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Martin Luther King, Establishment Icon


Martin Luther King with Nelson Rockefeller in 1961.

3,603 words

Every year, the third Monday of January is designated Martin Luther King Day, and the much-lauded paragon of “passive resistance” and “equality” is praised to high heaven with the aura of sainthood, or even godhood, perhaps only equalled by his South African counterpart, Nelson Mandela. I will not argue here whether desegregation has improved anyone’s lot, blacks included, any more than the dismantling of apartheid did, other than its having intended to create an “inclusive economy,” as the Rockefeller Foundation and others call it, and an expanded consumption market.

Certainly, apartheid and segregation were obstacles to a free market, and no less than Professor Noam Chomsky stated as much, while nonetheless not backtracking an iota from his abhorrence of “racism,” even when capitalism is seen to be intrinsically “anti-racist.”[1] [2] Harry Oppenheimer, financial patron of the anti-apartheid offensive, said that “nationalist policies have made it made it impossible to make use of Black labour.”[2] [3] In 1960 he said to the liberal South Africa Foundation in regard to the demolition of apartheid, “think of the vast new consuming market.”[3] [4] The same can be said of the forces that manipulated and funded the black civil rights movement in the United States in the creation of expanding labor and consumer markets. Both the “moderates” of the King variety and the New Left played their roles. The same process now pushes for the globalization of labor.

So how is it that Dr. King overcame such seemingly insurmountable odds against Southern “white supremacy” to achieve the status of an American saint? Beaten, jailed, and condemned as “Communists,” King and his colleagues underwent much hardship on the “long march to freedom.” He spawned the ’68 Generation, in many ways. Their goals were achieved, but only because they converged with those of plutocracy.

The ideological seeding had been planted decades earlier. The Rockefeller and State Department sponsored critical theorists of the Frankfurt School such as Erich Fromm, who called the “primary ties,” such as family, passé. In The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno identified as “fascist” those traits among Americans who harbored feelings of affection toward parents. In 1937, the Swedish sociologist and economist Gunnar Myrdal was invited to the US to prepare a study on race relations that would be published as An American Dilemma, funded by the Carnegie Corporation.[4] [5] It seems likely that Myrdal became enamored with the utopian possibilities of American liberalism while visiting the country in 1929-30 on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship. Indeed, An American Dilemma became the scientific rationalization for the Supreme Court’s desegregation rulings during the 1950s.[5] [6]

Andrew Carnegie’s essay, “The Gospel of Wealth” (1889), is described as the founding document of philanthropy. Carnegie was perhaps an entrepreneur with genuine social ideals, but nonetheless, his doctrine for a wider redistribution of wealth lacks both the advocacy of fundamental reforms, and maintains, or even enhances, the power of the oligarchy through philanthropy, which is indeed what has occurred through the grant-making strategies of the tax-exempt foundations. In the name of social justice, the doctrine of philanthropy as outlined in 1889 justifies an oligarchy on the basis of paternalism towards the lower classes:

Thus is the problem of Rich and Poor to be solved. The laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.[6] [7]

The “millionaire” – read billionaire today – will continue to operate in a free market, individualism will continue as the doctrine, and most of all the oligarchy will maintain control over the distribution of wealth, administering it “far better” than the community could. It is important to realize that this remains the ideology and goal of the oligarchs who use their wealth to reshape society in the name of “equality,” “human rights,” and “democracy,” and are willing to use bombs as foundation grants to do so.

