This tweet by WikiLeaks today claims the letter below was sent

to MLK telling him to kill himself within 34 days or face sex smear

the letter

I’m wondering if anyone can find other sources related to this or confirm or disprove the claim in some way?

The tweet is phrased in a way that makes it sound (initially) like the FBI wrote this and sent it to MLK, even though it could easily be something in their possession that never was sent. Maybe the FBI didn’t write it at all (“us negroes” probably wasn’t written by the FBI)


1 Answer 1


The incident is indeed well-documented by numerous reliable sources. Among them:


the FBI penned and sent King an anonymous letter, along with some of their tapes, suggesting that he should kill himself.


The letter runs to more than 500 words, and claims to be from an African-American who supported the civil rights movement. In fact, it was written by the FBI.

The Atlantic:

Pollard said, referencing a letter the bureau sent to King’s home which insinuated that the only way he could avoid public shame was if he killed himself.

The New York Times goes into a bit of detail:

[T]he so-called “suicide letter” has occupied a unique place in the history of American intelligence — the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover’s F.B.I. run amok. [...]

At this point Hoover decided to escalate his campaign. On Nov. 18, 1964 — 50 years ago this week — Hoover denounced King at a Washington news conference, labeling him the “the most notorious liar in the country.” A few days later, one of Hoover’s deputies, William Sullivan, apparently took it upon himself to write the anonymous letter and sent an agent to Miami, to mail the package to Atlanta.

For additional information, watch this C-SPAN clip, and read the Wikipedia page (largely sourced to Richard Gid Powers) on the letter and Church Committee.

I found no source doubting that the FBI wrote the letter, and it's one of the more benign tactics of the FBI's COINTELPRO program. In 1975, Nicholas M. Horrock of the New York Times writes:

They produced documents disclosing that the bureau had used forged letter's [sic] in an attempt to cause marital trouble among leaders of black militant groups and the Ku Klux Klan.

The F.B.I. field office in St. Louis, for example, sent the husband of a white woman involved in a black activist group a letter alleging that his wife was having sexual relations with black men.

Forging letters (including alleging sexual improprieties) was a well-established practice by the FBI, as established by Church Committee.

  • 5
    While this answers the current question in the title, I think it needs just a little bit more to answer the question contents, i.e. that the letter present is the actual letter forged by FBI (although it fits the general descriptions, maybe there were some more specific quotes available).
    – Dan M.
    Jan 18, 2022 at 14:37
  • 6
    great. The answer just needs to address it to be complete (i.e. not just the letter was sent, but the letter with the same contents as in the image).
    – Dan M.
    Jan 18, 2022 at 14:58
  • 16
    @MichaelW. He was the director of the FBIs domestic intelligence operations; the Washington post called him the third-ranking official of the FBI. Sure, "the FBI" itself doesn't really do things - it consists of people who do things. I appreciate the difference between going through proper channels and processes, but at the end of the day, I think describing this as "The FBI did X" isn't unreasonable.
    – tim
    Jan 18, 2022 at 21:00
  • 5
    That William Sullivan, or anyone at the FBI, penned the letter is based on, first, that during the Church Committee hearings and investigations in 1975 (over a decade later), a copy was discovered in the work files of Sullivan, and second, in 2017 when the NYT reports to have found an unredacted copy in J. Edgar Hoover's confidential files at the National Archives. I understand the FBI did a lot of illegal surveillance and other things at the time, however, I cannot find any evidence this letter was penned by the FBI except the two circumstantial and very far time-removed points above.
    – user11643
    Jan 18, 2022 at 23:23
  • 11
    @KarlKnechtel A "director of the FBIs domestic intelligence operations" going rogue and FBI going rogue are not that different when domestic ops are concerned. Jan 20, 2022 at 4:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .