LBJ and ‘Selma’: Who gets it right?

Civil rights legislator

According to historian David Kaiser, writing in TIME,  “the portrayal of Lyndon Johnson and his role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act [in the movie “Selma”] could hardly be more wrong. And this is important not merely for the sake of fidelity to the past, but because of continuing implications for how we see our racial problems and how they could be solved.”

But, according to author Philip Nelson, Selma gets LBJ dead right. Writing in Op-Ed News, Nelson and  right-wing political consultant Roger Stone assert:

“Selma shows the LBJ persona and his complete history, as he and it was, at first as the leading impediment to civil rights reform, then, on becoming president, his 180 degree flip-flop to become its leading proponent. In 1964-65, the arcs of the two of them coincided, ”

Unfortunately, that vague reference to “coinciding arcs” is all that Nelson and Stone have to say about LBJ’s role in securing passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They don’t even mention the names of the laws.  So eager they are to demonize Johnson for his early opposition to civil rights legislation in the 1950s  and his later escalation of the Vietnam War, that they can’t actually talk about his role in securing passage of two of the most important laws in the 20th century in 1964 and 1965.

Why so negative?

Nelson and Stone are convinced that LBJ was a motive force behind the assassination of JFK. Its a factually flimsy scenario that has a lot of die-hard proponents on the internet. Nelson and Stone’s conspiratorial agenda makes it all but impossible for them to give credit where credit is due. The fact that Johnson had the racial attitudes and politics of southern Democrat until he became president is true and, in any discussion, of Selma–which depicts the events of 1965– slightly besides the point.

The question is what did he do when he faced the challenge of the civil rights movement?

Kaiser says Selma distorts Johnson’s response.

“Until its last few minutes, the film presents LBJ as the main obstacle to what King is trying to do,” Kaiser writes. “There was no shortage of real white villains in the Selma controversy, but LBJ was not one of them. This portrayal depends upon a complete misrepresentation not only of the facts, but also of specific conversations that King and Johnson had during this period.”

Martin Luther King didn’t trust Johnson. And he doubted his wisdom. King told Johnson from the start that the war in Vietnam was folly. But he did come to appreciate LBJ’s maturation as a national leader.

Kaiser again:

“King himself wrote, in the midst of these events, that while he and Johnson’s approaches to civil rights were far from identical, he had no doubt at all that Johnson was trying to solve the problem of civil rights “with sincerity, realism and, thus far, with wisdom.”

Nelson and Stone say Selma gets it right: that LBJ embodied a corrupt and racist American power structure. Kaiser says Selma gets it wrong that LBJ embodied an American power structure that was open to reform. Who do you think got it right?



53 thoughts on “LBJ and ‘Selma’: Who gets it right?”

  1. Wow, I read through all these comments to see if anyone pointed out the obvious, and no one did.

    JFK supported the civil rights movement. His legislation was momentarily stalled, but his administration was planning a full court press on it within the year. (Read everything ever written by Larry O’Brien if you think I’m making this up).

    He was murdered, supposedly by a white southerner.

    LBJ, the master politician, saw this as an opportunity to push through JFK’s legislation and put the assassination behind. There can be no question that his reasons for doing so were quite complex. He knew that if he did nothing, the Kennedy “wing” of the party would desert him come the convention, and he knew if he did too much, he would lose the south for the party. He opted to be bold. Good for him. This was almost certainly the right thing to do.

    But there is NO reason to believe he would have done it on his own, without Kennedy’s setting the table, and without the remnants of Kennedy within his party pushing him to move forward.

    So who is the hero? The soldier who runs forward and steps on the mine just before he gets to a river? Or the one who follows behind him and realizes he can make it to the river if he walks in the other guy’s footsteps, and then steps over the other guy’s body?

    1. Pat Speer January 21, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      But there is NO reason to believe he would have done it on his own, without Kennedy’s setting the table, and without the remnants of Kennedy within his party pushing him to move forward.

      I think there is much more reason to believe Johnson would have brought civil rights to the table by himself than there is that JFK would have initiated meaningful civil rights. It was a problem pushed on JFK. It was a movement embraced by Johnson.

      “That meant, given the president’s (JFK) awesome burdens in other areas, such as foreign affairs, as little confrontation as possible between civil rights activist and Democratic state officials in the South”.

