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THE FREEDOM CALENDAR IS WRONG IN EXCLUDING
THE MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. HOLIDAY

 

John M. Kelly
June 2006

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

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I   MLK WAS NOT A COMMUNIST AND HIS LEADERSHIP OF THE
    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

...........b. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Murders of Four Children  ................................................               5

...........c. Murders of Three Civil Rights Workers  .................................................................                           6

...........d. The Murder of Viola Liuzzo  ..................................................................................                           6

...........e. The Murder of Vernon Dahmer  .............................................................................                           6

...........f. The Murder of Wharlest Jackson  ............................................................................                          7

      2.  Segregationists’ Violent Assaults During the Civil Rights Movement  ............................                           7

............a. Violence at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas  ......................................                           7

............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
    .............University of Mississippi  ........................................................................................                           9

.............f. Police Attacks on Voting Rights Marchers  ................................................................                         9

3.      Segregationists’ Bombings and Burnings of the Churches and
      Homes of  Civil Rights Leaders and Other Black People  ..................................................                           10

B.  MLK’S CRITICISM OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT’S ENGAGEMENT 
      IN THE VIETNAM WAR WAS AS A PATRIOTIC CITIZEN AND
     DID NOT SABOTAGE THE WAR EFFORT ..................................................................                           11

C.  MLK’S SEXUAL IMPROPRIETIES DO NOT DIMINISH HIS
      EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
      RIGHTS MOVEMENT  ..................................................................................................                           14

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Table of Contents (cont.)

.........................................................................................................................................................................Page

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 HOLIDAY  ................................                         15

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

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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.

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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 United States . For example, in Dennis v. U.S. (1950) 341 US 494, 509,  the Supreme Court upheld the Smith Act convictions of Communist Party leaders, ruling that our government did not have to “wait until the putsch is about to be executed” before intervening against plans for forcible overthrow). Prior to the Communist Manifesto, however, the communist economic philosophy of government (or common) ownership of property had long been the subject of political thought.  (See e.g., Plato’s Republic (circa 370 B.C.), Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).  This philosophy did not include forcible overthrow of the government, and my research did not disclose the extent, if any, that MLK considered this aspect of communism.  However, I did read where he criticized (1) the Marxian proletarian dictator-ship that cut off individual liberties, and (2) the distribution of wealth under the capitalist system in the U. S. (See e.g., At Canaan’s Edge pp. 555-556.)

 

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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.”  Hoover is then quoted as stating that the Communist Party “strives only to exploit what are often legitimate Negro complaints and grievances for the advancement of Communist objectives.” We now know that Hoover was simply wrong about Communist influence in the civil rights movement.4/  We know this because (1) Hoover never presented any specific evidence that MLK or the civil rights movement ever advanced the cause of the Communist Party, and (2) the civil rights movement was a spectacular success (see section III, A below) and the Communist Party is now part of the junk heap of

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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.

 

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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 U. S., while the movement for black civil rights was an enormous success?

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 6:37-42) to see “the plank in your own eye” as “you see the splinter in your brother’s eye.”  (See A Knock at Midnight, pp. 44-45.) This lesson is, obviously, not consistent with Communist Party philosophy and history, which shows an organization that rarely engaged in self-criticism, despite its monumental flaws and failures.  In his sermon, MLK also condemned com-munism because it “is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept.”  (See A Knock at Midnight, p. 44.)

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 MERITLESS
      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/

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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 tyranny
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.

 

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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 riots in Birmingham, Montgom-ery, St. Augustine, Cleveland, Chicago, Albany, ect.”  This charge is unsupported by any facts, referenced or unreferenced; and my review of MLK’s civil rights work in the named cities concluded that the charge is also unsupportable.  This con-clusion does not mean that some blacks did not engage in violence during the civil rights movement engagements. In Chicago, for instance, there were riots by blacks during MLK’s involvement in the civil rights movement there.  Mayor Richard Daly, however, absolved MLK of responsibility for this violence; and MLK successfully worked to end the violence, which mostly involved black gangs. Subsequently, the only significant violence during the civil rights movement in Chicago was by white racists who threw rocks, bottles and cherry bombs at those marching for the integration of white neighborhoods.  (See At Canaan’s Edge, pp. 501-22.)

