One of the easiest things to forget about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is that he was just a person. One of the most influential people of the 20th century, no doubt, but a person with unique flaws and quirks that made him different from the Christ-like figure he’s often portrayed as today.
At the time of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, he was still the personification of the civil rights movement in the United States. But those near him said he appeared to have lost a step, in part because of conflicts in his inner circle of advisers and a growing estrangement from his former ally President Lyndon B. Johnson over the Vietnam War.
Five years after his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, though, and 40 years before the first African-American became president, King stepped onto the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennesse.
When racist assassin James Earl Ray aimed his rifle sight at King, he almost certainly saw the civil rights leader doing something King's children never saw him doing: smoking. King was a lifelong smoker, although very few – if any – pictures exist as proof because he never smoked in public. King didn’t want his family to know about the habit.
After King was shot, his advisers stopped the bleeding while one of them, Dr. Billy Kyles, removed a pack of cigarettes from King’s pocket. The Kennedy brothers allowed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap King.
In July 1963, one month before King’s March on Washington, Hoover personally convinced Attorney General Robert Kennedy – brother of the president – to let the FBI install listening devices in King’s home, office and phone lines. Hoover created the FBI in his own image decades before, and by the 1960s Hoover had become paranoid and bitter.
Five years of government monitoring never provided proof that King associated with Communists, only evidence of Hoover’s bigotry in the form of racist memos from the FBI director to his subordinates. King was a serial adulterer.
While the ethical reasons for the FBI’s monitoring of King were murky (at best), the recordings do make up much of what we now know about the man’s personal life. King had engaged in so many extramarital affairs that his wife, Coretta Scott King, had reportedly become disillusioned with their marriage.
FBI monitoring devices recorded audio of King during a tryst at a Washington, D.C., hotel, eventually sending the tape to Mrs. King in an effort to discredit him in his own home. King even spent the last night of his life with a woman who was not his wife. In the chaos outside the Lorraine Motel, his advisers told the young woman to stay out of the ambulance to avoid tarnishing his legacy.
(As the movie “Selma” is hitting theaters, the film will re-open old wounds not just about the civil rights struggle, but about the character of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the deepest wounds is that of Senator Georgia Davis Powers—the woman who says she shared the dream with King and his bed.
Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers says she had a long-time love affair with Dr. King, Jr. She wrote in her autobiography that she spent the night with Dr. King his last night at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was assassinated the next morning.
In her book “I Shared the Dream”, Powers wrote, “When they put Dr. King into the ambulance, I instinctively began climbing in to go with him.” She continues describing the scene, writing, “Andy Young gently pulled me back. ‘No, Senator,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you want to do that.’ ” When asked about the incident, Andrew Young says that he doesn’t remember).
They met in 1964 on one of his visits to Kentucky, when she was assigned to greet him at the airport. It is not really clear why she began the affair, she says, except she was entering midlife and feeling unattractive, and he asked to see her.
" Their affair was an open secret in his inner circle. She was in Memphis on the April evening in 1968 when he was assassinated. He had asked her to come. She was fixing her hair in front of the dresser mirror in her motel room when she heard the shot on the balcony. She ran out and saw him "lying in a pool of blood that was widening as I stood there staring."
Much of the world looked on that day in horror, and millions of Americans could say that they, like Ms. Powers, "shared the dream." Her book could just as easily have been called "I Shared the Dreamer." From the cover photograph of a fedora-topped King marching ahead of Ms. Powers to the scenes of furtive meetings in hotel rooms to her account of his assassination in Memphis, his fame and prominence overshadow her story.
SOME may see her book as the anthem of a liberated mistress. After all, she had her own career, she was not pining away for her man -- she did not hold such proprietary views. If he called, she came. They caught up on each other's lives, had warm, tender moments, then went their separate ways until the next time. Yes, she suffered the indignities of being the other woman. When King was shot, she began to climb into the ambulance with him until Andrew Young, a King lieutenant, said: "No, senator. I don't think you want to do that." But, reading her words, one gets the sense that she knew precisely what she was doing and has few regrets. She wrote the book, she says in the prologue, to set the record straight, believing the Government has distorted her role both in King's life and in the movement.
King’s right-hand man, Ralph Abernathy, wrote in his 1989 autobiography that the staff “all understood and believed in the biblical prohibition against sex outside marriage. It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.” Abernathy also wrote that King had a “weakness for women” while Johnson – who considered King’s criticism of Vietnam a personal betrayal – called him a “hypocritical preacher.”
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) SOME FINAL THOUGHTS At the time of his death, King had a heart condition. Negotiating with government leaders while trying to unite poor people and fend off death threats would be enough to stress anyone out. King’s autopsy results revealed that his heart appeared to be from someone 21 years older. His poor eating habits almost certainly contributed, with aides reporting that they had to monitor the leader’s diet and often joked with him about his ballooning weight.
The modern Republican Party’s inability to attract a large number of black voters has inspired campaign strategists to capitalize on a rumor that King stood in their ranks. The idea began after a 2009 interview in which King’s niece, the Rev. Alveda King,speculated her uncle was a registered GOP voter, a claim later refuted by his son. There seems to be scant documentation to prove either family member right, but pundits on both sides of the aisle can probably agree his image is more significant as a humanitarian.