“Black Civil Rights” a Precursor of the American New Left

Oligarchs had established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.[7] [8] The idea came from no less than Jacob Schiff of Kuhn Loeb & Co., Wall Street, who had in 1905 poured his money into funding the writer George Kennan to organize socialist revolutionary cells among Russian POWs of the Japanese (from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905), which became the nucleus of the revolutionary movement in Russia.[8] [9] Another eminence was Herbert Lehman, head of Lehman Bros., future Senator and Governor of New York, who decades later played a role in the destruction of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Other contributors during the 1930s who sustained the NAACP were William Rosenwald, Samuel Fels, Felix Warburg, and Edsel Ford.[9] [10]

On another front, as part of a Cold War strategy for recruiting Leftists against the USSR, the CIA funded the National Student Association (NSA), from which the New Left, and especially the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), emerged.[10] [11]

Key figures of the New Left, including Abbie Hoffman (of the Yippies) and Tom Hayden (SDS), began their revolutionary careers in the “black civil rights” protests that took place just prior to the emergence of the New Left. The primary organization for this apprenticeship was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), founded in 1960. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded in 1957. Ella Baker, who had been with the NAACP in 1938-46 and again in 1952, and was an official of the SCLC, is credited with conceiving the idea of the SNCC. In 1957 she had co-founded “In Friendship,” which supported agitation in the South. The other co-founders were Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levison.[11] [12]

Stanley Levison combined realty investment with fundraising for the Communist Party USA and American Jewish Congress (AJC). Levison arranged for AJC financial patronage to King.[12] [13] An FBI report on King a month prior to his death described Levison as a “shrewd, dedicated Communist,” as a principal aide, and as a strategist, speechwriter, and fundraiser. The book Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community, supposedly authored by King, was regarded to have been co-written with Levison. Levison has been cited as stating to Clarence Jones, King’s other primary aide and his liaison with the New York oligarchs, that King was such a “slow thinker” who should not be permitted to say anything without first clearing it with Levison or Jones.[13] [14] In 1961, Levison became a treasurer of the SCLC. Prior to that, he was a secret fundraiser for the Communist Party USA.[14] [15] In 1964, King asked Levison and Jones to submit speeches that he could use when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.[15] [16]

Tom Hayden, who wrote The Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of the SDS, started in the NSA, unaware of its CIA and State Department connections despite vague suspicions among some Leftists, until the full exposure by Ramparts in 1967. In his autobiography, Hayden wrote that despite their ties to US government agencies, the older NSA leaders tended to be “quite liberal,” inspired by the revolutionary upheavals throughout the world. Among these was Allard Lowenstein, an NSA founder who “welcomed the civil rights movement in the South, as did most NSA leaders.”[16] [17] Several years before his death, Hayden wrote of the NSA’s CIA connections, including Lowenstein, who had been a key adviser to the SNCC:

Another figure I met at the turn of the 1960s was Allard Lowenstein, who had attended every NSA conference since the group’s inception and had obscure but real connections to State Department and CIA powers behind the scenes. Lowenstein courageously helped smuggle black South Africans into the West, was an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Mississippi Summer in 1964, led the national “Dump Johnson” campaign in 1967 and 1968, was elected to Congress in 1968, and eventually was murdered in 1980 by a disturbed protégé, Dennis Sweeney . . .[17] [18]

Hayden wrote, based on the research in Karen Paget’s book Patriotic Betrayal[18] [19] and his talks with her, that although Lowenstein was not a CIA agent, he knew about the CIA penetration, was an ardent anti-Soviet Cold War liberal (of the type that was going over to the CIA in numbers, via the NSA and the Congress for Cultural Freedom), and that:

Lowenstein went out of his way to block the Ramparts story from being published, joining a 1967 meeting of CIA and NSA officials considering how to manage the story if it was leaked. . . . Paget writes that “[t]oday none of the NSA officers who were present can explain Lowenstein’s involvement.” Lowenstein, she says, also went to the White House, where he was asked by Walt Rostow, Lyndon B. Johnson’s national security adviser, to draft a reply to the Ramparts story if it came out.[19] [20]

Black civil rights, and the SCLC and SNCC, preceded the Vietnam War issue, and hence, writes Hayden, the efforts of the SNCC were “the real catalyst to change.”[20] [21] The SNCC drive into Mississippi to register black voters was the start not just of a movement, “but a revolution,” wrote Hayden.[21] [22]