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

 

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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

On June 12, 1963, NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was shot dead outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. This shooting took place at a time when Evers was leading NAACP protests to end segregation in Mississippi.  Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, was charged with the murder.  The charges were dropped, however, when all-white juries twice failed to reach a verdict, despite evidence that de la Beckwith owned the murder gun, his finger-print was on it, and he had asked directions to Evers’ home. Three decades later (in 1994), the Evers’ murder case was reopened and de la Beckwith was convicted by   a jury of mixed race and sentenced to life imprisonment.8/

b. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Murders of Four Children

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, four young girls (Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson, ages 11-14) were killed by a dynamite bomb at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  This church served as the headquarters for the civil rights protests in Birmingham.  No local government official expressed sympathy for the deaths or attended the funerals for the girls. And despite an FBI investigation that identified the likely killers, no local, state or federal charges were filed against any of the suspects following the bombing.  Many years later, three Klansmen were charged and convicted of the murders – Robert Chambliss (in 1977), Thomas Blanton Jr. (in 2001), and Bobby Frank Cherry (in 2002). Their convictions were obtained in state court.9/

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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 pp. 181-186.)
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 January 22, 2001.
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).

 

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c. Murders of Three Civil Rights Workers

On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They had been severely beaten before being shot to death.  At the time of their murders, these young men were seeking witnesses to the burning of the Mount Zion Church, which had been requested to open its doors to black voter registration.  Shortly after the murders, the FBI arrested 21 Klu Klux Klan members in connection with the kill-ings, including the Neshoba County Sheriff and a deputy; and when state and local authorities refused to prosecute, federal civil rights charges were filed against 18 of the men.  Trials were then held – eight were acquitted (including the sheriff), seven were convicted (including the deputy sheriff), and there were three hung juries.  Those found guilty were given sentences ranging from three to ten years.  Of his relatively light sentences, Mississippi federal Judge William Cox later said, “They killed one nigger, one Jew and one white man.  I gave them what I thought they deserved.”10/

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 the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march led by MLK.  Alabama Governor George Wallace said that he regretted the killing, but added: “I think the people of our state were greatly restrained” (during the march).  Four Klu Klux Klan members were charged with the mur-ders, based on the eye witness testimony of FBI informant Gary Thomas Rowe. Despite this evidence, a local all-white jury acquitted one of the Klansmen of the crime.  Subsequently, however, all four Klansmen were convicted in federal court of violation of Ms. Liuzzo’s civil rights.  Their penalty – a meager ten years in prison.12/

e. The Murder of Vernon Dahmer

On January 9, 1966, Vernon Dahmer’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was fire-bombed, and Dahmer died of injuries caused by the firebombing.  Dahmer had been active in registering blacks to vote, including offering to pay the poll tax for anyone who could afford it. Eleven Klu Klux Klan members, including Imperial Wizard Samuel Bowers, were indicted

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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).

 

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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

On February 27, 1967, in Natchez, Mississippi, Wharlest Jackson was murdered when a bomb went off under his pickup truck.  Jackson, a black man, had just finished his first shift as a cement mixer, a job that had been restricted to whites before the 1964 Civil Rights Act became law.  No one was ever charged in the Jackson murder.15/

2.  Segregationists’ Violent Assaults During the Civil Rights Movement

a. Violence at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

On August 30, 1957, a federal judge ordered the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.  This order was met by defiance from state and local officials, especially including Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus.  Ostensibly to protect life and property, Faubus surrounded Central High School with National Guardsmen.  Their real purpose, however, was to keep nine black students from entering the high school.  Angry white mobs also gathered at the high school, yelling and screaming epithets at the black children when they arrived at the school.

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

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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 October 24, 1998.
15/ The facts regarding Jackson’s murder are based on the book At Canaan’s Edge (see p. 581).

 

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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 Nashville, Tennessee teens attacked the protesters at lunch counters in the city’s stores.  They blew smoke in the protesters’ faces, ground cigarette butts on their backs, yanked them off the lunch counter seats and beat them.  When the police arrived, the protesters were arrested but those who had attacked them were not.  Later, on March 2, about 400 student protesters marched to downtown Orangeburg, South Carolina to engage in sit-ins at white-only lunch counters. The local police intercepted them with mass force, firing tear gas and water hoses at them, before making arrests.17/

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 Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor turned attack dogs and fire hoses (at full force) on civil rights marchers seeking to end segre-gation in the city.  This was in April 1963, and I am sure you remember, as I do, seeing these images on television and in newspapers and magazines. When Connor was told that the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth had been injured by the hurtling water (100 lbs. of pressure per sq. in.) and taken to the hospital, he said, “I’m sorry I missed it.  I wish they’d carried him away in a hearse.”18/

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.

