THE FREEDOM CALENDAR
IS WRONG IN EXCLUDING
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. HOLIDAY
John M. Kelly
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
I MLK WAS NOT A COMMUNIST AND HIS LEADERSHIP
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT DID NOT ADVANCE THE CAUSE
... OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY ..................................................................................... 1
II. THE MISCELLANEOUS ATTACKS ON
MLK ARE MERITLESS
OR CONCERN MATTERS OF RELATIVE INSIGNIFICANCE .............................. 3
A. MLK WAS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY VIOLENCE ......................................... 4
1. The Murders Committed by Segregationists ............................................................... 5
...........a. The Murder of Medgar Evers ........................................................................................... 5
...........c. Murders of Three Civil Rights Workers ................................................................. 6
...........d. The Murder of Viola Liuzzo .................................................................................. 6
...........e. The Murder of
...........f. The Murder of Wharlest Jackson ............................................................................ 7
2. Segregationists’ Violent Assaults During the Civil Rights Movement ............................ 7
............a. Violence at
............b. The Violent Attacks Against the Sit-in Protesters ................................................... 8
............c. Bull Connor’s Attacks on Birmingham Civil Rights Marchers .................................. 8
............d. The Attacks Against the Freedom Riders ............................................................... 8
.............e. The Violent Riot Over James Meredith’s Admission to the
.............f. Police Attacks on Voting Rights Marchers ................................................................ 9
3. Segregationists’ Bombings and Burnings of the Churches
Homes of Civil Rights Leaders and Other Black People .................................................. 10
B. MLK’S CRITICISM OF THE
DID NOT SABOTAGE THE WAR EFFORT .................................................................. 11
C. MLK’S SEXUAL IMPROPRIETIES DO NOT DIMINISH
EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
RIGHTS MOVEMENT .................................................................................................. 14
Table of Contents (cont.)
III. MLK’S EXTRAORDINARY
ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND HIS STEADFAST COURAGE AND
INTEGRITY IN PRODUCING THESE ACHIEVEMENTS
DESERVE THE RECOGNITION OF A NATIONAL
A. MLK’S EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS
IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT ........................................................................... 15
B. MLK’S STEADFAST COURAGE AND INTEGRITY ..................................................... 17
IV. THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HOLD MLK IN HIGH ESTEEM ......................................... 18
V. CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................. 18
THE FREEDOM CALENDAR
IS WRONG IN EXCLUDING
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. HOLIDAY
I. MLK WAS NOT A
COMMUNIST AND HIS LEADERSHIP OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS
MOVEMENT DID NOT ADVANCE THE CAUSE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY
The accusation that Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was a “known Communist” requires definition of the term “Com-munist,” because that term means different things to different people. For the purpose of this letter, I will presume that you mean that he was either a member of the Communist Party and/or a person supporting the goals and tactics of the Com-munist Party (i.e., forcible overthrow of the government).1/ I adopt this definition because it is consistent with your accusa-tion, as well as the primary dictionary definitions for the word “communist” (see e.g., Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1997).
In regards to Communist Party membership in general, it is useful to understand that the U.S. Supreme Court held that merely being a member of the Communist Party is not illegal. (See Scales v. U.S. (1961) 367 US 203, 224-225.) Rather, the Court ruled that the charged Smith Act violations reached “only ‘active’ members having also a guilty knowledge and intent” of the illegal Communist Party purpose (i.e., forcible overthrow of the government). (See Scales at 228.)
In regards to the specific charge that MLK was a Communist, my research disclosed that he was neither a Communist Party member nor a person supporting the goals and tactics of the Communist Party. Significantly, no where do your tracts con-tend that he filled these roles. Instead, your tracts charge MLK with associating with Communists and allowing Communists to infiltrate the civil rights movement during his leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). And, indeed, some Communist Party members, former Communist Party members and Communist sympathizers were involved in the civil rights movement, including as advisors to MLK. If MLK brought them into the movement to advance the Communist cause that would have been a grievous wrong. No where, however, are there any facts in your tracts supporting such cir-cumstance. Rather, my research disclosed that most (if not all) of the several people accused by the tracts of Communist connections were in the civil rights movement to advance the cause of black people’s freedom.