Birmingham: Rockefeller Money Bails King Out

In April 1963, “the focus shifted dramatically, to Birmingham, Alabama,” where the SNCC and SCLC were agitating against segregation.[22] [23] Birmingham was a “turning point” in terms of worldwide publicity. It was here that King was arrested. Bombs exploded at King’s hotel and at the home of a local black leader. The result was eight hundred demonstrations and fourteen thousand arrests in seventy-five Southern cities. It was the catalyst for the passing of new civil rights legislation in Congress.[23] [24]

Hayden states that King’s bail was arranged through Attorney General Robert Kennedy.[24] [25] What Hayden did not know is that the bail money was put up personally by Nelson Rockefeller. In 2006 Clarence Jones, King’s lawyer and close adviser from 1960 until 1968, gave an interview to Vanity Fair in which he referred to Jones as having “circulated easily among the rich of New York and L.A., [finding] willing donors to fuel King’s frenetic activities with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.), which King co-founded. Jones was, in essence, the moneyman of the movement.”[25] [26] Here we get a hint of King’s funding by the New York oligarchy and from further afield. Alluding to King’s iconic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which has become part of the United States’ holy writ, Jones stated:

It wasn’t the moral clarity of the letter, however, that freed King from his tiny cell. Money did. With no bail-bond funds available, King and the others were facing the prospect of spending weeks or months behind bars. But an unexpected angel arrived, courtesy of a telephone call from [Harry] Belafonte. Jones remembers Belafonte saying in an excited tone, “‘I was discussing [the Birmingham problem] with Nelson Rockefeller’s speechwriter. It’s a fellow named Hugh Morrow – he used to work for The Saturday Evening Post – who you’ll be hearing from.’ Next thing I know I got a call from Morrow – ‘How can I help?’”

Jones replied, “Well, I’m coming back [to New York] tonight. Let’s meet.”

Since 1961, Nelson Rockefeller had been writing occasional checks to the S.C.L.C., usually in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. This time, they would need much, much more. “I arrived in New York late,” Jones recounts. “Morrow lived on Sutton Place. I called him at one o’clock in the morning. Half asleep, he says, ‘We want you to be at the Chase Manhattan Bank tomorrow, even though it’s Saturday. We want to help Martin.’

“I walk in at the [appointed] time and there is Rockefeller, Morrow, a bank official, and a couple of security guards. They open the huge vault. There was a big circular door with a driver’s-wheel-like handle on it. Lo and behold there was money stacked floor to ceiling! Rockefeller walks in and takes $100,000 in cash and puts it in a satchel, a briefcase-like thing. And one of the Chase Manhattan Bank officers says, ‘Mr. Jones, can you sit down for a moment?’ I sit down and he says, ‘Your name is Clarence B. Jones, right? We’ve got to have a note for this.’”

Jones hesitated, flabbergasted. “This man filled out a promissory note: Clarence B. Jones, $100,000 payable on demand,” Jones recalls. “Now, I wasn’t stupid. I said, ‘Payable on demand?! I don’t have $100,000!’ And the bank official . . . said, ‘No, we’ll take care of it, but we’ve got to have it for banking regulations.’”

Worried he was being impudent, Jones signed the document. “I took the money and got on a plane headed back to Alabama,” Jones says. “I am a hero. All the kids are bailed out.”

“Everybody around Martin knew that I had somehow magically raised bail,” he contends, citing others who deserve more credit than he: especially Belafonte, along with Morrow, Walker, and Birmingham minister Fred Shuttlesworth. “I stayed mum all these years about the donor. I didn’t tell the story I’m telling you – except to King, who was ecstatic. I had a firm ‘Don’t Ask’ policy.”[26] [27]

The black civil rights movement was not rebelling against the “Establishment” any more than the New Left which it helped to spawn. The civil rights movement was promoted and funded by the Establishment in a war against the South, segregation, like apartheid, being an anachronism in a modern capitalist economy. The aim was and remains an integrated workforce and a standardized consumer market. Martin Luther King was backed by the federal government via Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and Nelson Rockefeller against the beleaguered Birmingham authorities. The ensuing violence enabled the passage of desegregation legislation.