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16/ The facts regarding the violence at Central High School are based on the books Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 99-117) and Parting the Waters (see pp. 222-224).
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).

 

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The Freedom Riders traveled throughout the South.  On May 14, at a stop in Birmingham, Alabama, they were assaulted by a segregationist mob, and one of the riders, William Barbee, was paralyzed for life.  (Bull Connor had ordered his police officers to stay away from the bus terminal on that day.)  On the same day, in Anniston, Alabama, a bus with Freedom Riders was attacked and firebombed.  And another bus in Anniston was also attacked, and some of the riders seriously beaten.

Despite the attacks in Birmingham and Anniston, another Freedom Ride bus drove to Montgomery, Alabama on May 20.  As the bus pulled into Montgomery, police patrol cars disappeared, even though Governor John Patterson had promised to protect the Freedom Riders.  Consequently, a gang of white thugs attacked the riders, surrounding the bus and beating them  as they exited.  As he tried to come to the aid of a woman, federal agent John Seigenthaler was beaten about his head and knocked unconscious.  As a result, he was hospitalized.19/

e. The Violent Riot Over James Meredith’s Admission to the University of Mississippi

By federal court order in September 1962, the University of Mississippi was required to admit a black man, James Meredith, to its previously all-white campus.  Despite this ruling, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and other entrenched segrega-tionists opposed Meredith’s entry to the university.  On one occasion, Barnett personally blocked Meredith from entering the campus.  And when hundreds of federal agents finally escorted Meredith onto the campus in a night time maneuver on September 30, students and non-students rioted, while Mississippi highway patrolmen conveniently absented themselves from the university.  The rioters fired guns, threw rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at the federal agents; newsmen were beaten;  and cars were overturned and windows smashed.  When it was all over, 160 federal agents were wounded, including 28 by gun bullets, and two persons had been shot dead, including a foreign reporter.  All this carnage was caused because the segregationists of Mississippi did not want a black man to attend their lily-white university.20/

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 Marion, Alabama.  The marchers were hit with billy clubs, and some were injured and taken to the hospital.  When Jimmie Lee Jackson’s mother was attacked by the police, he came to her aid and was shot in the stomach by a state troo-per.  He later died at a hospital where he was taken after the shooting.  During the melee, NBC’s Richard Valeriani and two UPI photographers were beaten by white bystanders.  Valeriani suffered a serious head injury and was hospitalized.  The bystanders also sprayed black aerosol paint on the camera lenses of arriving film crews. On March 7, 1965, a day that was to become known as "Bloody Sunday," about 600 voting rights marchers were confronted by state troopers at the Edmund

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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 University of Mississippi are based on the books Parting the Waters (see pp. 647-670) and Eyes on the Prize (see pp. 213-218).

 

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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 Churches and
                 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 Birmingham, Alabama became so frequent that the city was referred to as “Bombingham.”  Thus, a UPI report recounted 21 church and home bombings in Birmingham between December 1956 and September 15, 1963.  (See enclosed UPI news article printed in the New York Times, dated September 16, 1983.) The following is a short list of the many bombings and burning incidents.23/  (I have not repeated any of the bombings that resulted in the murders discussed above.)

(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 Zion Church and Trinity Church of God in Burmingham, Alabama were bombed.  These churches had recently hosted civil rights meetings (see Parting, p. 570-571; enclosed UPI news article, dated September 16, 1963); (6) on August 14, 1962, the Shady Grove Baptist Church, which had recently served as a voter registration meeting place in Lee County, Georgia, was firebombed  (see Parting, pp. 630, 633); (7) in August 1962, the Mt. Mary Baptist and Mt. Olive Baptist churches, which had been used for voter registration meetings in Terrell County, Georgia, were burned down. Shortly thereafter, the Mt. Hope Baptist Church, as well as four other churches in Georgia, were burned down (see

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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 June 6, 1966, James Meredith was hit by about 70 shotgun pellets near Hernando, Mississippi, as he unsuccessfully attempted to prove that a black man could safely walk the highways of the South.  (See At Canaan’s Edge,  pp. 475-476; Bearing the Cross, p. 473.)
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 Canaan, respectively. The book Bearing the Cross is referenced as Bearing, and the book Eyes on the Prize is referenced as Eyes.

 

PAGE ELEVEN

Parting, p. 637-640); (8) in May 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, the parsonage of A. D. King, MLK’s brother, was bombed and bombs were exploded at the room in the Gaston Motel where MLK was staying (see see Bearing, p. 260; Parting, pp. 793-4); (9) in September 1963, the home of attorney Arthur Shores, who had represented MLK and the civil rights movement in in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed (see Parting, p. 868; Bearing, p. 291); (10) on June 16, 1964, the Mt. Zion Methodist Church near Longdale, Mississippi was torched; this church had recently been recruited to allow voter registration meetings (see Pillar, p. 352-353); (11) in February 1967, the new Head Start preschool building in Liberty, Mississippi was bombed and arson fires destroyed a black church and an anti-poverty office in Lowndes, Alabama (see Canaan, p. 581).

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 U.S. GOVERNMENT’S ENGAGEMENT
      IN THE VIETNAM WAR WAS AS A PATRIOTIC CITIZEN AND
      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 criticize the U.S. government’s involvement and prosecution of the Vietnam War, but such criticism does not constitute “sabotage.”  To believe otherwise would place government officials beyond criticism at a time when they are carrying out our country’s most serious responsibilities in foreign countries.  In fact, MLK was right to speak out and criticize the Vietnam War as conducted by our government.  Even one of the prime architects of the war, then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, has now admitted that our country was wrong in this war.

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/         

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24/ To expand the war against Vietnam (from 16,000 to 550,000 troops), President Johnson relied upon the authority granted to him by the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which overwhelmingly passed Congress in 1964.  In the documentary film “Fog of War,” McNamara stated that the alleged North Vietnamese attack that led to this resolution never occurred. And although he also said that President Johnson believed that the attack had occurred, history now establishes that he either knew or should have known that the alleged attack, which left no damage to American lives or property, did not occur. See Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (pp. 7-10); Vietnam: A History (pp. 366-373); and U. S. News & World Report article (“The phantom battle that led to war”), dated March 8, 2004.

 

PAGE TWELVE

The tract states that in MLK’s Riverside Church speech on September 2, 1967, he “attacked the U.S. troops as foreign conquerors and oppressors describing them as ‘like Nazies (sic).’” This is an inaccurate quote.  MLK never referred to U.S. troops in these terms.  Here is the direct quote: “What do the [the Vietnamese peasants] think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe?”  (See p. 149 of enclosed verbatim text of MLK’s speech (“Beyond Vietnam ”) at the Riverside Church, copied from the book A Call to Conscience.)25/  MLK was not blaming our troops, he was blaming our government.  And he was right to do so. Our government’s use of napalm, Agent Orange, and carpet bombing in the war against this small country was immoral and unconscionable. These weapons mutilated and killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children.  I am sure you remember, as I do, the picture images of Vietnamese women and children attacked by napalm.26/  In addition, the dumping of 12 million gallons of Agent Orange in South Vietnam also caused cancer and other serious medical problems for thousands of our own troops, who were told that this toxic defoliant was harmless to people.  (See the book Waiting for an Army to Die.)  Moreover,  in January 2003, about 10,000 Vietnam veterans were receiving disability pay as a result of illnesses caused by their exposure to Agent Orange.  (See enclosed N. Y. Times article, dated January 24, 2003

The tract also states: “King called the U.S. government as (sic) ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.’”  This quote is correct and the statement was accurate.  In an effort to defeat a national liberation movement in a small country eight thousand miles from our shores, our government dropped not only millions of tons of napalm and millions of gallons of Agent Orange on this country, but also more bombs than were dropped by Allied forces in all of World War II.  (See Rain of Fire, p. 177.)27/  A conservative estimate of overall civilian deaths in the war placed the figure at 415,000; but the reunified Vietnamese government estimated the actual civilian deaths at two million.  (See Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, p. 106.)

The tract further states that MLK called “ South Vietnam leader Diem ‘one of the most vicious modern dictators.’”  This is a correct quote and the accusation is accurate and supported by former Secretary of Defense McNamara.  In his book Argu-ment Without End, McNamara calls Diem “something of a Frankenstein monster,” and describes his regime as “brutal” and “violent” (see pp. 68, 110-111, 178, 320).  Diem, who at the time of MLK’s speech had long been deposed by assassina-tion (in 1963), was most violent and brutal against the Buddhists in his country.  Ultimately, it was his actions against this nonviolent group that led to the military coup against him, with U.S. government approval.   (See Vietnam: A History, pp. 278-311.)

