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Dangerous Friendship

Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and The Kennedy Brothers

Ben Kamin

Publication Year: 2014

The product of long-concealed FBI surveillance documents, Dangerous Friendship chronicles a history of Martin Luther King Jr. that the government kept secret from the public for years. The book reveals the story of Stanley Levison, a well-known figure in the Communist Party–USA, who became one of King’s closest friends and, effectively, his most trusted adviser. Levison, a Jewish attorney and businessman, became King’s pro bono ghostwriter, accountant, fundraiser, and legal adviser. This friendship, however, created many complications for both men. Because of Levison’s former ties to the Communist Party, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover launched an obsessive campaign, wiretapping, tracking, and photographing Levison relentlessly. By association, King was labeled as “a Communist and subversive,” prompting then–attorney general Robert F. Kennedy to authorize secret surveillance of the civil rights leader. It was this effort that revealed King’s sexual philandering and furthered a breakdown of trust between King, Robert F. Kennedy, and eventually President John F. Kennedy. With stunning revelations, this book exposes both the general attitude of the U.S. government toward the privacy rights of American citizens during those difficult years as well as the extent to which King, Levison, and many other freedom workers were hounded by people at the very top of the U.S. security establishment.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Chapter One: Cousin Stanley

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pp. 3-10

The elderly gentleman, neatly dressed, with trim beard, round eyeglasses, and the tip of a clean white handkerchief peeking out of his lapel pocket, put down the restaurant luncheon menu. Kindness and the glint of an old Marxist shone from his thickly browed eyes. He projected the slight...

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Chapter Two: A Walk in the Rose Garden

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pp. 11-26

Robert F. Kennedy was in a foul mood. It was a calm summer day—the cherry blossoms had receded into the blooming magnolias and orchids and the occasional, heartening smells of rosemary and mint. The irises, peonies, sugar maples, and Virginia pines absorbed the alternating...

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Chapter Three: From Far Rockaway to Montgomery

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pp. 27-38

There were still considerably more oaks and elms dotting and shading the stubborn concrete when Stanley Levison was preparing to graduate Far Rockaway High School in Queens, New York, in 1930 than there are today. The huge building on Bay and Twenty-Fifth Street spread...

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Chapter Four: The Communist

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pp. 39-52

It should have been a normal trend of thought for the untold thousands of African American soldiers, sailors, and air corpsmen: having served with valor and shed their blood against the forces of the Axis, they aspired to share in the spoils of victory. Black men helped save the world from the...

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Chapter Five: In Friendship

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pp. 53-66

"I just can’t sing a song; it has to be part of my marrow and bones and everything,” Libby Holman, the dark-skinned, exotic, Jewish performer and philanthropist told an interviewer in 1966.1 Holman, who died five years later, was a particularly fervent, though not widely known, patron...

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Chapter Six: Harry Belafonte, Janet Levison, and a Totally Different “Kennedy”

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pp. 67-82

Besides Stanley Levison, another notable person who met Martin Luther King Jr. for the first time in 1956 was Harry Belafonte. King phoned the rising calypso star in New York, and according to Belafonte’s memoirs, said, simply: “You don’t know me, Mr. Belafonte, but my name is Martin...

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Chapter Seven: A Stabbing in Harlem

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pp. 83-92

No one will ever know what actually compelled Izola Ware Curry to take a seven-inch letter opener to Blumstein’s department store on the evening of September 20. Martin Luther King Jr. was signing copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. The book had been largely...

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Chapter Eight: Stanley Knew Better

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pp. 93-110

The South may have lost the Civil War militarily, but it hardly surrendered psychologically. The firebombing of Reverend Martin Luther King’s house in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott of 1955–56 was but one of thousands and thousands of incendiary acts, terrors, murders...

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Chapter Nine: Senator Kennedy Is Calling

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pp. 111-126

Martin Luther King did fear prison—and for good reason. Even if one wasn’t so well known, the dangers were clear for any incarcerated black man or woman in the South. Certainly, many of the African American inmates were criminals; some had done hideous things...

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Chapter Ten: Martin, Stanley, and Clarence

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pp. 127-142

At the end of the day, Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher, an oratorical wizard, who knew how to play music with people’s emotions. Ironically, he hadn’t spent a lot of time as a child and teenager, very much in the looming shadow of his father at Ebenezer, fancying himself as a pastor...

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Chapter Eleven: I Am Not Now and Never Have Been a Member of the Communist Party

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pp. 143-156

Martin Luther King Jr. may have used the phrase “our friend,” referring to Stanley Levison, for the first time on November 28, 1962. He dictated a letter from Atlanta to Clarence Jones, in care of the Gandhi Society for Human Rights on Fifth Avenue in New York...

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Chapter Twelve: I Have a Dream Today

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pp. 157-168

The year 1963 was one that both lifted and trounced human souls. With prophetic irony, the heralded musical Camelot closed at New York’s Majestic Theater on January 5 after 873 performances. The term “Camelot,” implying a short-lived dream, would come to pertain to the Kennedy...

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Chapter Thirteen: The Same Thing Is Going to Happen to Me

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pp. 169-180

The euphoria of the Birmingham victory, the “I Have a Dream” coup, and the Kennedys’ warm and fancy reception for King and the others at the White House was short-lived. August gave way to September, and Klansmen were making plans in Alabama to retaliate and break...

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Chapter Fourteen: Lyndon Johnson, Ping-Pong, and Bobby’s Transformation

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pp. 181-192

Lyndon Johnson had both disdained the Kennedys and wished desperately to please them. The unremitting social snubbing they aff orded the vice president was incalculably more pronounced than what the Kennedys saved for Martin Luther King Jr. King, a Negro leader and an inconvenient...

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Chapter Fifteen: Selma, Vietnam, and the Gathering Shadows

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pp. 193-210

King and the SCLC leadership were churning about two very different settings as Lyndon Johnson settled into the White House and the cherry blossoms bloomed in Washington. On one hand, a civil rights bill, truly historic, was to be signed at some time soon and King was...

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Chapter Sixteen: Bobby Prays in Indianapolis; Stanley Weeps in Atlanta

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pp. 211-224

"Is it certain that he was killed?” asked presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, as a misty dusk settled over the predominantly black section of Indianapolis on April 4, 1968.1 Kennedy had proclaimed his entry for the Democratic presidential nomination just a few weeks earlier—as...

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Afterword: Negroes Will Not Return to Passivity

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pp. 225-230

In May 1967, just a month after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his now-acclaimed but at that time scorned speech against the Vietnam War, Stanley Levison sat down at his old Olivetti typewriter, lit a cigarette, adjusted his glasses, and began a personal exposition about his compassion for black...


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pp. 231-240


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pp. 241-246

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pp. 247-248

This book could not have been written without the encouragement, help, and wisdom of Professor Clayborne Carson, the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Research and Education, based at Stanford University. Clay, who was personally asked by Coretta Scott King to gather...


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pp. 249-256

E-ISBN-13: 9781609174163
E-ISBN-10: 160917416X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861310
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861314

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1st