      “Each (King and Bobby) understood the others agenda; King, to assault the remaining bastions of segregation… and Kennedy, to maintain order, but above all to protect his older brother’s political interest”. “The Children”, David Halberstam, page 287.

  2. I’ve not yet seen Selma but here is a review including important context about the times that led to Selma by Mr. DiEugenio in Consortium News.

    The overwhelming evidence of US government complicity found valid by the jury includes:

    US 111th Military Intelligence Group were at Dr. King’s location during the assassination.
    20th Special Forces Group had an 8-man sniper team at the assassination location on that day.
    Usual Memphis Police special body guards were advised they “weren’t needed” on the day of the assassination.
    Regular and constant police protection for Dr. King was removed from protecting Dr. King an hour before the assassination.
    Military Intelligence set-up photographers on the roof of a fire station with clear view to Dr. King’s balcony.
    Dr. King’s room was changed from a secure 1st-floor room to an exposed balcony room.
    Memphis police ordered the scene where multiple witnesses reported as the source of shooting cut down of their bushes that would have hid a sniper.
    Along with sanitizing a crime scene, police abandoned investigative procedure to interview witnesses who lived by the scene of the shooting.
    The rifle Mr. Ray delivered was not matched to the bullet that killed Dr. King, and was not sighted to accurately shoot.
    . . . . .
    This is certain and specific proof of the Modus Operandi of the so-called “government”, adding strength to the assertions that the same perpetrators were responsible for all three of he high profile assassinations of JFK, MLK, & RFK.

  4. Looks like ‘Selma’ is getting the Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ treatment from the mainstream media.

    I personally don’t think it’s fair to judge a work of art by how true it stays to history. Artists have the ability to convey basic truths about events without being bound by the complexities and contradictions of reality.

    Rep. John Lewis, who participated in the Selma march in the 60s, gives probably the strongest defense of the film in a recent op-ed:

    1. Except when that work of art is marketed as history. Far too often Hollywood likes to embellish films with false narratives and outright lies to improve the ” artistic” qualities of those films-and to generate box office appeal. The average American film patron has neither the sophistication nor the education to notice the difference between real history and artistic license. Films that strive for historic accuracy like “Tora,Tora,Tora” often turn out to be expensive box office failures while truly awful and inaccurate films like “Pearl Harbor” get to be moneymakers.
      The problem is that often the movie version becomes THE history for the general,uneducated public. The real history becomes a forgotten memory.

      1. I haven’t seen Selma and so cannot judge it. But I have seen JFK several times, and I know that every year brings new evidence that it got the story of JFK’s assassination basically right.

      2. “Except when that work of art is marketed as history. Far too often Hollywood likes to embellish films with false narratives and outright lies to improve the ” artistic” qualities of those films-and to generate box office appeal.”
        . . .
        Like the propaganda film ZERO DARK THIRTY, aye Photon.

      3. Interesting thing about that awful Pearl Harbor movie. It opened May 21, 2001, thus four months before the Pearl Harbor event of 9/11. A lot of it was shot using naval personnel on Hawaii, so it obviously had DOD support. In addition, production must have started at least several months before the movie opened. It would be interesting to know when planning for the movie began.

      4. For once I have to agree with Photon. Films about historical events need to be historically accurate. What’s the point otherwise? It may as well be a work of fiction or propaganda. Though you’ll have to admit Photon ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’ is really unwatchable while something like “Apocalypse Now” captures the madness without purporting to represent historical facts.

        I think one of the best films on the JFK assassination is “Three Shots that Changed the World”. Despite the title, it doesn’t take sides and just shows all the news footage and commentary on the day. It’s quite damning all on it’s own. The complete chaos at the DPD and the treatment of the suspect is absolutely appalling.

        If the link doesn’t work – it’s on youtube.

        1. Vanessa, I was listening on Youtube to a live radio station playing just prior to the assassination. (Sorry, I can’t recall it-it may have been a Texas station). There was an ad for Hamms beer(“with the taste of sky-blue waters”). Innocent, good-natured ad. Then you get the initial report of the assassination. From innocence to bad.