1/ Since the Communist Manifesto in 1848, the
communist philosophy has distinguished itself from other philosophies (e.g.,
capitalism, socialism) by advocating the forcible overthrow of governments in order
to attain its goals. It was this aspect
of communism, more than any other, that caused its failure in the
Nevertheless, for purpose of this letter, I concede, as stated above, that some persons with Communist connections parti-cipated in the civil rights movement. For instance, in his book Bearing the Cross, David Garrow relates that the FBI charged two MLK advisors, Stanley Levinson and Jack O’Dell, with Communist Party connections, and that the Kennedy administration urged MLK to cut his ties with them. Garrow also relates, however, that MLK never completely cut his ties with these two persons, because he saw them not as Communist operatives but rather as valuable assistants in the civil rights movement (see pp. 117, 195, 200, 222, 235, 275, 280, 361). Their law-abiding character is supported by the fact that the FBI never charged Levinson or O’Dell with illegal activities on the part of the Communist Party.
In addition to Levinson and O’Dell, the tract titled “The King File” charges that SCLC representatives Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and Bayard Rustin had connections with the Communist Party. Assuming, without conceding, the accur-acy of these accusations against Abernathy and Shuttlesworth,2/ they nonetheless made considerable contributions to the civil rights movement. And although Bayard Rustin had been a member of the Young Communists before WorldWar II, he left that group over a dispute in the early 1940s; and he too served admirably in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. See the books Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, At Canaan’s Edge and Bearing the Cross3/ regarding the note-worthy contributions to the civil rights movement by Abernathy, Shuttlesworth and Rustin. And see also the review of Rustin’s life in the Encyclopedia Americana, which relates a life devoted to pacificism and public service. Most significantly, the tract does not state any facts showing that Abernathy, Shuttlesworth or Rustin made any meaningful contribution to the Communist Party or were ever charged with criminal activity on behalf of the Party. Therefore, whether they had Communist Party connections becomes immaterial to the main issue addressed by this paper.
In the tract
titled “The King File,” it states (on page 5) that J. Edgar Hoover stated,
“Communist influence does exist in the Negro movement and it is this influence
which is vitally important.”
2/ The tract makes its accusations against Abernathy and Shuttlesworth without attribution to any source, and I
could not confirm or refute the accusations against them.
3/ The attached bibliography contains the full names of all cited books and their authors/editors.
4/ Given your advocacy for the Bill of Rights, I am surprised that you are still relying on statements of J. Edgar Hoover. It is now well known that Hoover violated the constitutional rights of thousands of law abiding Americans by engaging in illegal electronic surveillance and maintaining files on people’s personal lives, including MLK’s. See the books J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets and The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the American Inquisition. Unlike your tracts, these thoroughly researched books document all their charges.
history.5/ In addition, by the end of the 1950s, the American Communist Party was described as “almost dead as a
political force.” (See The Decline of American Communism, p. 362.) If the Communist Party had been influential
in the civil rights movement, why was it such a gigantic failure in the
Based on the foregoing, your accusation that MLK was a Communist (known or otherwise) has no factual support; and the accusation that he associated with Communists is meaningless because there is no evidence that MLK or his leadership of the civil rights movement ever advanced the cause of the Communist Party. In addition, MLK’s strict adherence to non-violent protest (as discussed below in section II, A) also belies his alleged sympathy for the Communist Party, which histori-cally has relied on violence as a means to maintain its illicit authority.