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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 U.S. dropped nearly 8 million tons of bombs on Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia South Vietnam received about half of that tonnage, making it the most bombed country in the history of aerial warfare, a dubious distinction for an ally.”  (See p. 13.)

 

PAGE THIRTEEN

MLK took a lot of grief for his speech at the Riverside Church, including from the accused communist Stanley Levinson, who, though against the war, argued against MLK giving the speech and criticized it afterwards. (See At Canaan’s Edge, pp. 585-586, 594-595.)  The speech was, however, a matter of conscience for MLK, even though he knew it would detract attention and support from the civil rights movement.  And anyone who reads or hears the speech must conclude that it was given in the grand tradition of the motto: “Our country right or wrong. When right to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.”28/ MLK’s speech was also in accord with his beliefs as a Christian minister committed to the principle of nonviolence.  As he indicated in his speech, he was reluctant to criticize his government during a time of war, but he ultimately believed that it would have been morally wrong for him not to speak out, given the circumstances. And in his speech, MLK adopted the religious theme of the Riverside Church meeting: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”  (See A Call to Conscience, pp. 139-140.)

Mr. Pilla, 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 Asia.  But in the Vietnam War, your anti-communist beliefs ran straight up against what I believe are your pro-democracy beliefs. This is because the 1954 Geneva Agreement, follow-ing the Viet Minh defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, required reunification elections in 1956 for all of Vietnam . Those elections never took place because South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem refused to allow the election in South Vietnam .  The reason for this refusal was that Diem was not popular and North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh was very popular, albeit not with Catholics.  Therefore, Ho Chi Minh would have won.  Yes, he was a communist, but he was also a revered figure in Vietnam . In declaring Vietnamese independence from the French on September 2, 1945, he quoted from our Declaration of Independence and then led the successful fight to expel the French from his country. 29/ 

So, under the above circumstances, should our government have tried to deny the people of Vietnam the right to chose their own leader?  More specifically, should the most powerful country in the history of the world have used its military might to deny this choice? I believe our government’s choice to go to war against this small country was not only undemocratic, it was un-American.30/  Contrary to our own revolutionary roots, we took the side of the colonialists (i.e., the French) and not the nationalists.  And when the French were defeated, we took their place by supporting undemocratic dictatorships in South Vietnam .

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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 Vietnam , see also Secrets (pp. 252-253) and the biography titled Ho Chi Minh (p. 468). The latter citation also relates the U. S. Government’s concern for whether fair elections could be held in North Vietnam But, in fact, no effort was made to ensure fair elections.  This is a damning omission for a country like ours, which was born on democratic ideals and, is, supposedly, committed to such principles.
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 Vietnam (1964-65).

 

PAGE FOURTEEN

In his Riverside Church speech, MLK spoke to the democracy issue discussed above. (See A Call to Conscience, pp. 147-148.)  Nevertheless, you may disagree with his decision to oppose the war. Such disagreement, however, does not make MLK the anathema portrayed in your tract.  After all, his views eventually won the debate among the American people, and our government was forced to withdraw from Vietnam .  At over 58,000 Americans killed and over 150,000 wounded, including 74,000 quadriplegics and multiple amputees, we paid a terrible price.31/  If our government had listened to MLK, it was a price that need not have been paid.

C.  MLK’S SEXUAL IMPROPRIETIES DO NOT DIMINISH HIS
      EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE CIVIL
      RIGHTS MOVEMENT                                                  

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 Israel had sexual relations with a married woman called Bathsheba, resulting in her pregnancy.  He then caused the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, so that he could make her one of his wives. (See 2 Samuel 11:1-27.) And Thomas Jefferson, in addition to owning slaves, very likely carried on a long term sexual relationship with one of them (Sally Hemmings), producing several children. (See Joyce Appleby’s biography Thomas Jefferson, pp. 74-76; American Sphinx, pp. 363-367.)

