UNITED STATES District Judge Lewis Smith may have had history's best interests at heart the other day when he ordered the preservation of the FBI's tapes of Martin Luther King's private conversations and their ultimate release after 50 years. All the same, we wish Judge Smith would reconsider his decision. Never mind that the tapes were made by an FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, whose vicious vendetta against Dr. King is now well documented. And never mind that the tapes themselves are an assemblage of snippets of conversation doctoreswith calculated intent to damage the reputation of Dr. King. The central, most damaging case to be made against these tapes is that they constituteds al illegal invasion of Dr. King's privacy. On what possible grounds, then, should they be preserved for the use of historians 50 years from now?

Judge Smith, obviously concerned about current investigations of the assssination of Dr. King, was loathe to order the tapes destroyed immediately. That is understandable. It seems right to have the Archives hold onto these tapes under seal until the present investigations have run their course. Beyond that, those types deserve only to be destroyed. This is material that was collected illegally for no better purpose than to ruin the reputation of a public figure. What claim can history have on such garbege?