Finally on this issue, MLK’s speeches and sermons also show that he was not sympathetic to the Communist political philosophy as expounded by Marx, Engels, Lenin, et al. This philosophy has often been called a “godless” ideology; and, indeed, Marx reportedly stated that “religion is the opium of the masses.” (See Marx’s quotes in Bartlett’s Familiar Quota-tions.) In contrast, MLK was an eloquent Christian minister and fervent preacher of the Christian religion. (See compilation of some of his best sermons in A Knock at Midnight.) For instance, in his sermon on “Loving your Enemy,” he discussed the competing ideologies of democracy and communism. He said: “Democracy is the greatest form of government to my mind that man has ever conceived.” He then went on to criticize Western democracy, applying Jesus’ lesson (taken from Luke
Therefore, Mr. Pilla, you are wrong to exclude the MLK holiday from the Freedom Calendar based on the charge that he was a Communist. There is simply no support for such charge, and the facts are to the contrary. As to the other allegations against MLK, please read on.
II. THE MISCELLANEOUS ATTACKS ON MLK ARE
OR CONCERN MATTERS OF RELATIVE INSIGNIFICANCE
Two of the tracts make the following charges of various transgressions by MLK: (1) contradicting his nonviolence credo, MLK was responsible for violence during the civil rights movement; (2) he “sabotaged” the Vietnam War effort; and (3) he engaged in “bizarre” sexual conduct, including sex with prostitutes. I will discuss each of these charges in order.6/
5/ Although China, Cuba and North Korea are still ruled by
Communists, recent history indicates that it is only a matter of time before
the people of these countries rise up to throw off the yoke of Communist
6/ There are a few other charges in the tracts concerning MLK. They do not deserve any response. However, if you personally are relying on any of these charges, please provide the specifics and appropriate support for your position. I will then respond.
A. MLK WAS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY VIOLENCE
One of the tracts state that MLK’s preaching of nonviolence was “double talk” because “[w]herever King went violence followed” (“Abolish the King Holiday” by Dr. E. R. Fields), and another tract stated “his preachments of nonviolence … have been invariably followed by violence” (untitled John Birch Society tract). These charges, particularly by the Birch Society, which was adamantly opposed to the civil rights movement (see The Radical Right, pp. 95-106), are dishonest and hypocritical, for the following reasons.
MLK, like Gandhi, was in fact consistent in advocating and practicing nonviolence. Thus, during his leadership of the civil rights movement, MLK not only advocated nonviolence (see e.g., Parting the Waters, pp. 345, 589, 599, 871; At Canaan’s Edge, p. 738; A Call to Conscience, pp. 32, 52, 66-67), but this protest method was also taught to those who worked in the movement with him (see e.g., Parting the Waters, pp. 194-196, 259-263, 498, 577-578, 703-704; At Canaan’s Edge, pp. 48, 83; Bearing the Cross, pp. 168-169, 194). And when his nonviolent methods were challenged by more militant black organizations, MLK staunchly defended his pacifist based strategy. (See e.g., At Canaan’s Edge, pp. 555, 771.) Even when he was physically attacked by a white racist, MLK did not strike back and did not allow any of his associates or followers to strike back. (See Bearing the Cross, p. 221; Parting the Waters, p. 654.)
Significantly, your tracts not
once point to any violence causing death or serious injury by MLK and his
associates in the civil rights movement. The tract “Abolish the King Holiday” generally charges that MLK “incited
The violence charge against MLK is also hypocritical because the serious violence during the civil rights movement engage-ments was committed by the segregationists of the South. Although this violence did not merit mention in your tracts, it was widespread and took the form of the most grave violations of law, including murders, assaults, and the bombings and burn-ings of homes and churches. The segregationists’ violence was made all the more egregious because (1) local officials sworn to uphold the law sometimes carried out the violence; (2) local and state officials often condoned the violence by refusing to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators; and (3) when charges were filed, local and state officials often presented weak cases, resulting in acquittals or hung
juries.7/ Despite all of the foregoing circumstances, MLK adhered to his non-violent credo to the very end; and he was, of course, never charged with or convicted of involvement in any violent crime.
To refresh your recollection, the following list contains some of the more well known and publicized violence by the segrega-tionists. This detailed list is provided to show: (1) the hypocrisy of your tracts in making non-specific accusations of MLK’s violence but not mentioning the infamous and savage violence by the segregationists, and (2) MLK’s courage and integrity in maintaining his course and adhering to nonviolence, despite the brutal violence directed at him and others in the civil rights movement.
