Stanley Levison

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Stanley David Levison was a secret member of the Communist Party USA, in charge of handling the party's finances and its “reserve fund,” while the party was secretly funded by the Kremlin.[1] He was also a top adviser to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Levison ghostwrote many of King's speeches, including his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

The FBI first learned of Levison's secret activities on behalf of the CPUSA in 1952, when brothers Jack and Morris Childs—two Communist Party functionaries who had been close to Levison since the 1940s—became FBI informants.[2]

In 1956, King's personal assistant, the socialist (and ex-Communist) Bayard Rustin, introduced King to Levison, who quickly became King's "most influential white counselor." On January 10, 1957, King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); six months later, an FBI memo reported that a redacted source—either Jack or Morris Childs -- "stated that Stanley Levison is now a CP member with no official title, who performs his CP work through mass organization activity."[3] But the FBI still hadn't made the link: In September, Hoover instructed agents regarding the SCLC, “In the absence of any indication that the Communist Party has attempted, or is attempting, to infiltrate this organization, you should conduct no investigation in this matter.”[4]

In 1958, James Jackson, Communist Party Secretary in charge of “Negro and Southern Affairs” said that he and Communist Party General Secretary Eugene Dennis had conferred with “the most secret and guarded people, who are in touch with, consulting with, and guiding [Martin] Luther King,” according to Jack Childs. These were “party guys, far removed from the top but [who were] playing an important role in guiding these fellows [King and associates].” Jackson thought that “this group may be important in Negro work.” On May 6, 1960, Childs reported:

Hunter Pitts [Jack] O'Dell is working full time in connection with the King Mass Meeting to be held in Harlem on May 17, 1960. Working closely with O'Dell are Stanley and Roy Levison [Bennett]. The CP considers [the] King meeting of the most importance and feels that it is definitely to the Party's advantage to assign outstanding Party members to work with the [Martin] Luther King group. CP policy at the moment is to concentrate upon Martin Luther King.[5]

During this period, the FBI discovered that Levison was in frequent contact with KGB agent Victor Lessiovsky,[6] who was in New York under cover as special assistant to United Nations Secretary General U Thant. Lessiovsky specialized in recruiting “third world peoples” as Soviet assets[7]

On January 8, 1962, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy that Levison was both "a close adviser" to Dr. King and "a member of the Communist Party, U.S.A."[8] On March 6, the Attorney General ordered the FBI to wiretap Levison's phone, and some of his conversations with King were intercepted. On June 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy met with Martin Luther King at the White House.

[President] Kennedy took King into the Rose Garden for a private chat. “I assume you know you’re under very close surveillance,” Kennedy said, putting his hand on King’s shoulder. Then he told King that Levison and O’Dell were communists and were under the control of the Soviet Union. “You’ve got to get rid of them,” Kennedy said. The president argued that Levison and O’Dell were still active in Communist Party affairs. Disclosure of their communist ties could weaken chances for civil rights legislation, Kennedy said. “If they shoot you down, they’ll shoot us down, too,” the president said. Bobby Kennedy later recalled it was a harsh exchange.

“The president was very firm and strong with him,” Bobby said. King was dismissive. “He sort of laughs about a lot of these things. Makes fun of it,” Bobby said. King challenged the president’s facts about O’Dell’s communist activities. “I don’t know he’s got to do all that—he’s got two jobs with me,” King shot back. Besides, King said there was no proof that Levison was a communist agent. King’s defiance clearly upset Kennedy. At one point, the president’s face turned red and he shook with anger, according to King.[9]

The President warned King that Levison was a "Kremlin agent," telling Dr. King to get rid of him. King looked the President in the eye and promised he would. But King merely pretended to break off contact with Levison while actually continuing to confer with him through intermediaries.[10] Levison remained close to King until his assassination in 1968.


  1. Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, Kyrill M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (Yale University Press 2008) ISBN 0300138008, pp. 147-148
  2. John Barron, Operation Solo: The FBI's Man in the Kremlin (Regnery Publishing, 2013) ISBN 1621570991
  3. David J. Garrow, "The FBI and Martin Luther King," The Atlantic, July/August 2002
  4. Ray Wannall, The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record (Turner Publishing Company, 2000) ISBN 1563115530, p. 90
  5. Ray Wannall, The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record (Turner Publishing Company, 2000) ISBN 1563115530, p. 90
  6. John Barron, Operation Solo: The Fbi's Man in the Kremlin (Regnery Publishing, 2013) ISBN 1621570991
  7. Samuel Francis, “Comrade King? Chronicles, December 2, 2002
  8. Richard Severo, "Dr. King and Communism: No Link Ever Produced," The New York Times, October 22, 1983
  9. Patrick J. Sloyan, The Politics of Deception: JFK's Secret Decisions on Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Cuba (Macmillan, 2015) ISBN 1250030609, pp. 154-156
  10. John Meroney, "What Really Happened Between J. Edgar Hoover and MLK Jr.," The Atlantic, November 11, 2011