Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was born Michael (later Martin) Luther King Jr. on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA. He went on to become a fourth generation preacher; his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and uncle (father’s brother) were all preachers.1

Dr. King was more than just another preacher following behind his father; Dr. King was a freedom fighter, a civil rights activist, and a momentous humanitarian. There is so much anyone or I for that matter can write about Dr. King but I will focus on two things; one would be what shaped his thinking and his civil disobedience-nonviolence resistance approach to social and racial injustices, and the other would be his relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson.

Social reform was Dr. King’s goal; to change the consciousness of American as it pertained to its citizens who were discriminated against by law. He conceded that the love teachings of Jesus Christ pertained only on a individual level; one individual to another and could not work effectively for a class of people to a nation. That was his resolve until one Sunday when he went to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson spoke about the life teachings of one Mahatma [Mohandas Karamchand] Gandhi and it move Dr. King some much that he went and purchased a half-dozen books on Gandhi; life and works. Dr. King was particularly moved by Gandhi’s Salt March to the Sea and his fasting. More particular was the Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; -truth force or love force) which gave Dr. King the answer he was looking for in the resolution of conflicts between racial groups and a nation.

The Gandhian approach placed emphasis on love and nonviolence and gave Dr. King the intellectual and moral satisfaction that he did not get from the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill; the revolutionary concepts and methods of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin; or any other of the subscriptions of such people as Thomas Hobbes and his social contracts theory; Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his ‘back to nature’ optimism; or the superman theory of Friedrich Nietzsche.2

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 that President Johnson signed on Tuesday, July 2, 1964 was sent to Congress by President John F. Kennedy (JFK) as part of his comprehensive civil rights bill that he introduced to Congress (focusing on the desegregation of schools, restaurants, hotels and other public facilities and venues) following his Radio-TV address on June 11, 1963 where it remained stalled [filibustered] when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. This legislation came about as a result of a meeting President Kennedy had with Dr. King on the issues of civil rights, civil unrest, and racial holocaust stemming from the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where four little girls were killed as a result.3

LBJ needed Dr. King far more than Dr. King needed him; in fact LBJ used Dr. King to gain support for his social reforms that claimed to benefit the Negroes [African-Americans] while Dr. King insisted that Negroes [African-Americans] representation in his cabinet and the fair voting registration practices was a far more pressing issue. President Johnson’s aide, Joseph Califano, makes claims that the ‘Voting Rights Act’ was viewed by LBJ as his great legislative achievement and viewed himself and Dr. King as partners in that effort.4, but that was not exactly true stemming from the recorded phone conversation between Dr. King and President Johnson on January 15, 1965 where LBJ dismissed Dr. King choices for Cabinet members in the persons of Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer and wanted Whitney Young in a much lesser role. I guess because it was a call from President Johnson to Dr. King that it was more of a monologue with LBJ pushing his ‘Great Society’ initiative than a dialogue with Dr. King expressing his concerns for voting rights for Negroes [African-Americans].5

President Johnson urged Dr. King to get the most compelling acts of discrimination that he can find in the blatant denial of voter registration and publicize it; the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 sure did get the attention of the nation with the attack of unarmed protester on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  This led to the ‘Voter’s Rights Act of 1965’ signed on August 6, 1965. The event that occurred on that day could have easily been avoided because President Johnson’s 1964 election brought about as much racial discrimination, intimidation, killings in the ‘Deep South’, Mississippi and Alabama, in particular, than one can shake a stick at. President Johnson himself called those tactics employed in the southern states including this home state of Texas in a conversation with Vice President Hubert Humphrey as “…the meanest, dirtiest, low-down stuff I’ve ever heard.”6

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover who harbored great personal animosity toward Dr. was constantly before President Johnson in audience criticizing Dr. King during the first four years of LBJ’s presidential tenure. President Johnson was and viewed Dr. King as an ally and deflected the harsh criticism. Dr. King’s last phone call to President Johnson would be late in 1966 to discuss the situation in Vietnam.7

Dr. King applauded Robert F. Kennedy’s statement against the Vietnam War on March 2, 1966 invoking the legacy of his brother John, “Your great brother, carried us far in new directions with his concept of a world of diversity; your position advances us to the next step which requires us to reach the political maturity to recognize and relate to all elements produced by the contemporary colonial revolutions”.8

President Johnson tried unsuccessfully to meet with Dr. King on two occasions and had asked of his aides to inquire why Dr. King was avoiding him. The answer to President Johnson’s question came on April 4, 1967 from a speech that Dr. King delivered at Riverside Church located in New York City in conjunction with the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV) breaking his silence about the war in Vietnam in spite of his close relationship with President Johnson.9

Feeling betrayed by Dr. King President Johnson had succumbed to the pressure applied by J. Edgar Hoover and released to the press that he deemed reliable the FBI’s information gathered on Dr. King, especially his association with Communist Stanley Levison10 whom Harris Wofford warned Dr. King to cut ties with, (Jack O’Dell was another who Dr. King did sever ties with), which Dr. King refused to do. Robert F. Kennedy was for forced to have Dr. King’s home and office wiretapped because of his ongoing relationship with Stanley Levison.11

On March 26, 1968 during a press conference for the Poor People’s Campaign Dr. King announced that he would not be supporting President Johnson in the upcoming election, and on March 31, 1968 President Johnson shocked the nation when he announced that he would not seek reelection; four days later on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.1

Notes

  1. Carson, Clayborne. “Early Years.” In The Autobiography of Martin Lther King, Jr., 1. New York: Intellectual Properties Management, 2001.
  2. Carson, Clayborne. “Crozer Seminary.” In The Autobiography of Martin Lther King, Jr., 23, 24. New York: Intellectual Properties Management, 2001.
  3. “Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-1963).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kennedy_john_fitzgerald_1917_1963/
  4. Schantz, Kristy. Miller Center University of Virginia, “Selma: Film, Fiction, Fact, and the Tale of the Tapes.” Last modified January 23, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2015. http://millercenter.org/ridingthetiger/selma-film-fiction-fact-and-the-tale-of-the-tapes.
  5. Miller Center University of Virginia, “Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Recordings: Johnson Conversation with Martin Luther King on Jan 15, 1965 (WH6501.04).” Accessed January 28, 2015. http://millercenter.org/presidentialrecordings/lbj-wh6501.04-6736.
  6. DeRise, Robert. “Miller Center University of Virginia.” “Just the Meanest, Dirtiest, Low-Down Stuff That I’ve Ever Heard”: LBJ and Voter Intimidation-. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://millercenter.org/presidentialclassroom/exhibits/civil-rights-lyndon-johnson-voter-intimidation-1964-election.
  7. “Johnson, Lyndon Baines (1908-1973).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_johnson_lyndon_baines_1908_1973/.
  8. “Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (1917-1963).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kennedy_john_fitzgerald_1917_1963/.
  9. “”Beyond Vietnam,” Address Delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, at Riverside.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project. December 18, 2000. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/kingweb/publications/speeches/Beyond_Vietnam.pdf.
  10. “Johnson, Lyndon Baines (1908-1973).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_johnson_lyndon_baines_1908_1973/.
  11. “Johnson, Lyndon Baines (1908-1973).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. Accessed January 30, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_johnson_lyndon_baines_1908_1973/
  12. “Kennedy, Robert Francis (1925-1968).” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle, Accessed January 30, 2015. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kennedy_robert_francis_19251968.
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