1. The Murders Committed by Segregationists
a. The Murder of Medgar Evers
7/ In his book Jury Nullification, Clay S. Conrad
comments that state and local prosecutors were more responsible than juries for
the failures to obtain convictions in the murders of civil rights workers. (See
8/ The facts regarding Evers’ murder and the first two trials of de la Beckwith are based on the book Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 46-47, 221-225). And the facts regarding the 1994 conviction of de la Beckwith are based on the enclosed CBS News obituary for him, dated
9/ The facts regarding the murders of the four children and the convictions are based on the books Pillar of Fire (see pp. 352-353, 361, 399, 400, 409, 440, 441) and Until Justice Rolls Down , as well as the enclosed articles in Time (May 29, 2000) and Newsweek (May 14, 2001 & June 3, 2002).
c. Murders of Three Civil Rights Workers
One of the hung juries involved Edgar Ray Killen, an alleged ring leader in the murders. In 2005, the Mississippi Attorney General filed murder charges against Killen based on new evidence. And on June 21, 2005, a mixed race jury rejected the murder charge but found Killen guilty of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.11/
d. The Murder of Viola Liuzzo
On March 25, 1965, civil rights
volunteer Viola Liuzzo was shot dead while working in
e. The Murder
10/ The facts related about the murders of the civil rights
workers and trials of the accused are based on the book We Are Not Afraid.
11/ The facts regarding the 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen are based on the enclosed articles in U.S. News & World Report (June 27, 2005), USA Today (June 22, 2005), and the Jacksonville Free Press (December 22-28, 2005).
12/ The facts regarding the murder of Viola Liuzzo and the trial of her murderers are based on the book Bearing the Cross (see pp. 413-414, 418, 454).
on murder and arson charges. These indictments resulted in three murder convictions and one guilty plea, and these four Klansmen were sentenced to life in prison. There was also a conviction for arson, and the defendant received a ten year prison sentence.13/ Other cases resulted in hung juries.
Bowers was the beneficiary of one of the hung juries, and there were four more hung juries in his case. In 1998, however, new evidence resulted in Bowers’ retrial, and this time he was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison.14/
f. The Murder of Wharlest Jackson
2. Segregationists’ Violent Assaults During the Civil Rights Movement
On September 23, a white mob turned on four black journalists, mistaking them for the parents of the black children. The mob chased the journalists down the street, hitting one of them with a brick that knocked him to the ground. The same day, after watching the black students go into the school through a side entrance, the mob took out its anger on a Life magazine reporter and two photographers, by harassing and beating them and smashing their cameras. Despite the presence of the National Guard, the mob violence, including the breaking of many school doors and windows, got out of control and the local police chief ordered the removal of the black children for their safety. The next day, President Eisenhower sent mem-bers of the 101st Airborne to Central High School and federalized the National Guard.With this show of force, the nine
13/ The facts regarding the Dahmer firebombing and murder are based on the book Pillar of Fire see pp.
606-610), and enclosed N. Y. Times articles, dated July 16, 1968 &
February 1, 1969.
14/ The facts regarding Bowers’ retrials and ultimate conviction are based on the enclosed article in the Washington Post, dated
15/ The facts regarding
black children were able to integrate the formally all-white school.16/ During the school year, however, these students still had to endure “ ‘repeated incidents of more or less serious violence directed against [them] and their property.’ ” (See Cooper v. Aaron (1958) 358 US 1, 13.)
b. The Violent Attacks Against the Sit-in Protesters
Throughout the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Jim Crow conditions existed, allowing for the segregation of public facilities, including in restaurants, entertainment vistas and even courtrooms. In some department stores, such as Wool-worth’s, blacks were allowed to shop in the stores but were excluded from the lunch counters. In the late 1950s, students in southern cities decided to challenge these conditions through nonviolent sit-ins. The protesters were often arrested at the sit-ins and convicted of trespass. Sometimes they encountered violence.