Despite all the cant around King’s pacifism, and “white police brutality” against the blacks in Birmingham and elsewhere, what seems to be overlooked in King’s famous letter is the blatantly obvious: He sought to provoke the police to violence for the martyrdom that it would give his cause; his was a strategy of “tension,” as he put it, and he was annoyed by the leniency of the police in Birmingham, their lack of violence:

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “non-violently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice.[27] [28]

FBI Assessment

There has been much comment regarding the FBI’s surveillance of King. While the Left is portrayed as a victim of government surveillance, even the innocuous anti-Communist John Birch Society was a primary and ongoing subject of FBI investigations. Yet the most important elements have been overlooked or ignored, even by King’s detractors. The main interest seems to be whether or not he was a “Communist,” and to what extent “Communists” were involved in the SCLC.[28] [29] That was the FBI and CIA’s main interest. The CIA did not place American Leftist dissidents under surveillance unless it was suspected they might be linked to a Soviet bloc state. This should not be surprising, given the CIA’s sponsorship of Leftists who were opposed to the USSR’s “Stalinism.” And the FBI analysis of King a month prior to his death has been mentioned previously: much of it centers, as one would expect, on Communist influences in the SCLC, as well as King’s sexual permissiveness relative to his public moral posturing.

Their real interest, however, was is in the source of King’s funding. The FBI reports in “Funds from firms and foundations” during February 1967 that the stockbrokerage firm Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith had contributed fifteen thousand dollars to the SCLC. In August, the Edward Lamb Foundation of Ohio contributed stock worth six thousand dollars. And in November, the Ford Foundation was slated to give two hundred thirty thousand dollars for leadership training. In October 1965 Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York, who has already been referred to as a major contributor, gave twenty-five thousand dollars to the Gandhi Society for Human Rights, a fundraising adjunct of the SCLC.[29] [30] With the money that King had received from the Ford Foundation for leadership training for “Negro ministers,” two workshops were held in Miami in February 1968. One attendee was dismayed at the “drinking, fornication and homosexuality” that took place, as well as an all-night sex orgy with white and black prostitutes.[30] [31]

Also of interest is the federal funding that the SCLC received for joint projects. In 1966, the SCLC received a four million dollar loan from the Federal Housing Administration for projects in Chicago, from which it would gain a four hundred thousand dollar profit. In November 1967, the Department of Labor contracted with the SCLC for sixty-one thousand dollars to train blacks in Atlanta.[31] [32]

In February 1968, sixty wealthy individuals were invited to a fundraising gathering for the SCLC at a thousand dollars per head at the home of entertainer Harry Belafonte. Among those invited were Governor and Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, as well as Mary and Stephen Rockefeller.[32] [33]

“In Some Mysterious Way”

Shortly prior to King’s assassination there was a resurgence of black separatism, which took over the SNCC, expelling its white members.[33] [34] There had long been a black separatist tradition, distinct from the integrationism promoted by the NAACP and its successor organizations, such as King’s. Marcus Garvey had established a trained and disciplined Black Nationalist movement, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, during the 1920s. W. E. B. Du Bois resigned from the NAACP in 1934 in favor of Black Nationalism, although he returned during the 1940s. In 1967, H. Rap Brown was elected chairman of the SNCC, stating that “violence is as American as apple pie.” The call now was for “Black Power.”

