AJC editor Kevin Riley and reporter Ernie Suggs talk about why the AJC did not initially publish an explosive report on Martin Luther King Jr., written by biographer David J. Garrow. The two also talk about the allegations made in transcripts obtained by Garrow.

MLK: A legacy intact or damaged?

David Garrow, the noted historian and Martin Luther King Jr. biographer recently penned an article that contains explosive allegations about the civil rights leader.

The allegations, culled from FBI files, paint a picture of a number sexual trysts as well as the most damning allegation that King witnessed a sexual assault and did nothing to stop it.

The FBI surveillance tapes of King will not be released until 2027.

We asked people about the allegations and whether it changes their view of King’s legacy.

Here are their responses:

Rapper Drumma Boy, of Memphis, stands on the red carpet.
Photo: Chris Dunn cdunn@ajc.com

Grammy-award winning producer Drumma Boy, also known as Christopher James Gholson, 35. Drumma has worked with T.I.,  Lil Jon, Gucci Mane, Migos, Jeezy, Keyshia Cole, Waka Flocka and Wale:

 “Something like this sounds fabricated. A story is just a story without proof. It’s almost five decades later and here we are still digging up this or that.” 

 “We are men of honor and you can clearly see a man’s intent by his actions,” he said speaking of his father and grandfather, both educators. “Martin Luther King went day in and day out fighting for peace and it’s crazy that he can’t even rest in peace. Martin Luther King has always been one of the greats and nothing will be able to take away from his legacy.”

History buff Nathan Osmond, 42, from American Fork, Utah in town for a business trip:

"God uses imperfect people to do great things.”

Nathan O’Shea, 19, from Cobb County lives in Seattle now:

"What person in their right mind would let that happen, especially because he's so concerned with civil rights and the equality of people?  He did great things for the community," O'Shea said. But if the assault allegations are true, O'Shea would "completely have to change my mindset about him."

Roy James, 72 , Haugabrooks Funeral Home:

“I don’t think he would do anything like that really. That wouldn’t happen, not him. 

 “Sometimes, the FBI, the government, they give you what they want you to know. They don’t give you the facts. They can split it. Tell you this part but they don’t really tell you the whole story. I always thought Dr. King was a good person, a good man. Maybe we would be where we’re at today but for him. I think there should be more investigations, to really find out the truth of what the whole thing is but I don’t think it’s really worth the time.”

Evette Page, 43, Natchitoches, LA: 

“I wouldn’t think that he would laugh at something serious like that. Where he come from and what he was trying to do to help others, I would think he would try to disgrace a woman. Cause that’s a serious allegation to say that they raped a woman or that he laughed at it. You wasn’t there so how would you know if he did it or not if you wasn’t actually in the room? If they seen it, they are just as wrong if it was going on and they seen it. They should have did something then.” 

 Page said the allegations don’t change her opinion of King, “not at all. Not at all. He helped us and he made a way for us. I just really don’t think he did anything like that.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his 'I Have a Dream' speech to a huge crowd gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March).
Photo: Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

 Charlene Kincaid, 50, Ft. Wayne, Ind. and Carl Lehman, 47, Ft. Wayne, Ind.:

 Charlene Kincaid: “It just doesn’t even seem plausible to me. Just based on his character. I was not born until after he died in 1968 so I didn’t experience the history. But everything I’ve read, I just can’t imagine it. “

It doesn’t change her opinion of the civil rights leader.

“No, emphatically, no. First of all it’s just allegations. He’s been gone for 50 years now if these accusations were really real, then wouldn’t they have been brought about even 25 years ago or much sooner after the fact if it was really fact.” 

 Carl Lehman: “It just makes you wonder why such reports would come out so many years later. I mean it’s so far after the fact and he did so many good things, it just makes you question why.  J. Edgar Hoover, he tried to collect dirt on everybody, if he could find any kind of dirt on anybody that’s what he did. I mean even the presidents at the time were scared to stand up to him because, he had so much dirt (they were) afraid of him blackmailing them. I’m sure he tried to find dirt on Martin Luther King, but he seemed like such a religious man and did so many good things.”

Historian Nathan Connolly, Johns Hopkins University: “The FBI has a very long record of targeting African-American radicals since at the least the 1920s. So, from the starting point, you have many working-class white men, many of whom were harboring their own biases, as part of the apparatus and working in the service of J. Edgar Hoover. I would look at any kind of information with deep skepticism and suspicion.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background. WASHINGTON POST/BONNIE JO MOUNT
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

New York cybersecurity expert, Joseph Steinberg: 

“The fact that the FBI may have used more primitive methods of gathering information than it uses today does not mean that the reports about Dr. King are false.” 

... “It also seems somewhat suspicious that the FBI, whose then director was clearly looking to take down Dr. King, kept secret such highly-damaging information about Dr. King, rather than ensure that it made its way to the media during King’s lifetime.”



Alexia Norton Jones, daughter of Clarence Jones, King’s celebrated attorney and speech writer who wrote parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech: 

“I do believe them. It is kind of the predatory behavior that I am used to (growing up in the movement). But that is a separate issue from Garrow’s agenda to destroy Martin’s image. He is trying to sell books and make money as a white man dominating the narrative of the most valuable black male of hope and civil rights we have ever seen. Does he think he is the winner if he besmirches Martin’s legacy?”

Reported by Ernie Suggs, Shelia Poole, Ty Tagami and Rosalind Bentley

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