For instance, on February 27, 1960
a group of white
c. Bull Connor’s Attacks on Birmingham Civil Rights Marchers
One of the most enduring memories
of the civil rights movement in the 1960s is when
d. The Attacks Against the Freedom Riders
In December 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Interstate Commerce Act prohibited carriers from segregating their operations, including restaurants at interstate bus terminals. (See Boynton v. Virginia (1960) 364 US 454.) This decision and similar Supreme Court decisions on interstate travel were widely ignored in the South. Therefore, civil rights leaders decided to send trained nonviolent volunteers on bus rides to protest the continuing segregation of bus terminals and gain enforcement of the desegregation rulings. This occurred in 1961 and the project was called the Freedom Ride.
16/ The facts regarding the violence at
17/ The facts regarding the attacks on the sit-in protesters are based on the books Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 126-142), Parting the Waters (see pp. 272-287), and Bearing the Cross (pp. 127-131, 143-144).
18/ The facts regarding the Bull Connor attacks are based on the book Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 185-193).
Riders traveled throughout the South. On
May 14, at a stop in
Despite the attacks in
Violent Riot Over James Meredith’s Admission to the
By federal court order in September
f. Police Violence Against Voting Rights Marchers
On February 18, 1965, local police
and state troopers attacked a nighttime march of about 400 blacks protesting
for voting rights in
19/ The facts regarding attacks on the Freedom Riders are
based on the books Parting the Waters (see p. 390), Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 147-161), and Bearing the Cross (see pp 154-157).
20/ The facts regarding the riots at the
Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The major in charge of the troopers ordered the marchers to disperse and go home; but before they had time to comply, the troopers attacked them with billy clubs and fired tear gas at them. The troopers were also shown on camera as they beat the marchers from horse back. About 70-80 of the marchers were taken to the hospital to be treated for their injuries, ranging from broken teeth and severe head gashes to fractured ribs and writs; 17 were ad-mitted to the hospital for further observation.21/
3. Segregationists’ Bombings and Burnings of the
Homes of Civil Rights Leaders and Other Black People
Among the more common forms of
criminal violence by the segregationists were the bombings and burnings of the
churches and homes of civil rights leaders and other black people.22/ These bombings in
(1) On January 30, 1955, MLK’s home in Montgomery, Alabama was bombed (see Parting,
p.165; Eyes, p. 85); (2) on Christmas Day, 1956, the parsonage of Rev.
Fred Shuttlesworth in Burmingham,
Alabama was bombed (see Parting, p. 198); (3) on January 10, 1956, the
church of Rev. Ralph Abernathy in Montgomery, Alabama was bombed (see Parting p. 199-200); (4) on April 19, 1960, the home of attorney Alexander Looby, who had represented students arrested in sit-in
protests in Nashville, Tennessee, was dynamited (see Parting, p. 295; Eyes,
p. 138); (5) on January 8, 1962, the New Bethel Baptist Church, St. Luke’s
21/ The facts about the attacks on the voting rights
marchers are based on the books Eyes on the Prize (pp. 265, 269-273), Bearing
the Cross (pp. 391, 397-399), Pillar of Fire (pp. 592-593), and At
Canaan’s Edge (pp. 50-54).
22/ Shootings and beatings of black people and civil rights workers were even more prevalent. Some of these incidents are discussed above; many others are recounted throughout the books Bearing the Cross, Eyes on the Prize, Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge. For instance, on
23/ For the purpose of this list, the following source abbreviations are used. The books Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge are referenced as Parting, Pillar and
By any standard, the foregoing list of savage and brutal violence is impressive. Why did this segregationist violence merit no mention in your tracts? Even more impressive was the courage and integrity to stand up to this violence and maintain non-violence as the method of operations for the civil rights movement (as discussed in section III, B below).
B. MLK’S CRITICISM OF THE
DID NOT SABOTAGE THE WAR EFFORT
The tract “Abolish the King
Holiday” states “King sabotaged the Vietnam War effort.” This statement is inaccurate and is not
supported by the facts. MLK did
In his book In Retrospect, McNamara states our government “totally underestimated the nationalist aspect of Ho Chi Minh’s movement” (p. 33), “should have withdrawn from South Vietnam either in late 1963 … or late 1964 or early 1965” (p. 320), and had he not been assassinated, President Kennedy would have gotten us out of Vietnam earlier and without “the terrible price in blood” (pp. 95-97). McNamara further comments, in the film documentary “Fog of War” (2004), that the U.S. would not have been in Vietnam if we had followed the prime rule that the strongest nation in the world “should never apply [its] economic, political or military power unilaterally.”24/
24/ To expand the war against
The tract states that in MLK’s
The tract also states: “King called
The tract further states that MLK
25/ There is also an audio version of this book in which MLK’s speech may be heard.
26/ For your information, I have enclosed a N.Y Times article, dated November 12, 1996, which discusses the life of a young woman who was the subject of one of the most infamous napalm bombings of civilians.
27/ In the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, it states: “The
MLK took a lot of grief for his
speech at the
I do not know your specific views on the Vietnam War. Maybe, consistent with
your strong anti-communist beliefs, you thought the war would prevent the
spread of communism in
So, under the above circumstances,
should our government have tried to deny the people of
28/ This quote is by Carl Schurz (1829-1906), who was a German-American political leader, editor and
writer. He was also a general in the
Union Army during the Civil War.
29/ For the facts on Vietnamese history and the Geneva Agreement, I have relied on Stanley Karnow’s book Vietnam: A History (see pp. 135, 151, 204, 213-214, 219, 224); see also Secrets, pp. 250-251. And specifically as to Ho Chi Minh’s popularity in
30/ I wish I had come to this conclusion earlier than I did. As a member of the Marine Corps, I served a twelve-month tour of duty in
C. MLK’S SEXUAL IMPROPRIETIES DO NOT DIMINISH
EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
The tract “Abolish the King Holiday” states that MLK “Practiced Bizarre Sex Acts.” A few examples of these alleged acts are then described, including sex with prostitutes. Since the tract cites no sources, I could not confirm whether the specific accusations are accurate or not. However, certain of MLK’s sexual improprieties are now a matter of recorded history. (See Bearing the Cross, pp. 373-375; Pillar of Fire, p. 207; At Canaan’s Edge, pp. 197-198.) Therefore, I do not dispute MLK’s weakness of character in this regard.
As an important civil rights leader
and a religious minister, MLK deserves criticism for his sexual misconduct. But, as you know, he is not alone in this
regard. History records the sexual
improprieties (and worse) of many great leaders. For instance, King David of
Based on their accomplishments and
despite their transgressions, King David remains a great ruler of his time and
31/ These statistics are taken from The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (p. 106).
EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND HIS STEADFAST COURAGE AND
INTEGRITY IN PRODUCING THESE ACHIEVEMENTS
DESERVE THE RECOGNITION OF A NATIONAL
Those eager to
exploit differences between blacks and
have all but vanished. One might as well complain
about the gas mileage of a 1959 Edsel. (Emphasis added.)
This statement, by a conservative
news analyst and the current presidential press secretary, would have been
laughed at as delusional fifty-one years ago when MLK began his leadership of
what became known as the civil rights movement. Today, although the statement exaggerates the balance between blacks and
whites, no one is laughing. Snow’s
remarkable state-ment is symbolic of the progress made by blacks in
A. MLK’S EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS
IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
At the time of the beginning of the civil rights movement (in 1955), American blacks lived under oppressive conditions, es-pecially in the South. Segregation and discrimination were a way of life – in housing, in schools, in jobs, in public accommo-dations, in politics and in the justice system. In the South, blacks were routinely called “nigger” and required to be deferential to whites.
