King Family Not Surprised by Spying

Investigative reporter Mike Greenblatt, of KHOU TV, handed Coretta Scott King's FBI file to her nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, yesterday at the King Memorial Center in Atlanta. Farris, who runs the King Center, talks about his reaction to the file and its controversial contents.

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TONY COX, host:

As we mentioned earlier, investigative reporter Mark Greenblatt delivered the FBI file on Coretta Scott King to the nephew of the late civil rights icon yesterday at the Martin Luther King Memorial Center. Her nephew, Isaac Newton Farris, is here with me now.

Isaac, welcome to the program.

Mr. ISAAC NEWTON FARRIS (Coretta Scott King's Nephew): Thank you, Tony.

COX: So it cannot come as a surprise to you, I would think, that the FBI surveilled your aunt, but that doesn't necessarily make it any less unsettling, does it?

Mr. FARRIS: Well, it certainly does not. And it was a surprise that the scrutiny seemed to be just as intense on her as it was on him, which I think is a travesty because basically this was a woman trying to raise four kids and build a memorial to her husband. A God-fearing, law-abiding citizen who was abused in this manner is just a travesty.

COX: How much of the documentation have you had a chance to go through, and what has struck you the most so far?

Mr. FARRIS: Not - well, not much of it. And our archivist is also in the process of going through it here at the King Center. But what it brought home to me is, fortunately, how far the country has come. If you remember, Tony, this was pre-Watergate so basically, you had all of these intelligence agencies basically operating with no congressional oversight. There was nothing such as an intelligence committee back when this was occurring. And so it's kind of a reminder, you know, we're dealing with some of these issues now with the Patriot Act and just - in this climate of terrorism. And it just kind of reminds you of a time that we really don't want to go back to in this country.

COX: How knowledgeable, do you think, your aunt and uncle were with regard to the fact that they were being surveilled at the time?

Mr. FARRIS: They were very knowledgeable. It kind of came with the territory. But they knew that it was - they had nothing to hide or nothing to fear, so it was not a deterrent in their activities.

COX: One of the things that we've noticed from the documents, so far, is that there was an informant that - at least, one of the informants was a male. Did they suspect that they had someone within their ranks who was turning on them, and did they have any idea who that might have been?

Mr. FARRIS: I - that I don't think that they did have an idea that they had someone in their midst because they were both God-fearing people intended to be the pipe that thought that the glass was half-full. So I don't think that they really realized that.

COX: What's been the reaction of the rest of the family?

Mr. FARRIS: You know, basically, it's been, you know - but we're a little upset about it because basically we're talking about a private citizen here, both my aunt and my uncle. They were not - they were public figures but not public officials. And to think that there is a file that can be released to somebody basically on my aunt, who is a private citizen, is somewhat unsettling.

COX: You know, that's a good point that you raised. And it raises the question of whether or not you might pursue this further to see, A, if there is more information about Coretta Scott King that the FBI is holding onto, or, B, if there are others who were surveilled at that time that you don't know about.

Mr. FARRIS: Yeah, well, I'm quite sure - or B, I'm quite sure that that is the case because this was, as I said, Tony, this was pre-Watergate. These guys were basically operating onto themselves with no congressional oversight whatsoever. I mean, they were appropriated money to do with what they felt like. So I know that there are other files. I'm sure of that. I know that there are terrorists out there. We need to protect ourselves. And I think the country is willing to, a degree, maybe to make some compromises where our civil liberties are concerned, but certainly not to this extent, hopefully. We can't go back here.

COX: Isaac, this is my final question, and I thank you for coming on. What will you do with this information?

Mr. FARRIS: Well, like I said, you know, we literally just got the file. It's 500 pages plus. We just got it yesterday, so we're trying to dissect it. And I don't know - the family, I think, have some feelings about this, that, you know, the kids in particular, and I think they might have some views that, at some point, they want to express about it because, as I said, we all, you know, are just kind of upset. I just drives home the point - here's a private citizen with a file. I mean, Tony, there could be a file on you.

COX: I just - there could be. Yes.

Mr. FARRIS: I must say - I mean, you know, they're setting up somewhere that people have been surveilling you. And it just - it's just appalling. I mean, this is America. This is not the old Soviet Union.

COX: Isaac, thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate it.

Mr. FARRIS: Thank you.

COX: Isaac Newton Farris is the nephew of the late Coretta Scott King.

We also contacted the FBI and invited them to appear on the program. Instead, Bill Carter from their national press office sent us this statement.

Quote, "Under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI is required by law to divulge information from its files often collected during an earlier era in our history when different concerns drove the government, the news media and public sentiment. Under today's laws, policies and guidelines, many of the investigations that were conducted during that era would not be initiated. Today, the FBI's job is to protect Americans, not only from crime and terrorism, but also from incursions into their constitutional rights. That effort starts with our own commitment to scrupulously protect privacy rights and civil liberties in the course of FBI investigations," end quote.

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Listen to Tony Cox's Interview with Dr. Christine King Farris

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