    2. John Lewis makes a good point here:
      “As for Johnson’s taped phone conversation about Selma with King, the president knew he was recording himself, so maybe he was tempted to verbally stack the deck about his role in Selma in his favor. The facts, however, do not bear out the assertion that Selma was his idea. ”

      Some take CIA documents LBJ’s taped conversations as gospel Facts – while LBJ knew he was being recorded ! Hoover had birth certificate documents that prove that he’s white. No wonder he denied the existence of the KKK…

  5. I would like to make four points here:

    1) Lyndon Johnson murdered JFK. The entire history of the 1960’s – Cuba policy, Vietnam, civil rights, Great Society legislation and the massive social upheaval should be understood in this context. The JFK assassination directly affected all those areas.

    2) The King family went on national TV, ABC News, in 1997 and said that Lyndon Johnson & “Army intelligence” murdered Dr. Martin Luther King. I think that tells you what the King family thinks about the fantasy of an LBJ-MLK partnership. However, after he murdered JFK, Lyndon Johnson had no choice but to support civil rights immediately or he would not have been the 1964 Democratic nominee – RFK would have been.

    3)LBJ’s great friend and blood brother for 30 years was his buddy J. Edgar Hoover who btw was a lapdog of Texas oil interests who were LBJ’s inner circle. MLK was just a “N-word” preacher to LBJ. LBJ did support Voting Rights but only after MLK got his protesters beat up in Selma for the TV cameras. It worked. Side note: Hoover so close to the Johnson family that he used to babysit for the Johnson girls and Hoover used to brag that he raised them. LBJ-Hoover neighbors from 1943-1961, blood brothers the whole way through. Deke DeLoach at FBI was inner circle LBJ. MLK sure was not!! Voting rights a backburner issue for LBJ until the King protesters and Selma violence forced the issue.

    4) LBJ loved to wiretap, bug and spy on his enemies (and friends!)LBJ was a totalitarian with the precise mentality of an Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin. I have not mentioned his personal hit man Malcolm Wallace. LBJ used to play the FBI’s sex tapes of MLK for his Texas political cronies – Ben Barnes for example.

    Web link on that here:

    1. I do not think it was coincidence that the (equally suspicious) assassinations of MLK and RFK happened on LBJ’s watch.

    2. Excellent points, Robert. Just two comments. On point one, wouldn’t JFK have set up public policies similar to LBJ’s Great Society, had the former been re-elected? And on point two, it appears LBJ HAD to switch on Civil Rights, so a man he hated wouldn’t be nominated over him. Perhaps his hatred of RFK trumped the whole Civil Rights issue(?).

  6. It’s been a while since I’ve read in any depth about him but I had the impression LBJ was a bigot on a personal basis. That Civil Rights was all about politics. That “his” Civil Rights legislation was based on JFK’s ideas. Maybe this comes from Mastermind or parts of the trilogy from several years ago I can’t remember the name of.

  7. Before seeing the movie, “Selma”, I wanted to do some research on the history of Civil Rights during that era (I grew up in DC during the 1950’s & 60’s – in 1968, I recall seeing the movie “The Battle of Algiers” and the fires burning in Washington due to a ‘race riot’ and I noted the similarity).

    To judge historical fairness, I believe, one has to look at overall context. During Little Rock (1950’s) and it’s after math, what was LBJ’s position on Civil Rights and how did that evolve?. Portraying the man as a practical politician might not prove so flattering in comparison to a moral crusader as MLK. In the middle of a Cold War & a Hot War; internal civil discord would not have been desireable, so pragmatic choices might be made that might have also been moral. To balance portrayal on film and to understand objections; when LBJ was sworn in on Air Force One, Jack Valenti, former President of the MPAA, was on board & in the photo. Is there a connection with the lack of Oscar nominations. ( a consensual no/no to dis LBJ – who knows?) In 2003, there was a BBC documentary on JFK (Beyond Conspiracy) that was, in part, ‘censored by the History Channel (a theory of LBJ’s possible inolvement in the JFK assassiantion was explored). The moral, history has the capacity to get spun, distorted, or omitted.

    1. John R January 16, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      I agree John. I wouldn’t trust Stone as far as I could throw him. And today was my 70th birthday!! I couldn’t throw him very far!

      1. Happy birthday! It just so happens that Jan 16th was my 46th birthday. I’d be more than willing to help you throw Roger Stone anywhere.

    1. David Regan January 16, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Well David, I was worried when I saw the msnbc reference but that is a good balanced article. Thank you. It helps that the author cites Robert Caro a good bit. Caro admits to not liking LBJ but being what a historian is supposed to be, he tells it like it was, the good and the bad. Caro has four big volumes out on Johnson with a final volume to come out later. I will say I don’t remember Caro telling the story of LBJ and his driver but it has been a good while since I have read the volumes.