Today, a great deal has changed. “Nigger” is an epithet considered so vile no white person dares publicly use it, upon pain of public censure. Today, there are no separate drinking fountains, restrooms, or other public facilities for blacks. Transpor-tation is not segregated, and blacks may not be denied service in public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants. Blacks also may no longer legally be denied jobs, housing or admission to schools based on their race or the color of their skin. And blacks participate equally in every aspect of our society, and at the highest levels. Thus, a black man (Clarence Thomas) sits on the highest court of the land; a black woman (Leah Ward Sears) is the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court; a black man (Colin Powell) was recently head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the armed forces and later served as Secretary of State; a black woman (Condolezza Rice) is the current Secretary of State; and a black woman (Jocelyn Elders) has served as the U.S. Surgeon General. For the first time since the Reconstruction era, blacks have been elected to the U. S. Senate (e.g., Edward Brooke, Barack Obama), and they serve in increasing numbers in the House of Representatives – 43 in 2005. Also, for the first time, blacks have been elected as state governor (L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia) and mayors of major cities, including New York, Los Angles, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco and, incredibly, even
32/ This quote is taken from the enclosed N. Y. Times article, dated April 27, 2006.
Birmingham, Alabama. In private industry, blacks (1) hold important executive positions in business (e.g., Richard Parsons, Chairman & CEO, Time Warner; E. Stanley O’Neal, CEO & President, Merrill Lynch), (2) are among the richest Ameri-cans (e.g., Oprah Winfrey, at $1.4 billion ranked #235 on the Forbes 400 of richest Americans), and (3) have increased the number of black-owned businesses from about 190,000 in 1970 to about 620,000 in the mid-1990s (see enclosed copy of the World Book Special Census Edition, p. 119). In the labor union field, a black man (John Sturdivant) was elected and served as president (1988-1997) of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest government labor union. In addition, black writers have been awarded the most prestigious literary awards (Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize for fiction; August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize for drama – twice; Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize for fiction & Nobel Prize for litera-ture). And, of course, blacks have played dominant roles in sports and entertainment (e.g., all-time major league home run champion Hank Aaron, all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith, all-time NBA scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, multiple Oscar winner Denzel Washington, multiple Grammy award winner Tina Turner).33/
The extent and level of
participation by blacks in
33/ The facts and statistics cited in this section should
not be interpreted to mean that blacks do not still face significant obstacles
because of their race. Racism and
discrimination continue to exist, not all legal violations find remedies, and
past discrimination has not been fully remedied. For instance, black households have the
lowest median income among race groups at $30,134, as compared to Asian, white
and Hispanic households, at $57,518, $48,977 and $34,241, respectively. (See enclosed U.S. Census Bureau statistics
34/ The facts regarding the landmark legislation discussed in this paragraph and MLK’s prominent roles in their passage are described in the book Judgment Days. See also Bearing the Cross, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge.
The foregoing civil rights
legislation changed the legal landscape for equal opportunity in the
B. MLK’S STEADFAST COURAGE AND INTEGRITY
Throughout his efforts to obtain equal rights and opportunities for blacks, MLK was opposed by the entrenched Southern establishment, including governors like George Wallace (famous for his statement “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”) and Ross Barnett, both of whom stood in doorways to block admission of young black people to pub-lic schools. And of course, he was opposed by vicious so-called law enforcement officers like “Bull” Connor who turned police dogs and fire hoses (at full blast) on peaceful marchers.
The “leadership” of people like Wallace, Barnett and Connor aided the public atmosphere that led to the vicious violence against people in the civil rights movement, as discussed above. And in order to try to terminate MLK’s leadership in the movement, the staunch segregationists bombed his home and hotel rooms, physically attacked him, threatened his life on numerous occasions, and arrested him and sent him to jail on spurious charges. (See discussion above (in section II, A, 3) and passim in Bearing the Cross, Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge.)
