If you didn't know that Stanley Levison, a Jewish attorney, businessman, and one time leader of the USA branch of the Communist Party, was Martin Luther King's closest white friend, you're not alone. There are many who know very little if anything about this fascinating part of American history.
The friendship between these two men is what makes Dangerous Friendship by Ben Kamin an interesting and insightful read. He writes about a time when friendships between the races were rarely publicized, and surveillance of private citizens, albeit well-known ones, was quietly sanctioned by the United States government. This is a historical treatise on issues that were common-place in the turbulent '60s.
Besides his own place on the FBI list for his own activities in the Communist, Levinson's friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, was also under FBI surveillance. It seems that everybody the FBI, the Kennedys, and even many of King's black colleagues, were either after him or resented his popularity.
Simply by association with Levinson, King was known as a Communist, a subversive, and someone then Attorney general Robert Kennedy saw as highly suspect. Surveillance was ordered on all King's activities, including the fact of his sexual infidelity.
In this new book, Kamin explores both the general attitude of the U.S. government toward the privacy rights of American citizens during the '60s 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.
Levison became King's pro bono ghostwriter, accountant, fundraiser, and legal adviser. The relationship between the two men created many complications for both of them, all of which are thoroughly explored in Kamin's book.
The friendship between the two men prevailed despite everything that was happening around them. Levison, in fact, was more than instrumental in the organization established by King and other Southern black preachers, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His help, business acumen, and savvy assessment of the social climate of that time helped to further the cause of civil rights and King's rise to prominence.
Kamin tells us that Mr. Levison took on much of the publicity surrounding King's activities and the civil rights movement, and taught King a more professional and accurate way of fund raising for the SCLC. Eventually, Stanley Levison served as King's literary agent.
As a scholar of the civil rights movement, Kamin writes about the historically unknown, and unwritten, Jewish aspect of that period through the person of Stanley Levison. The accurate history of a sometimes violent era, a sometimes destructively secretive era, is brought to the fore by Ben Kamin in a fine book, which I recommend be read and studied.
© 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton