By JR on Thursday, September 15, 2011
IN early 1964 Martin Luther King was the unchallenged leader of America's civil rights movement, still basking in the glory of his "I have a dream" speech the previous summer.
According to former US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, later Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, he was also a "phoney", a sex pest and a "terrible man".
Four months after her husband's death, the First Lady of Camelot sat down with a close friend and a tape recorder to give her calm, candid and brutal assessment of many of those she had met in the White House. The recordings are released today
No one who displeased Mrs Kennedy was spared. Charles de Gaulle was a spiteful "egomaniac". Indira Gandhi was a pushy, bitter "prune". Ted Sorensen, the legendary Kennedy speechwriter, had a "big inferiority complex" and Clare Booth Luce, the playwright and Republican politician, was quite possibly a lesbian.
It was Dr King, who the former First Lady believed had been drunk at her husband's funeral, who came off worst.
"I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible," she told Arthur Schlesinger, the former White House aide, during eight hours of intimate recollections recorded four months after the Kennedy assassination but kept secret at her request for 47years.
Mrs Kennedy said she had been told that secret FBI wiretaps of a Washington hotel suite occupied by Dr King the night before his most famous speech revealed that he had spent much of the evening telephoning women to invite them to a sex party.
In sections of the interviews, to be broadcast tonight in the US, she describes hearing from Robert Kennedy, the former US Attorney-General and her brother-in-law, how the civil rights icon "was calling up all these girls and arranging for a party of men and women, I mean, sort of an orgy".
Mr Kennedy also told his brother's widow that Dr King had been heard joking about being drunk and seeing the pallbearers almost drop the coffin at John F.Kennedy's funeral.
Allegations of Dr King's promiscuity are not new but such unvarnished language from one liberal figurehead about another may help to explain why the tapes have stayed under wraps for so long.
The New York Times, required reading for America's liberal establishment, devoted 19 words to the King sections in a 2,000-word front-page article on the tapes yesterday.
Such hesitancy is partly explained by doubts about the authenticity of FBI wiretaps conducted under J. Edgar Hoover, but Mrs Kennedy's views on Dr King are clearly her own. She is not much kinder to Lyndon Johnson, newly installed in the White House at the time of the interviews.
Her husband had dreaded the idea of a Johnson presidency and enlisted his brother to help find alternatives to be the next Democratic nominee, she told Mr Schlesinger.
The interviews do not touch on John F.Kennedy's own affairs, which were still a closely held secret at the time.
They scarcely mention his death but they dwell in detail on the idea of death during the Cuban missile crisis. "I said, please don't send me away to Camp David, you know, me and the children," Mrs Kennedy said. "If anything happens we're going to stay right here with you ... I just want to be with you. I want to die with you, and the children do, too."