Based on their accomplishments and despite their transgressions, King David remains a great ruler of his time and Jefferson remains an icon of American history.  So it is with MLK.  As discussed below, his achievements in the civil rights movement were simply extraordinary and his personal courage and integrity in producing these accomplishments equally so.  His sexual improprieties do not change these facts. Ultimately, we must judge people based on their whole lives, and not just one as-pect.  In this context, MLK’s sexual improprieties cannot be said to diminish his extraordinary achievements, as are dis-cussed next.

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31/ These statistics are taken from The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War (p. 106).

 

PAGE FIFTEEN

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 HOLIDAY   

Those eager to exploit differences between blacks and
whites in America , ignore the fact that the differences
have all but vanished.  One might as well complain
about the gas mileage of  a 1959 Edsel. (Emphasis added.)
                                                                     Tony Snow32/

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 America – progress made possible by the success of the civil rights movement – success achieved through the leadership of MLK.  

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

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32/ This quote is taken from the enclosed N. Y. Times article, dated April 27, 2006.

 

PAGE SIXTEEN

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 U. S. society, as discussed above, would not have happened without the success of the civil rights movement in producing equal opportunity laws for blacks.  And at the forefront of the movement, since its beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, was MLK.  In 1963, he was the main organizer of the “March on Washington;” and his “I Have a Dream” speech at the conclusion of that march is now recognized as one of the great speeches of history. (See Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, p. 531.) That march and MLK’s speech paved the way for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, for the first time, prohibited racial (and other) discrimination in employment and public accommodations.  In addition, MLK’s advocacy for black voting rights, including his leadership in the Selma to Montgomery protest march, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This law provided the foun-dation for an unprecedented increase in nationwide black voter registration, from 29% before the law to 60%.  In Mississippi alone, black voter registration increased from 6.7% to 59.8%.  (See Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America, pp. 883-886.)  And the number of black elected officials has risen from 1,469 in 1970 to 9,040 in 2002.  (See Freedom is Not Enough, p. 22.) Furthermore, as a final testament to MLK, Congress passed the 1968 Civil Rights Act following his assassination.  MLK had worked closely with President Johnson for passage of this law, which prohibited racial (and other) discrimination in housing.  However, it was only with the impetus caused by MLK’s assassination that Johnson could gather enough votes to break the filibuster against the legislation by Southern and Republican senators.34/ 

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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 for 2004.)
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.

 

PAGE SEVENTEEN

The foregoing civil rights legislation changed the legal landscape for equal opportunity  in the U.S. As MLK said, “We may not be able to legislate morality, but behavior can be regulated.”  Indeed, behavior has been regulated, allowing blacks the opportunities for success discussed above.  And the hearts of Americans have also changed on the race issue. Those today who would argue against this equal opportunity legislation would be considered far outside the American mainstream.  For instance, in December 2002, the powerful U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was forced to resign his position because he said that our country would not have the problems it has today if arch segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president as leader of the Dixiecrat Party in 1948.35/ (See enclosed N. Y. Times article, dated December 22, 2002.) 

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.

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35/ Thurmond himself went through a sort of transformation over the years.  As a U. S. Senator, he voted in favor of the MLK holiday.  (See Ole Strom, pp. 305-306.)

 

PAGE EIGHTEEN

IV.  THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HOLD MLK IN HIGH ESTEEM

At the time of the March on Washington in August of 1963, black Americans held MLK in greater esteem (88% approval rating) than any of their other leaders.  (See Pillar of Fire, pp. 135-136.)  But the esteem for MLK among Americans is not limited to blacks.  In a survey of all Americans by the Gallop Poll, MLK was voted the second most admired person of the 20th Century, behind only Mother Teresa and ahead of even Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  In addition, the Gallop Poll also found that Americans believed that the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one of MLK’s major achievements, was the fifth most important event of the 20th Century. (World War II was number one and women’s suffrage was number two.) (See enclosed Gallop Poll reports.)

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 January 9, 2000 and Holidays and Festivals Index, pp. xv-xii.)36/

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.)

V.  CONCLUSION

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. 

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36/ Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi honor a joint holiday for MLK and Robert E. Lee; and Virginia honors a joint holiday for King, Lee and Stonewall Jackson (see Holidays and Festivals Index, pp. xv, xix, xxii.)

PAGE NINETEEN

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.

Mr. Pilla, 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 America and 100 years of severely oppressive racist conditions, black Americans deserve the national holiday designation for their leader and hero – a hero to all of us who believe in Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal.”  In any event, please respond and let me know what you think about the facts and conclusions related in this paper.

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