Hayden recalls that the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy:

. . . led to a meltdown of the system’s core. The breakdown happened not only in Chicago, not only in America; in some mysterious way, it was a global phenomenon. Perhaps history is random and the search for logical meaning a fruitless illusion. But why did so many forces flow toward a climax in this one particular year, the watershed year for a generation? Surely there has been no other quite like it in American history?[34] [35]

King’s death in 1968 instigated the Days of Rage in New York City, where the SDS rampaged, “trashing store windows in Time Square.”[35] [36] As a consequence, even more civil right laws passed Congress. At Columbia University, Mark Rudd, an SDS eminence, staged a protest. It was the beginning of the New Left riots of ’68 that spread to Europe in May, almost toppling President Charles de Gaulle, the only European statesman of the time who resisted American global hegemony and the supremacy of the dollar, and even extended into the Soviet bloc.

Hayden was puzzled by the seemingly spontaneous outburst that wracked the world in 1968. He had a hint of that “mysterious way” when referring to the CIA connections with the NSA, and through that organization both to the black civil rights movement and the New Left. The CIA and an array of oligarchic foundations had been funding the ultra-liberal causes from which the New Left emerged for decades. The mayhem of the era resulted in a paradigm shift leftward. In comparison to the Black Panther militias and New Left rioting, the options demanded by the Establishment looked mild, even “conservative,” by comparison. If King and the integrationist movement had represented an actual rebellion against the Establishment, they would have been crushed as completely as Marcus Garvey. They rather served a dialectical purpose.


[1] [37] Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power (New York: The New Press, 2002), pp. 88-89.

[2] [38] Quoted by D. Pallister, et al, South Africa Inc.: The Oppenheimer Empire (London: Corgi Books, 1988), p. 80.

[3] [39] Cited by Ivor Benson, Behind Communism in Africa (Pinetown, South Africa: Dolphin Press, 1975), p. 14.

[4] [40] Gunnar Myrdahl, An American Dilemma [41] (New York: Harper Bros., 1944).

[5] [42] Gunnar Myrdahl, “Analyst of race crisis, dies [43],” The New York Times, May 18, 1987.

[6] [44] Andrew Carnegie, “The Gospel of Wealth [45],” 1889.

[7] [46] Leo Trachtenberg, “Philanthropy that worked,” City Journal (Winter 1998); cited by K. R. Bolton, Babel Inc. (London: Black House Publishing, 2013), p. 135.

[8] [47] The New York Times, March 24, 1917; see K. R. Bolton, Revolution from Above (London: Arktos, 2011), pp. 57-60.

[9] [48] Peter F. Lau, Democracy Rising: South Carolina and the Fight for Black Equality Since 1865 (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), pp. 73-74.

[10] [49]A Short Account of International Student Politics and the Cold War with Particular Reference to the NSA, CIA, etc. [50],” Ramparts (March 1967).

[11] [51]Baker, Ella Josephine [52],” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University.

[12] [53]American Jewish Congress [54],” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

[13] [55] “Martin Luther King, Jr. A Current Analysis,” FBI 04-10125-10133, March 12, 1968, p. 3.

[14] [56] Ibid., p. 5.

[15] [57] Ibid., p. 7.

[16] [58] Tom Hayden, Reunion: A Memoir (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1989), p. 6.

[17] [59] Tom Hayden, “The CIA’s Student Activism Phase,” The Nation, November 26, 2014.

[18] [60] Karen M. Paget, Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

[19] [61] Ibid.

[20] [62] Hayden, Reunion, op. cit., p. 61.

[21] [63] Ibid., p. 55.

[22] [64] Ibid., p. 111.

[23] [65] Ibid., pp. 111-112.

[24] [66] Ibid., p. 112.

[25] [67] Douglas S. Brinkley, “The Man Who Kept King’s Secrets [68],” Vanity Fair, April 2006.

[26] [69] Ibid.

[27] [70] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [71],” April 16, 1963.

[28] [72] “Martin Luther King, Jr. A Current Analysis,” op. cit., passim.

[29] [73] Ibid., p. 17.

[30] [74] Ibid.

[31] [75] Ibid.

[32] [76] Ibid., pp. 17-18.

[33] [77] Hayden, Reunion, op. cit., p. 164.

[34] [78] Ibid., pp. 254-255.

[35] [79] Ibid., p. 269.