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Thu, 05.02.1912

Stanley Levison, Lawyer born

Stanley Levision

*Stanley Levison was born on this date in 1912.  He was a white Jewish-American businessman, lawyer, and lifelong activist in progressive causes. Stanley David Levison was born in New York City.

He attended the University of Michigan, Columbia University, and the New School for Social Research. He received two law degrees from St. John's University. While serving as treasurer of the American Jewish Congress in Manhattan, he aided in defense of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. During this period, he worked for a variety of liberal causes.   In the early 1950s, the FBI considered Levison to be a major financial coordinator for the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and began to monitor his activities.

He was initially introduced to Martin Luther King Jr. by Bayard Rustin in 1956. Though King had offered to pay Levison in exchange for his help, Levison refused on every occasion, as he believed "the liberation struggle is the most positive and rewarding area of work anyone could experience."  The FBI had him under the surveillance of Jack and Morris Childs, two former CPUSA members who became FBI informants. According to the FBI, Levison's CPUSA activities ended in 1957.  He was questioned by the FBI twice, on February 9 and March 4, 1960. Two years later, on April 30, 1962, he was called to testify under subpoena at an executive session of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security, where William Kunstler represented him.

Large parts of his testimony are still classified.  Although there was no evidence of Levison having further ties to the CPUSA, the FBI used his earlier communist history to justify wiretaps and bugs on his offices and the offices and hotel rooms of Martin Luther King. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had long associated the civil rights movement with communism, and he strongly expected that Levison would use or manipulate King to stimulate political unrest within the United States.  Levison was instrumental in all the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization established by King and other Southern black preachers to further the cause of civil rights. He professionalized the organization's fundraising and took on many publicity tasks, in addition to serving as King's literary agent.

He was also a close adviser to King and a ghostwriter for him. Some of Levison's conversations with Dr. King are reproduced verbatim from FBI wiretaps in Taylor Branch's biography of Dr. King, Parting the waters: America in the King years, 1954-63. Levison initiated the end of his association with Dr. King in 1963, following the revelation to Dr. King's circle that Attorney General Robert Kennedy and then President John F. Kennedy had pressured Dr. King in person to break with Levison (and Jack O'Dell).  

In 2012, Tim Weiner wrote in his history of the FBI that Hoover believed Levison had "indoctrinated King in Marxist thought and subversive strategies" and that King was "part of Moscow's grand design to subvert the United States of America."   He was best known as an advisor to and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., for whom he helped write speeches, raise funds, and organize events.   After suffering from cancer and diabetes, Stanley Levison died on September 12, 1979. 

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