Dr. Samuel Riley Pierce: The FBI’s Man To Replace Dr. King

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Dr. King and Dr. Pierce
The FBI had plans to collude with the NAACP to replace Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Dr. Samuel Riley Pierce, who they thought a less troublesome negro. King photo courtesy of (AP Photo/Horace Cort)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had a plan to collude with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to replace Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with someone whom they thought was a less troublesome negro, according to William C. Sullivan, former head of the bureau’s intelligence operations.

In his book, “The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI,” Sullivan said he’d recommended King be replaced by Dr. Samuel Riley Pierce, a Black attorney, educator and judge said to “have high character.”

“Early in 1964 when I saw that Hoover and King were on a collision course, I suggested to Hoover that we recommend to the NAACP that another man be chosen as a successor to King. My recommendation was approved by the then number three man in the bureau, (Deke) DeLoach, and even by (Clyde) Tolson himself, who rarely agreed with me about anything,” Sullivan wrote. “My memo fed Hoover the rhetoric about King required in all matters relating to him, and then went on to name Dr. Samuel Riley Pierce, a black educator with a fine reputation.”

As associate director, Tolson was the second-in-command at the bureau. DeLoach was the deputy associate director of the FBI and third in the chain of command. Despite their support, Sullivan said his recommendation ultimately went nowhere because Hoover “was still preoccupied with King.” Despite Sullivan’s positive characterization, Pierce died with gross blemishes on his resume.

A lifelong Republican who became the first Black person to become partner of a major New York law firm, Pierce went on to serve as general counsel for President Richard Nixon’s Department of Treasury as well as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

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Under his leadership, funding for low-income housing decreased drastically and construction of new housing stopped, reported The New York Times (NYT). Pierce was also the subject of a criminal investigation for misappropriating funds intended for low-income constituents to Republican aides, “corruption and influence peddling,” the Times said.

According to the Times, Pierce was “derided within the administration and on Capitol Hill as Silent Sam because of his low profile.” Perhaps it was this quality that endeared him to Sullivan and other leaders at the FBI to replace the outspoken King.

Moguldom Nation and Nubai Ventures founder, Jamarlin Martin, said Sullivan and other FBI officials were “confident that NAACP would help them in their operation to replace King,” but “Hoover had other plans.”