      I know better that to try and explain this but I’ll give it a shot. Johnson was born in 1908. I put it to you that the vast majority of white males born in 1908 in the south would be termed racist by todays standard. I realize that is no excuse but that is the way it was. I was born in 1945, except when Uncle Sam made me leave I have spent my entire life in the south. I remember the separate water fountains, restrooms and “colored served in the back”. I went to segregated schools.

      My point being, it was hard to escape the racism that you grow up in. For this older generation they saw nothing wrong with using the word, “nigger”. They grew up with it.

      I think it more important to remember what Johnson did and wanted to do for the disenfranchised regardless of what he called them.

    2. And your proof is what?
      You seem to forget that it was under JFK that the FBI was wiretapping Mike King; the recently released Jackie Kennedy comments that were so negative about King suggests that Jack had listened to them and maybe even shared them with his wife, as horrible as that sounds. His old man Joe was as racist as your typical Boston Southie; his first comments to his future son-in-law Peter Lawford were to berate him for associating with blacks while parking cars in Palm Beach.
      Johnson drove the Civil Rights advances in the 1960s more than anybody else; had he not been Senate Majority Leader with established clout on the Hill it is doubtful that the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 would have been passed. Despite being the consummate pol who realized that his actions would destroy the Democratic Solid South forever he pushed the agenda far more than King or any other Civil Rights leader could- because it was right and was more important than mere politics.Coupled with his Great Society programs Johnson would have been considered the most successful domestic President since his idol FDR. The tragedy of Vietnam should not obscure that, although it obviously has.
      It is truly unfair that Vietnam has created a collective level of amnesia that prevents the general public from seeing Johnson as the Civil Rights giant that he so clearly was. Just look at his treatment of a real civil rights leader like Hubert Humphrey , picking him as a running mate despite knowing that his presence on the ticket would through away the South. Contrast that with the Kennedy family using Mob money to destroy Humphrey in West Virginia. Actions speak louder than words.

      1. Of course, Photon. LBJ was not corrupt at all – ever hear of Box 13 scandal? Or of the Senate investigations around Bobby Baker and that threatened to ruin LBJ in 1963?

        If you don’t like the article I posted, take it up with MSNBC.

      2. “You seem to forget that it was under JFK that the FBI was wiretapping Mike King…”~Photon

        Photon seems to forget that J. Edgar Hoover was under NOBODY, he was the feudal lord of the FBI until he finally kicked the bucket.

      3. JFK, MLK, RFK a continuity-group in assassination studies of 1960’s US history.
        The accumulated evidence implicates the same elite cabal is behind all of these murders, and that they were “Acts of State”.

  8. The film involves JLB in the so-called suicide package manufactured by J. E. Hoover against MLK to stop his Selma drive. Just before it, according to Taylor Branch, LBJ called MLK for advice… on executive appointments! The film is also not accurate by featuring LBJ calling Hoover on what he had on MLK, since Hoover immediately sent the FBI reports MLK to both LBJ and the Attorney General, RFK, to drive them against MLK, as Branch also explains. There was certainly a falling-out between MLK and LBJ, but it wasn’t in regard of the Voting Rights Act, but for LBJ’s shortchanging War on Poverty while spending a lot on the War on Vietnam, as MLK stated in 1967.

    1. Mayra Solloa January 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      I don’t think it was only a question of money that caused the split. In the early years of the war the number of black soldiers killed was higher than it should have been based on the number of blacks eligible for the war. There are several reasons for this, genocide not being one of them. King and other black leaders protested, saying it was a case of genocide against black men. I believe this to be, if not the main reason, one of the reasons for the split between Johnson and King. Johnson took it personal, believing King had betrayed him after all Johnson had done for him.

      The march in Selma was in March of 1965. As you noted,King didn’t make his anti-war speech until 1967. So I don’t think there was any split at the time of the Selma March, Bloody Sunday. I think this is simply more crap by Stone to make money.

  9. I can’t answer this question but I think it’s one of the tragedies of history that JFK wasn’t alive to become the civil rights president. He was more sincere, a charismatic and transformational leader, and black people liked him far more than LBJ.

    History went haywire on 11-22-63 and the upheavals of the 1960s were a result of this disruption.

