When Republicans Lost Most of the Black Vote
Taylor Branch. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013.
Martin Luther King, being a respected local minister, was drafted to lead a protest committee. He had to give an impromptu speech at a banquet. He spoke how all there were American citizens and how deplorable it was that a good citizen, Rosa Parks, could be arrested for being Black and refusing to give her seat on a bus to a white person. He mentioned they were all Christians and were peaceful. The only weapon they had, King declared, was non-violent protest. He declared, to great applause,”if we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.”
King met with Bill Graham to discus how King’s speaking crusade could resemble Graham’s crusades and reach out to whites King with to India to learn about the non-violent protest tactics that Mahatma Gandhi had used.
King observed that the non-violent protest of racial discrimination at lunch counters seatings conducted by the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference.
Photographs of a white man hitting a Black woman’s head with a baseball bat while the police did not intervene, as well as one of football star David “Deacon” Jones sadly holding a Black woman who had been knocked down by a police fire hose, made the newspapers. The contrast of peaceful protestors and their white attackers startled public sensibilities.
Sen. John Kennedy’s telephone call of sympathy for King while jailed protesting may have helped elect Kennedy President, swinging Black votes away from their then Republican base. Kennedy’s Attorney General, his brother Robert, responsed to assist protesters attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor then arrested the protestors without charges Many protesters were later beaten by white mobs while the police did nothing to prevent the attacks. U.S. Marshals had helped protect the protesters.. King was upset with President Kennedy that the Federal government withdrew the Marshals before the attacks. Kennedy sent the National Guard to protect the protestors. Attorney General Kennedy agreed to protect one bus full of protestors as a compromise to keep others from enlarging the protest. Robert Kennedy was upset to learn a second bus was on its way.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee, after the protests, narrowly decided to join Harry Belafonte’s campaign to increase the numbers of Blacks who were registered voters, Some thought that was a ploy to help the Kennedy Administration and to diminish attention to protesting by diverting energies towards voter registration.
King enlisted high school students to march. Images of police officers and their dogs attacking non-violent teens protesting shocked people.
President Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation.
The 1963 March on Washington drew fears of rioting and looting among some in D.C. President Kennedy had Federal troops gathered in the suburb with 5,000 paratroopers on alert. There was no need for them. When King spoke, he diverted from his prepared speech and began preaching “I still have a dream deeply rooted in the American dream...that one day Blacks may proclaim, ‘Thank God almighty, we are free at last.’”
President Lyndon Johnson supported a Civil Rights Act that was adopted. Most Republican members of Congress voted for it. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for President, voted against it. This was the beginning of reshaping political party alignments.
President Johnson fretted over the 1964 Democratic National Convention over fighting at seating the Mississippi delegation which became a major racial issue. Johnson feared these issues, along with the responsibilities of the nuclear bomb, were weighing too much on him. Johnson hand-wrote a speech announcing he was not running for President.Johnson’s Press Secretary George Reedy. pleaded with Johnson not to let Goldwater become President. Reedy refused to draft a withdrawal letter causing Johnson to consider Reedy as disloyal. Reedy finally wrote something yet Johnson wrote his own.
King was neutral on the seating of Mississippi’s delegation. He declared “Being a Negro leader I want you to take this, but if I were a Mississippi Negro, I would vote against it.” The Black delegates voted against the compromise.
Johnson ran and was elected.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover hated King. He had the FBI spy on King as part of the Counter Inelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Hoover considered King a communist and a liar. There was an irrational belief that the civil rights movement was part of the communist conspiracy. King was the Nobel Peace Prize. Hoover unsuccessfully tried to deny King from accepting the award.
King moved he civil rights movement to Northern states. He first chose Chicago. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War flared. Johnson and King allied on civil rights yet split on the war issue.
COINTELPRO actively worked to upset King’s operations. The FBI sent out false information on rallies and distributed pamphlets denouncing King.