Martin Luther King’s entire FBI file (16,000+ pages),
as posted by the original Memory Hole
>>> Martin Luther King Jr.'s main FBI file is more than 16,000 pages long. Due to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Bureau released the entire file in 1984. It was on paper, of course.
For over two decades, if you wanted to view the whole thing, you had to pay the FBI FOIA office over $1,600 (10 cents/page) to get a paper copy, which is a highly inconvenient format for a huge file, never mind the exorbitant
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expense. Or you had to go to a library that had it on microform, or you could view it in the reading room at FBI HQ in Washington, DC.
Here in the digital age, the FBI has chosen to post a tiny fraction of MLK's file, without mentioning that it's only a tiny fraction. Go to the Martin Luther King Jr. page at the FBI's Vault. You'll find 1 part of the file (confusingly divided into two PDFs), totaling 226 pages. The file actually has 121 parts, totaling 16,659 pages.
The FBI purposely misleads the public about the extent of the file by labeling their PDFs "Part 1 of 2" and "Part 2 of 2," as if there are only two parts to the file:
If they were being honest, they would label these "Part 103a of 121" and "Part 103b of 121."
But it gets even worse. To this day, the FBI's FOIA office misleads requesters about MLK's file. In August 2016, Marco Lloyd used Muckrock to file a FOIA request with the FBI. He specifically asked for: "Any and all files and materials regarding or referencing Martin Luther King Jr., a prominent civil rights activist."
What did the FBI's FOIA office do? They sent him a letter referring him to the two little bits of MLK's file on their website. Lloyd asked for all FBI material on King, and they sent him 1.3% of King's file. They didn't even tell him about the existence of the full file, which they have on PDF.
It should also be noted:
1) Despite the fact that Lloyd asked for "any and all" FBI material on MLK, the FBI's response doesn't mention the existence of the FBI’s file on King’s adviser, friend, and confidante, New York businessman Stanley Levison. This 11,408-page file is comprised mostly of transcripts of bugged phone conversations between Levison and King. (The FBI has posted 23 of 109 parts of this file here.)
2) As far as the FBI's voluminous files regarding King's assassination, the FBI FOIA office told Lloyd to go to the website of a nonprofit group that has posted an admittedly incomplete set of those files. This leads me to wonder - not for the first time - why the FBI doesn't post these files on its own website.
The existence of MLK's full file had been known in certain circles; many university libraries have it on microform/microfiche, and it's been used as source material for numerous books through the years. So in 2008, I filed a FOIA request specifically asking for the entire thing on PDF. And I got it. I posted it to the original Memory Hole website, marking the first time it had been made available online. I'm now posting it to The Memory Hole 2.
A helpful guide to the FBI’s MLK file is here. “Part 1″ covers the entire main file on King. ”Part 2″ is a guide to the FBI’s King-Levison file.
A couple of important notes about King’s file in general. The 16,659 pages don’t truly encompass all of King’s FBI file - however, this is all that the Bureau has released. As is often the case, they’ve withheld some pages under exemptions allowed by the Freedom of Information Act. Also, a 1977 court order forced the FBI to remove portions of the file and send them to the National Archives, where they're sealed until 2027. You can read all about this in “Part 1″ of the guide mentioned above and here.
Note that this is the main MLK file (i.e., the one compiled at FBI Headquarters). It contains some documents from FBI field offices, but the separate field office files on King aren’t included in their entireties in his main file. I hope to post these in the future.