surveillance and information management helped shape the way Americans came to understand religion in the twentieth century. The essay develops three interconnected themes: first, the rise of America's national security surveillance establishment in the United States after World War I; second, the development of new methods of information management and visualization in corporate and state bureaucracies; and, third, the rise of voluntary, private surveillance in the wake of World War I. Through these three themes, the essay highlights how a network of federal bureaucrats, business leaders, and average citizens used graphs, indexes, and files to interpret mainline, ecumenical Christianity as a threat to domestic security in the United States. Ultimately, the project suggests that scholarly efforts to assess fissures in U.S. Protestantism have focused too much on controversies over belief and theology—especially those related to evolutionary theory, eschatology, and scriptural inerrancy—and paid far too little attention to the emerging bureaucratic systems of state and corporate surveillance that helped to document, visualize, and disseminate these accusations in the first place.
Article
In New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration, Judith Weisenfeld presents numerous instances when members of religio-racial movements contested the racial classificatory system provided by the federal government and confronted state administrators with their own alternative religio-racial identities. For Weisenfeld, these sorts of exchanges highlight, first and foremost, Black agency in religio-race making. But, as she indicates, they also make visible the contours of religio-racial whiteness as state administrators struggled to defend the status quo. In this article, I focus on how Black contestation and confrontation with racial hierarchy can reveal the racial whiteness operating beneath the surface of normative “religion.” This article draws on sources ranging from a police surveillance report to angry letters from white Catholics in order to argue that Black Catholics interrupted the presumed normativity of white Catholic religious life and, in so doing, revealed white Catholicism as a racial formation.
Article
This article examines comedian Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory's comical articulation of religious belief and belonging through his speeches and religious writings during the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that, during his most visible public presence as an activist and comedic entertainer, Gregory bore an irreverent scriptural authority for his readers and comedy audiences who sought a prominent, public affirmation of their suspicion and criticism of religious authorities and conventional religious teachings. This suspicion would allow them to grapple with the oppressive presence of religion in the long history of Western colonialism, in the U.S. context of slavery, and in the violence and segregation of Jim Crow America. Following this religious suspicion, however, Gregory's consistent goal was to implement just social teachings stemming from socially and theologically progressive readings of the Hebrew Bible and of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Gregory's irreverence modeled, and reflected, the maintenance of belief in both the divine and in the justness of remaking an oppressive, violent, unequal world through nonviolent activism in accordance with his understanding of the teachings of the King James scriptures that he read throughout his life. This study of comedy uses one African American male's production of irreverent, authoritative religious rhetoric to display a noteworthy mode of mid-century African American religious liberalism. It is also a case study highlighting the complexity of religious belief and affiliation. Despite acknowledged ambivalences about his commitments to religion, Gregory also modeled ways for audiences to reframe religious commitments to produce social change.
Article
Can the study of religion help to counter religious violence? In the wake of 9/11 many scholars argued that it could, but such claims have never been tested. What would happen if scholars were ever in a position to intercede in a real-life religious conflict? We can explore this question by considering an earlier effort to use scholarship in this way, a consultative relationship developed between scholars of religion and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that was meant to help avoid a repeat of the tragic Branch Davidian standoff in 1993. How did this relationship develop? Did it accomplish its goals? And what does it teach us about the interventionist aspirations of Religious Studies intensified by 9/11?
Article
The infamous conflict between Joseph Harrison Jackson, longtime president of the National Baptist Convention, Inc. (NBC), and Martin Luther King, Jr., has attracted considerable scholarly attention. For nearly a decade, the two Baptist clerics fought for control of the largest African American religious organization in the country as King sought to use it as the "institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement." Treated as a simple confrontation between the "radicalism" of King and the "conservatism" of Jackson, however, the conflict has been misinterpreted and, therefore, undervalued by scholars. It was not a struggle between conservative and progressive forces within the NBC, and Jackson and King were not ideological polar opposites. Their conflict was essentially religious in nature and was predicated on questions regarding what constituted church work among black Baptists. In retaining control of the NBC, Jackson wanted to make sure that the answers to those questions would reflect what he perceived to be the "vital center" of American culture. He was convinced that his commitment to "correct" the social ills of society through national and religious unity would achieve that which was right while conquering that which was wrong. Faced also with the challenges of an increasingly global context within which black religious leaders were compelled to operate, Jackson envisioned the NBC as an organization involved with efforts to bring peace and economic parity around the world. In Jackson's view, King's aim to use the NBC as the "institutional basis for the Civil Rights Movement" was both "anti-American" and limited in scope. Jackson's "gradual" stance on civil rights and his confidence in the democratic process to bring about social change reveal one of the many options employed in post-WWII African American religious and political culture.
Article
In his first book, Stride Toward Freedom (1958), Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on the future struggle of African Americans after their successful Montgomery bus boycott. Among the “forces of good,” King saw the indispensable assistance of the federal government, cautioning critics and sympathizers that though government action was “not the whole answer,” it was an “important partial answer.” King was addressing one of the most common criticisms of black activism for civil rights. White conservative Protestants, in the South and North, insisted that race relations would worsen because agitation would only stoke the fears and hatreds of whites and that government action on behalf of blacks was only a form of coercion. King rejected this reasoning by noting that “morals cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated.” He argued that it was true, for example, that laws could never make employers love their black employees, but they could prevent them from refusing to hire blacks because of their skin color. King conceded that society ultimately must depend on “religion and education to alter the errors of the heart and mind,” but he emphatically argued that “it is an immoral act to compel a man to accept injustice until another man's heart is straight.” He added that the law was a form of education in that it instructed citizens about what society regarded as right and appropriate. King asserted that in any case the “habits if not the hearts of people have been and are being altered every day by federal action” and that it would be wrong to undervalue the efficacy and force of law in altering human behavior and social patterns.
Soviet Rule or Christian Renewal
  • Hoover
The FBI's Wildest Dream
  • Navasky
The Role of the F.B.I, in Civil Rights Disputes
  • Hoover
New Negro Power Structure in DC
  • Booker
Transcript: Transforming a Neighborhood into a Brotherhood, Recorded Live by R.C.A. Records at the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers Convention-R.C.A. Dinner, Atlanta, Friday, August 11, 1967
  • King
‘Almost a Partnership’: African-Americans, Segregation, and the Young Men's Christian Association
  • Chandler
The Director and His Eminence: The Working Relationship and Questions of Church and State as Reflected in Cardinal Cushing's FBI Files
  • Garneau
J. Edgar Hoover Speaks Out with Vigor
  • Fischer