    1. Thomas January 16, 2015 at 11:51 am

      What makes you think JFK would have been the civil rights president if he had lived? His civil rights bills had about as much chance of being passed as the civil rights bill of the last 100 years or so. His administration was not known for getting their bills through congress. I think one of the tragedies of history is that so many credit JFK for being the civil rights president when in fact it was Johnson that got the bills passed.

      If you think that JFK was more sincere in wanting civil rights I think that would be a wrong. JFK didn’t know any minorities, had never been around them and had not grown up in the south to see the discrimination. Johnson had. He knew poverty and he knew that the south would always be a second class citizen until it threw off the yoke of Jim Crow. He taught poor Mexican kids in Cotulla, he saw to it that black youth shared in FDR’s Youth Program when he was director of the program in Texas.

      It was hard for black people to trust a big ole white southern boy. I think that is understandable. But Vernon Jordan said he had learned that he was much better off with a reformed southern than he was with a pale northern liberal. King was very disappointed in JFK because it had been all talk and little action.

      I hardly think the revolutions in America in the 60s had anything to do with the assassination of JFK. These had began forming in 50s and came to term in the 60s. This “the day the music died” is rather thin.

      1. Bill, if MLK ever expressed disappointed with JFK, I doubt it would have been after his speech of June 11, 1963, when he directly addressed national concerns over civil rights.

        In his autobiography, King says that in 1960 he privately voted for Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy: “I felt that Kennedy would make the best president. I never came out with an endorsement. My father did, but I never made one.” King adds that he likely would have made an exception to his non-endorsement policy for a second Kennedy term, saying “Had President Kennedy lived, I would probably have endorsed him in 1964.”

        Lyndon Johnson opposed every civil rights proposal considered in his first 20 years as lawmaker:

        1. David Regan January 16, 2015 at 11:29 pm

          Bill, if MLK ever expressed disappointed with JFK, I doubt it would have been after his speech of June 11, 1963, when he directly addressed national concerns over civil rights.

          David, I think that was the problem. There had been much said by JFK but little actually done.

          Lyndon Johnson opposed every civil rights proposal considered in his first 20 years as lawmaker:

          Another good article and attention should be given the words of Caro. Again he tells the bad with good.

          Johnson was a progressive and liberal man that was forced to stay in the closet for much of his life. If he had came out he wouldn’t have been elected to dog catcher in the south.

          I think it rather small to ignore the great work LBJ did in civil rights just because the used the word nigger.

      2. James DiEugenio has written a strong — and, I think, persuasive — defense of Kennedy’s oft-questioned commitment to civil rights, noting correctly that Kennedy “did more for the civil rights of black Americans in three years than the previous 18 presidents had done in a century.”

        Sheldon Smith, former historian at the JFK Library, has noted that JFK made most of his strongest civil rights moves and statements through his brother:

        1. J.D. January 16, 2015 at 11:55 pm

          Mr. DiEugino ends with this statement; “For this and other reasons, both noted and unnoted, as a discussion of Kennedy’s presidency, Sabato’s book is worthless”.

          I would suggest Mr. DiEugino could well say the same about his own writings. His “JFK did more for blacks than the last 18 presidents” is an opinion, one that I doubt would be shared by many. Why doesn’t DiEugino tell us about all the black appointments under Johnson and Grant during Reconstruction? Why not Truman integrating the Military? So two executive orders and appointing more blacks to the Federal Government. Better than before but not great by any measure.

          Why doesn’t Mr. DiEugenio tell us how Bobby let the Freedom Riders get the hell beat out of them before finally sending some marshals. David Halberstam’s “the Children” is an excellent account of this.

          I’ll tell you what JFK didn’t do. He didn’t pass the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Bill that led the disenfranchised out of the wilderness. He didn’t do that.

          And then Mr DiEugino had to touch on Vietnam, a subject he and his mentor John Newman know little about with this jewel; “Why did he (JFK) do the opposite, that is sign NSAM 263 which actually ordered all advisers out beginning in December of 1963 and the last ones out in 1965? Sabato cannot even bring himself to type the words “NSAM 263″. So he says this was just a political ploy by Kennedy to get re-elected. He can get away with this because he does not tell the reader about the other part of the plan: the total withdrawal by 1965. (Sabato, p. 126)”.

          What DiEugino says about NSAM 263 is incorrect and I believe Mr. DiEugino knows that it is incorrect. When I posted NSAM 263 for him to read in another thread he left the discussion without comment. This should be a red flag about what Mr. DiEugino tells you.

