Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection Act, or MLK Records Act, is proposed legislation that would release United States government records pertaining to the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr. Versions of the law have been proposed on multiple occasions, and a complete version was brought to both houses of the United States Congress in 2005–2006.

History of the King files[edit]

COINTELPRO letter sent to King, already released by the FBI

In the years after King was assassinated, reports emerged that the government was destroying sensitive documents related to the murder case.[1] The FBI was criticized for appearing unusually reluctant to release records pertaining to King.[2] In 1977, Judge John Lewis Smith ruled against Bernard Lee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in a lawsuit, and ordered that the King files be sealed for 50 years.[3] In 1983, Senator Jesse Helms attempted to open the files because he believed that release of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records would incriminate King and prevent the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. He was denied by Judge Smith.[4]

The documents are thus not slated for release until 2027.[5][6] Among these are an FBI file called "MURKIN" (for Murder-King, the official designation of the Martin Luther King assassination investigation)[7] and information about how the FBI, through COINTELPRO, targeted King while he was alive.[8] Due to known FBI policies, many of its records may be destroyed before that date, thus leaving many questions about the King assassination unresolved.[9]

Legislative history[edit]

Purpose of bill[edit]

Describing her reasons for drafting the bill, McKinney has stated: "The truth of the MLK assassination has never been totally revealed. The FBI program COINTELPRO, the CIA project Operation CHAOS, and the Army Intelligence operation Lantern Spike all worked together to prevent the rise of a 'black messiah' and replace Martin Luther King Jr. with a 'clean Negro.'"[10] Kerry, in a letter to David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, wrote: "I now believe with the clock ticking, the urgent legislative need is to provide you, as quickly as possible, with the resources you need to finish the job you have been doing before any papers are destroyed or lost forever".[11] Some conspiracy theorists suggest that already released documents from the MURKIN file connect the 1968 King assassination to the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963.[8]

Introduction of bill[edit]

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Cynthia McKinney in 2002 and 2005; John Kerry brought it to the Senate in 2006, with Hillary Clinton as a co-signer.[12] It was proposed anew by Senator Kerry and Representative John Lewis in 2010.[9][13]

Supporters of the bill have called for the release of records on other potentially racial violence.[13] McKinney also proposed the Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection Act in 2005.[14][15]

Elements of bill[edit]

The text of the Act states that "all Government records concerning the life and assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure". It calls for the creation of a "Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Records Collection" at the National Archive, and would charge the Archivist of the United States to maintain all disclosed records. The law would also create a Review Board to oversee the proper disclosure of records.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "King assassination papers destroyed", Herald-Journal (AP), 16 November 1976.
  2. ^ Ralph de Toledano, "Will King Tapes Remain Sealed?", Luddington Daily News, 15 February 1977.
  3. ^ "Judge orders seal on King wiretaps", Deseret News (UPI), 1 February 1977.
  4. ^ Frances Romero, "A Brief History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day", Time, 18 January 2010.
  5. ^ Mark Strauss, "Nine Historical Archives That Will Spill New Secrets", Smithsonian magazine, July–August 2010.
  6. ^ Geraldine N. Phillips, "Documenting the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Decade of the Sixties", Prologue Magazine 29(2): "Federal Records and African American History", Summer 1997.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Brian Bender, "US cloaks case files involving civil rights", Boston Globe, 18 January 2010; reproduced at Common Dreams.
  9. ^ a b Thom Hartmann and Lamar Waldron, "Threats, Violence Against Congress Show Urgent Need for King Records Act", Thom Hartmann Program, 4 April 2010.
  10. ^ Cynthia McKinney, quoted by Jerry Ray and Tamara Carter, "Jerry Ray Declares his Brother James Earl Ray Didn’t Shoot Martin Luther King, Jr.", PRWeb, 9 January 2012.
  11. ^ John Kerry, letter dated 9 March 2010; quoted and reproduced by Jerry Mitchell, "Put all MLK records online, Kerry says", Clarion-Ledger, 10 March 2010.
  12. ^ Susan Duclos, "The Green Party Nominates Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney To Run As President", 13 July 2008.
  13. ^ a b c Jerry Mitchell, "King's FBI files may be opened to public view", USA Today, 15 January 2010.
  14. ^ James Montgomery, "Tupac In The National Archives? That's Strictly 4 Congress 2 Decide: Bill calls for public disclosure of government records", MTV, 1 December 2005.
  15. ^ H.R. 4210 (109th): Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection Act of 2005, introduced 2 November 2005.

External links[edit]

Bill text and information[edit]

Already public records[edit]