The Atlantic

When the FBI Spied on MLK

The bureau’s surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. reflects a paranoia about Black activism that’s foundational to American politics.
Source: IFC Films

The Martin Luther King Jr. who is introduced to most American schoolchildren is a tragic hero—not just in a colloquial sense, but also in a mythological one. Greek tragedy is driven by characters just like the King described in textbooks. They’re brilliant and virtuous, yet doomed by a small error in judgment. King’s flaw, we are taught, was his idealism, which both made him a civil-rights hero and brought about his downfall. If we are to believe American textbooks, or even the speech President Ronald Reagan gave when he the establishment of a national holiday for King in 1987, we’d think this was the end of the story: The hero sacrificed his life for the dream of a color-blind justice, and the U.S. government has since been working

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