Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH ARTHUR MURTAGH
INTERVIEWER: Arthur, could you tell me what was it like to be in the South? Because you were there from 1955 to quite a long time onwards, and you were in Atlanta and then in Charlotte. What was it like, what was the atmosphere of the place like?
ARTHUR MURTAGH: Well, speaking of the weather, it was hot in the summertime, but the atmosphere of the place was one of... where you liked the people as people, because they had a culture that, even though it was abusive to blacks in a of lot ways, they were easy-going, they took their time, they weren't uptight all the time. And... now we found in Atlanta that we didn't mix much with the Atlanta people, but we finally made a circle of friends that included a lot of southerners, but they were kind of stand-offish with northerners at that time, you know.
INT: It was of course a deeply segregated society. Can you talk about that?
AM: Yeah. In Atlanta the segregation was... at that time,... in the beginning of the Sixties,... it began to break down a little bit, but out in the country, in the rural areas, there was just an acceptance of the people, that... I remember one time where they had a white street and a black street, and the whites never went on the black street and the blacks never went on the other street, so you could live in some of these small towns down there for most of your life and you'd see nobody but the maid. And by the time I was in Atlanta, the situation had changed, but it was still a question of a very pronounced difference. But the difference that I saw in the... way down there in the way that the average American felt about the average person in the North, was that the southern people liked the blacks. They had them in their homes, they had them in every walk of life, where they were working as servants; and even though there were Klan operations and outfits that were very oppressive to them, and they had no dignity whatsoever as far as being recognized as human beings, they weren't cruel to them - the average person wasn't, you know. Now that wasn't so with some of your rural sheriffs and people like that, that used to kick the hell out of them.
INT: You met Martin Luther King several times. What kind of impression did he leave on you?
AM: Very humble, pleasant, a soft-spoken gentleman, well educated. And by and large I was impressed by him. I had... you know, just maybe two or three times where I had conversations with him, and I liked him.
INT: Why did you think that Hoover had such a hostility towards Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement?
AM: It was... (Coughs) Excuse me.
INT: Why do you think Hoover was so hostile to the civil rights movement?
AM: Because it threatened the way of life that he was used to himself. He spent all his life either in Atlanta... I mean, in Washington, D.C. (Coughs)
INT: Why do you think that J. Edgar Hoover was so hostile to the civil rights movement?
INT: Why do you think J. Edgar Hoover was so hostile to the civil rights movement?
AM: He was brought up in a culture where the,... he was close enough to the South to be in a southern culture, and in that society there was a real sense of belief, a religious belief, political belief, that there was no such thing as equality between blacks and whites, and that's the way he viewed them, I'm sure.
INT: What did he attempt to do in order to discredit the civil rights movement, and in particular Martin Luther King?
AM: Well, Hoover did so many things to discredit the civil rights movement that I hardly know where to start. In the first place, he put about the same emphasis... much more of the facilities of the Bureau toward keeping the Klan... keeping the blacks in place and let the Klan run wild. He was friendly with people in the South, and ... when a situation came up, he would always make his decisions in favor of the local people. Even in the Mississippi case, in the summer of 1964, when it got real hot in Philadelphia and Mississippi, where the three civil rights workers were,... he was there, I was there at the time, and Hoover's reaction was to go and see the Governor. Instead of bringing in the federal power and applying it the way it should have been applied, he went and hobnobbed with the Governor. And his whole... it was just... he was a creature of the southern aristocracy. Not that he wasn't part of it, but he was involved, so that he looked at it that way.
INT: How did he regard Martin Luther King - did he see him as a communist, for example?
AM: (Clears throat) According to the reports I heard from people around Hoover, he hated him, and there were all kinds of illustrations of why he hated him. And he was public enemy ... Martin Luther King was public enemy number one - that's the way he was treated, you know. Now, that is a big question, which I don't think we could get into here.
INT: How did you organize, or how was the surveillance of Martin Luther King organized?
AM: Well, that one I know. The surveillance of Martin Luther King was done in the same way that we organized all surveillances. We sent in enough power so that we could be sure that whoever we were trying to surveil was properly surveilled and we got all the information and controlled the situation.
INT: How would that take place? Would this involve, for example, wire-tapping and sort of surveillance by...?
AM: Oh, well, and I was speaking of physical surveillance. In the wire-tapping, we have a ... a somewhat different attitude, or law in this country regarding wire-tapping and that sort of thing, (Clears throat) and there were certain circumstances, when it was properly carried out, that it wasn't illegal. And Hoover had a cover, a wire-tap cover on King, which was operated from the room that I was in - my office was in the same area in Atlanta - in which he had coverage by agents listening to the wire-tap 24 hours a day for... well, four, five, six years before King's death.
INT: What kind of information did the FBI think that they would acquire through such means on Martin Luther King?
AM: Well, I think, from the coverage... Let me put it this way. I don't think that Hoover had any reason that I can think of, or that I was ever given, why it was necessary to give a man like Dr King this amazing amount of attention, other than the fact that he didn't like King. We didn't have facts to show that King was a communist or that King was a this or that King was that, you know. We had scuttlebutt and rumor and... about his personal life, and (Clears throat) the agents that were on the wire-tap, of course wouldn't talk about the wire-tap away from, you know... but I got the impression that some of them didn't attach the significance to what they got on the wire-tap that Hoover would attach to it, 'cause King... no matter what King did, he was wrong, you know. He had no respect for the man.
INT: In what way would such information, that had been acquired through wire-taps or just ordinary surveillance, have been used against Martin Luther King? I mean, was there a sense that Hoover was trying to build up a picture of the man which he could use to turn against him?
AM: Well, yes, that was the main part of it. In the case of King's activities at the time that he received the Nobel Peace Prize... (Coughs)
INT: To what use would Hoover have put all the information that was being acquired by FBI surveillance? What did he have in mind?
AM: In the case of Hoover, his purpose was to destroy ... In the case of King, Hoover's purpose was to destroy him in any way he could. He would leak the information to any information, some true and some not true, in order to embarrass King. The one instance that stands out in my mind is ... maybe the worst situation, was at the time that King was to receive the... Just a minute.
INT: Was it the Nobel Peace Prize?
AM: The Nobel...
INT: Could you start that sentence again?...
INT: If you could start the sentence again: "At the time..."
AM: At the time that King was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, they had a banquet for him in Atlanta, and all the dignitaries from all over the country were invited to the banquet. And... Can we just hold?
(Non-i/v talk. Cut.)
INT: Obviously, Martin Luther King's Southern Leadership Congress wasn't the only active black group, and later on, as time went by, you had the Black Panthers, and they were a different sort of set of people and different aims altogether to that of Martin Luther King. Can you tell me how the FBI went around organizing itself to meet this particular sort of new challenge, new possibility of militant black action?
AM: The pattern was the same, whether it was the Black Panthers or any other situation involving black groups that had organized together. It was to penetrate the organization by actual physical surveillance and technical surveillance, and to get any information they could that would in some way embarrass the people involved, and then to spread that information, to give it to people to try to dissuade them from recognizing King or from doing anything in his behalf. And then, if you want to go back to Martin Luther King thing, that's where it comes in, right here. When Dr King was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Atlanta the Bureau ... No, I've got to think about this a minute, OK?