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January 31, 2008

Martin Luther King Responds to Hillary Clinton on Social Change

Several weeks ago this statement of Hillary Clinton got lots of attention:

I would point to the fact that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said, "We are going to do it," and actually got it accomplished.

What's gotten less attention is what Martin Luther King himself thought on this subject. Chris Rabb has the bad taste to point out that King wrote this in an article published in January, 1969 after his death:

The past record of the federal government, however, has not been encouraging. No president has really done very much for the American Negro, though the past two presidents have received much undeserved credit for helping us. This credit has accrued to Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy only because it was during their administrations that Negroes began doing more for themselves. Kennedy didn't voluntarily submit a civil rights bill, nor did Lyndon Johnson. In fact, both told us at one time that such legislation was impossible. President Johnson did respond realistically to the signs of the times and used his skills as a legislator to get bills through Congress that other men might not have gotten through. I must point out, in all honesty, however, that President Johnson has not been nearly so diligent in implementing the bills he has helped shepherd through Congress.

It would be fun to live in the kind of world where people remembered enough history to ask Hillary Clinton about this.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 31, 2008 01:35 PM

Kennedy and Johnson are good examples if THE POWER OF PUBLIC PROTEST. WE, today, are not.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 31, 2008 03:32 PM

Well, there are many things to be asked were it true that people had functioning memories.

However, in fairness, its quite reasonable to think Hillary wasn't aware or had forgotten King's remarks (published after his death), and reading the quote in context never would leave me with the idea she meant to rewrite history or offend anyone with her remarks.

Ill advised? Perhaps. Good find, btw.

Posted by: ww at January 31, 2008 04:04 PM

And as always, public protest IS tne essence of any revolution, the heart of any revolutionary, large or small.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 31, 2008 04:22 PM

Speaking of remembering history, Robert Parry and Chris Floyd happen to recall it in a different way than CBS correspondent Scott Pelley did this Sunday on 60 Minutes. Pelley remembers the start of the Iraqi war the way Bush tells it - Saddam wouldn't allow the UN inspectors to look for WMD, and so he forced the US to invade.

If you look it up, you'll find it was not that way at all.

The following is quoted from Chris Floyd:

Bush chose war.

Or rather, he chose to escalate a war that had been going on for years, through sanctions that enriched Saddam and selected Western firms but killed at least – at least – half a million Iraqi children; through CIA-sponsored terrorist attacks against Iraqi citizens; and through the constant bombing of Iraq, which in the months before the ground attack had secretly surged to an all-out air assault to "prepare the battlespace" for the coming invasion. And yet Pelley – who we must assume is not four years old, but was actually an adult during the period in question, even a "journalist," presumably able to read and to comprehend moving images and human speech on television – can go on national television in 2008 and ask why Saddam Hussein chose to make war on the United States.

As this murderous lie engulfs our public discourse, we can see, yet again, that there is nothing – no lie so vile, so howlingly false – that our elites will not swallow, if it helps confirm their comforting self-image as important figures in a noble system dedicated to the highest ideals.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at January 31, 2008 05:10 PM

what mistah charley fails to realize is that international eminent domain is an act of goodwill

Posted by: hapa at January 31, 2008 05:36 PM

I think maybe Hillary is given too much credit (along with the rest of post-primary education Americans) you see, knowing the names does not mean you understand their efforts, motivations and intentions. I think she might have understood a small part, but obviously not enough to be able to comment on it in any well advised or other manner denoting familiarity with the topic, or anything relating to it.

Posted by: francina larmon at January 31, 2008 05:59 PM

"And I wonder why it took us seven more years to leave? Maybe we were just slow getting our coat on"

We first we need to establish some more American owned factories and other capital building establishments o'er there, so that the people whose families and livelihoods we've destroyed can make us the comforting coat for our travels back west with the manifest.

Posted by: francina larmon at January 31, 2008 07:35 PM

maybe what hillary was trying to say is that when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.

Posted by: hapa at February 1, 2008 12:36 AM

very funny hapa.

(presidents obeying laws)

Posted by: francina at February 1, 2008 01:42 AM

well, maybe King as a participant in the game is not the most objective observer. I'm sure I could find an LBJ quote expressing a different opinion. And I'd consider neither to be definitive nor objective.

and I'm not so sure many people now would remember him had he not been shot. A good speaker, delivering speeches other people wrote. And a preacher, I'll add, and I have trouble taking seriously anyone with serious religious beliefs.

Posted by: xyz at February 1, 2008 09:29 AM

Regarding your swipe at Hillary for her remarks re: MLK and the need for a president to put forward his agenda.

While MLK may have expressed some frustration with presidents in pushing for certain legislation and rightly suggested that LBJ was pressured by the movement to bring about the change, this shouldn't be seen as an indictment against the role of a president in pushing legislation. LBJ, for all his faults, and I can say I'm one who would rather not have had him as president, nevertheless did his duty and honored the movement and brought about at least some sort of fruition to it. MLK is honored today as the fundamental leader of the civil rights movement, but movements have a way of getting stuck if there aren't enough those in elected office who are willing to fight the fight for it. The ERA is one such that remains stuck to this day. Perhaps with different leadership we will see it renewed.


Posted by: James Dix at February 1, 2008 12:06 PM

I'm not so sure many people now would remember him had he not been shot.

Well, if he were alive today, he'd be speaking out against the American Empire, and we know that's enough to render any public figure invisible. "Who? King? The guy who wrote Cujo?"

Posted by: SteveB at February 1, 2008 02:29 PM

That brought the law around,
And brought Ole Jim Crow down.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 1, 2008 03:40 PM

Those that MARCHED 'cross the bridge
At Selma.
And EVEN those that kicked
them down.
They are the ones who
Made History
When they changed the law around.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 1, 2008 04:34 PM

That's rather an unfair swipe at Hillary, as nothing she said in any way contradicts what King said. King himself admits that it took Johnson's skills as a politician to get the bill through, which is pretty much exactly what Hillary said.

So where did Hillary go wrong, except to give her enemies a chance to quote her out of context, misquote her, and offer historical evidence as counterpoints to her argument that, in fact, support what she said.

Posted by: Jeff at February 2, 2008 01:23 AM

The swipe at Hillary was not unfair. Keep in mind that LBJ's and Kennedy's foot-dragging indirectly allowed for state-sponsored murder, rape, and bombings. Some issues allow for no middle ground. If you see a child being kidnapped by a child molester and do not act or report it, you cannot declare yourself "indifferent" to childrens' well-being. You're pretty much a monster. So, too, with civil rights. Fence-setters committed a different evil than white supremacist activists, but it was an evil nonetheless.

Besides, the motives of the Democrats were the direct result of black activism -- and nothing else. NOTHING else. As far as I can tell, the spectre of organized black violence was the tipping point for Democrats. They were not swayed by ethics, nor justice, and sure as hell not Christ. The economic costs of massive riots in every major industrial sector, combined with loss of life, combined with the wretched bad press as the "land of the free" imitated the fairly-recently-defeated Nazis pushed the issue well over the top. And that threat, that bare-knuckle or gun-to-the-head riposte to white supremacy, was what made the legislation inevitable. MLK was necessary, but not sufficient. Malcom X, et. al., were also neccessary.

LBJ was a bit player compared to the movement that gave his actions meaning.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at February 2, 2008 03:20 AM

Appropos of your last bit, I am reminded of Utah Phillips' frequent observation that "The most radical thing in America is a long memory."

Posted by: JMG at February 3, 2008 09:00 PM