Despite the political power and the violence directed against him and the movement he led, MLK remained steadfast in his commitment to the civil rights cause and his philosophy of nonviolent protest. Indeed, he expected to be killed for his com-mitment to the civil rights movement (see e.g., Bearing the Cross, pp. 307, 311), and he was willing to accept this outcome, if necessary for his cause (see e.g., Bearing the Cross, p. 84; At Canaan’s Edge, p. 396). In one of his speeches, MLK said: “if a man has not discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” (See Cobo Hall speech on June 23, 1963, re-corded and printed in A Call to Conscience, pp. 66-67.) MLK’s perseverance in his cause under the most intimidating circumstances required enormous courage and integrity. As he related, he was sustained by his religious underpinnings and the belief that his cause was right. (See sermon on “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool,” recorded and printed in A Knock at Midnight, pp. 160-164.) I can think of no American leader who had to personally confront greater challenges. In 1955, few (if any) would have given him a snowball’s chance to accomplish what he did. Against these odds, against the powerful segregationist forces of the South and the resistance of many in the North, MLK not only persevered but prevailed.
35/ Thurmond himself went through a sort of transformation
over the years. As a
IV. THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HOLD MLK IN HIGH ESTEEM
At the time of the March on
The high regard for MLK may also be
found in the honors he was awarded (e,g., Nobel Prize
for Peace, Time magazine Man of the Year, Presidential Medal of Freedom)
and the overwhelming approval for the holiday in his name. The House of Representatives voted 338-90 in
favor of the national holiday, and the Senate approved the holiday by a vote of
78-22. (See enclosed August 15, 1983 Boston
Globe and October 20, 1983 N. Y. Times articles.) And as of 1999, all 50 states in the country
also honor MLK’s holiday. (See enclosed Boston Herald article, dated
In addition, even such staunch conservatives and anti-communist crusaders as William F. Buckley, Jr. and Senator Barry Goldwater supported the MLK holiday, which was signed into law by conservative icon President Ronald Reagan. Buckley and his magazine were among the first to support the MLK holiday, calling MLK “a great black American.” (See enclosed National Review article, dated February 2, 1979 and the biography William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conserva-tives, p. 410.) Goldwater’s support for the MLK holiday was belated and, apparently, for more pragmatic reasons. (See the biography Barry Goldwater, p. 331.) And although Reagan was ambivalent about the holiday, he described MLK as “a great man” in one of his letters. (See Reagan: A Life in Letters, pp. 803-804, 809.)
Mr. Pilla, your letter states MLK is “glorified by lying politicians and lying government to pacify the gullible.” This broad charge simply does not withstand scrutiny. Thus, the “lying politicians” include the vast majority of the U. S. Congress, as well as conservative heroes Goldwater and Reagan. The “lying government” includes the governments of all 50 states (red and blue), including all the former segregationist states. And the “gullible” includes tens of millions of Americans, white and black, who hold MLK in high regard, including the godfather of conservatism, William F. Buckley, Jr. Is this entire spectrum of people and institutions either lying or gullible? I think not, and you have provided no basis to believe such contentions.
Rather, I suggest that the facts (as documented above) indicate that you are the gullible one – gullible to the baseless and unsubstantiated charges by those on the extreme right. The John Birch Society (JBS) was the author of one of your tracts accusing MLK of Communist connections. In addition to this charge, JBS founder Robert Welch charged President and Commanding General of the Allied forces in World War II Dwight D. Eisenhower with being a Communist or a Communist stooge. (See The Politician, p. 278). Please tell me that you do not also believe this charge.
You say that MLK’s “actions spoke louder than words.” I agree – not only his actions but also his extraordinary achieve-ments in gaining real freedom for tens of millions of black Americans. As a result, blacks have attained unprecedented accomplishments (as discussed above in section III, A). And in the larger picture, all Americans benefited by the success of black Americans, just as a team benefits by the success of its individual members. For instance, just think about the how we Americans thrill to the success of our Olympic teams and how less successful we would be without the contribution of our black citizens. And, of course, we all benefit by the collective success of all of our citizens, socially and economically – that is the genius of the democratic and capitalist systems.
based on the foregoing, I hope you will concede your error in excluding the MLK
holiday from the Freedom Calendar. MLK
clearly earned his recognition. He was not perfect, but he never claimed to be
perfect; and no one of this earth can claim such status. Moreover, after more than 200 years of the
most contemptible slavery conditions in
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