‘Your Concern About Communism is Understandable’: Letters to the FBI About MLK, 50 Years Later

Remembering a time when the civil rights leader was considered dangerous by many Americans.

Civil rights demonstrators, led by Dr Martin Luther King (5th R), civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy (5th L), John Lewis (3rd L) and other civil and religious leaders, make their way from Selma to Montgomery on March 22, 1965 in Alabama, on the third leg of the Selma to Montgomery marches.

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Ava DuVernay's Selma uses a fitting and clever trick to escape the biopic's problem of getting bogged down in exposition. Whenever the scene changes, or the date moves ahead, quotes from the FBI's monitoring of Martin Luther King Jr. are typed out on the screen. It's a subtle reminder that before King was martyred and memorialized, he was under constant surveillance. The movie's less subtle reminders of this–a scene in which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells President Lyndon B. Johnson about his monitoring of King, and a scene in which a harassing phone caller plays a tape of one of King's affairs–have come under fire from the people who viewed the movie as unfair to Johnson.

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