Martin Luther King, Jr., hero of the civil rights movement, was undoubtedly a great man. He was also a ladies’ man who routinely stepped out on his wife, Coretta, sometimes with members of his own congregation. It’s doubtful whether in today’s world, where privacy is almost a forgotten concept, King could still have become famous without being destroyed by sexual scandals.
We know about King’s reputation for two reasons. First, because the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover’s was deeply suspicious about him, believing him to be a communist (although King was, in fact, a registered Republican) and ordered his agents to spy upon King constantly. What they found wasn’t evidence of communist, but was, instead, evidence of almost compulsive womanizing. Second, his own inner circle eventually had to admit that King just couldn’t keep his pants on.
Ironically enough, the priapic Kennedy brothers, Robert and John, the same men who were revealed to have been involved in sexual scandals that included mafia molls, movie stars, virgins, and orgies, were impressed when Hoover told them about the scope of King’s activities. In later recordings, Jackie Kennedy Onassis said, without a hint of irony, that “I can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible.” According to Jackie, Bobby Kennedy to that King “was calling up all these girls and arranging for a party of men and women, I mean, sort of an orgy.”
Even King’s friends had to concede that King had a hard time keeping his pants on. Rev. Ralph Abernathy, one of King’s fellow civil rights campaigners and the man who was at King’s side when he died, admitted in 1989 that King did indeed have a “weakness for women.” Although King, an ordained minister, fully understood the Bible’s prohibition on adultery, Abernathy wrote that “It was just that he had a particularly difficult time with that temptation.”
Even on the last night of his life (not that King knew he would be killed the following day, of course), Abernathy describes how King had sex with two women simultaneously and then, later, had sex with yet a third woman. Indeed, that evening, which followed King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech saw King entertaining a revolving door of women.
In the years since Abernathy told his story, others who claim to have been there at the time dispute his narrative of events. One of the women Abernathy hinted slept with King, Georgia Davis Powers, says that, while she was in King’s hotel room, all that they did was talk. Abernathy, however, stuck to his version until the day he died.
The fact was that, as King told a friend, sex was the only thing that relaxed him. “I’m away from home 25 to 27 days a month. F*****g’s a form of anxiety reduction.” He developed long-term relationships with three women, but was perfectly content to take whatever came along when he was on the road. Invariably, though, because of his fame, King could have his pick of women. He liked light-skinned black woman, with model-like looks.
King’s behavior wasn’t unusual for the circles in which he traveled. All of the early civil rights preachers apparently had sex on their minds. Many who observed them said that sexual charisma was part of their appeal. For these pastors, sex with female congregants was the norm, not the exception. Michael Harrington, one of the activists involved in the civil rights movement at the time, explained that the movement was “not at all a sour-faced, pietistic” effort. Instead, “Everybody was out getting laid.’ Or trying to.”
King’s circles apparently had sex wherever and whenever they wanted. When King traveled to Norway in 1964 to collect the Nobel Peace Prize, hotel security was appalled to discover that the men who traveled with him were chasing naked, or near-naked, prostitutes down the hotel halls. Hotel management, however, was convinced to keep quiet about the matter.
Meanwhile, King insisted that his wife, Coretta Scott King, stay home raising their four daughters. Indeed, he had very little interaction with her or with her child-rearing decisions. Even cloistered in her home, Coretta was no fool. She knew that King was carousing but, as she once admitted, “I just wouldn’t have burdened him with anything so trivial . . . all that other business just didn’t have a place in the very high-level relationship we enjoyed.”
Sometimes it’s useful to remember that, at least with men, the same energy and courage that leads some of them to true greatness, is coupled with an overwhelming sex drive – and a sense of entitlement that both powers their public endeavors and, they believe, their private ones.
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