Author’s book reveals father’s infiltration into the Civil Rights Movement and the MLK assassination
The National Civil Rights Museum brings journalist and litigator Leta McCullough Seletzky, to speak on her new book, The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. to open this season’s Book and Author Series on Thursday, Aug. 17. The much-anticipated April release reveals a new perspective on the FBI Counterintelligence Program’s (COINTELPRO) stronghold on civil rights activists and how it influenced local law enforcement and Black life in cities like Memphis in the 1960s.
In the famous photograph of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel, one man kneeled down beside King, trying to staunch the blood from his fatal head wound with a borrowed towel. This kneeling man was a member of the Invaders, an activist group that was in talks with King in the days leading up to the murder. But he also had another identity: an undercover Memphis police officer reporting on the activities of this group, which was thought to be possibly dangerous and potentially violent. This kneeling man is Leta McCollough Seletzky’s father.
Marrell McCollough was a Black man working secretly with the white power structure as a spy. This was so far from her understanding of what it meant to be Black in America, of everything she eventually devoted her life and career to, that she set out to learn what she could about his life, actions, and motivations. But with that decision came risk. What would she uncover about her father, who went on to a career at the CIA, and did she want to bear the weight of knowing?
An autographed copy of The Kneeling Man is available in the museum’s online store. The hybrid Book & Author Series event begins at 6:00 pm Central and is free and open for registration. For more information, visit civilrightsmuseum.org.
The book talk series continues on Sept. 20 with The 5th Little Girl by Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. On Oct. 4, the museum brings A Few Days Full of Trouble by co-authors Christopher Benson and Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr., the cousin of Emmett Till.
The museum’s Book & Author Series began in 2015 and has included appearances by historians and nonfiction authors including Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha Blain, Kellie Carter, William Pepper, and Candacy Taylor.