Stanley David Levison (May 2, 1912 – September 12, 1979) was a Jewish businessman from New York, who had also attained a law degree from St. John’s University. He was a lifelong activist in progressive causes. He is best known as an advisor to, and close friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he helped write speeches and organize events.
He had initially been introduced to King by Bayard Rustin, a Quaker, in New York City in 1956. Though King had offered to pay Levison in exchange for his help, Levison refused on every occasion stating that “the liberation struggle is the most positive and rewarding area of work anyone could experience”.
Levison was in the leadership of the Communist Party USA in the 1950s. 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 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 he was represented by William Kunstler; his testimony is still considered Classified.
Although there was no evidence of Levison having further ties to the CPUSA, the FBI used his earlier CP history to justify wiretaps and bugs on his offices and the offices and hotel rooms of Martin Luther King. FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, did not consider King to be a communist, but did consider the possibility that Levison might 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 fund raising of the organization and took on much of the publicity tasks, in addition to serving as King’s literary agent. He was also a close adviser of King.
Levison’s role as advisor and friend to King was portrayed by actor Steven Hill in King, a 1978 television miniseries.