          1. I don’t sign on to everything DiEugenio says in that review, but his argument for Kennedy’s civil rights strategy is interesting and detailed. I don’t doubt that civil rights leaders were dissatisfied with what Kennedy did (just as abolitionists were critical of Lincoln), but Kennedy did seem to have come around to a strong civil rights stance by the last few months of his presidency.

            As for Vietnam, it seems to me that both Kennedy and Johnson strongly resisted widening the war, and that Johnson was slow to escalate even after the Tonkin Gulf incident. He gave in only when he felt completely hemmed in by his advisers, who had hinted that they might go public with their dissatisfaction with his policy. (This comes from Gareth Porter’s excellent “Perils of Dominance.”)

          2. J.D. January 18, 2015 at 9:12 pm

            As for Vietnam, it seems to me that both Kennedy and Johnson strongly resisted widening the war, and that Johnson was slow to escalate even after the Tonkin Gulf incident. He gave in only when he felt completely hemmed in by his advisers, who had hinted that they might go public with their dissatisfaction with his policy. (This comes from Gareth Porter’s excellent “Perils of Dominance.”)

            I think that is certainly correct, J.D. I have commented on how poorly both JFK and LBJ were served by their advisers, military and civilians.

            I would add that the communist also had a lot to do with both presidents actions in Vietnam. The communist moved to armed conflict in 1959 and agreed to send intact NVA units in late 1963. Reportedly Saigon was close to falling when LBJ sent in our combat units.

            For some reason I’ve missed reading anything of Porter’s. I need to do so. I believe he is one that thinks JFK would have withdrawn from Vietnam. Is that correct?

      3. Abraham Bolden claims he became the first black man to join the secret service and guard the president because JFK met him and personally invited him for the job. I believe this incident shows sensitivity to blacks and there may have been more such encounters we don’t know about.

        Kennedy may not have grown up around minorities or known many of them (I don’t know this one way or the other) but he was an intelligent and sensitive person and I believe he would have been the perfect fit for “growing” into these issues given his personality and forward vision.

        Decades don’t tend to fall into tidy ten year periods. Culturally speaking the 60s didn’t really begin until around 1964 and this follows the time period when JFK died. I believe this is more than coincidence.

    2. “History went haywire on 11-22-63 and the upheavals of the 1960s were a result of this disruption.”

      A large part of the change that took place in the 1960s would have occurred anyway: the changing status of women in American society, the evolution of American popular culture, the rejection of the “old way” of doing things by the baby boomers, the space race, the civil rights movement, the fascination of young people with prohibited things like pot.

      But the hardening and radicalization of politics, represented by the Democratic Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968, would not have occurred had JFK not been assassinated, IMO. Young people on college campuses hated LBJ for what he had ordered done in Viet Nam. JFK was much more attuned, vastly more attuned, to young people than LBJ. This was a big deal given the baby boom.

      1. I agree with much of the above but would add that the tumultuous aspects of the 60s would have been smoother sailing with JFK as president. The sense of “us vs them” as in “us vs the government and the establishment” would not have been as pervasive with a popular, transformational leader like JFK.

        Vietnam alone was a major lightning rod. If we imagine that JFK would have withdrawn much sooner and not escalated the war then the hippie phenomenon as we knew it may never have gathered steam.

    3. Thomas: Do not fret. There are many, many people who think that the upheavals of the past 50 years can be traced to that Friday in Dallas.It may not have reached the boiling point until 1968 with the murders of RFK and MLK, but the whole lousy breakdown of American greatness started then.That’s why there is such interest and such priority given to JFK’s murder. There is widespread guilt and denial among Americans who discovered that the WC was all baloney and no one – except some exceptionally brave and committed researchers – did anything about it. Not only lies butlies accepted. Lies continue.

  10. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

    “And this is important not merely for the sake of fidelity to the past, but because of continuing implications for how we see our racial problems and how they could be solved.”

    Re the Selma speech, the part that really stands out for me is when MLK paraphrased the historian C. Vann Woodward from his classic work The Strange Career of Jim Crow. That book is my top choice in the “When is a liberal book more radical than an ostensibly radical book awards,” probably-not-funded by American Express.

    Never has a paraphrase taken flight like that one, in all American History. MLK translates academic text into words that everyone can understand because they fly like poetry between the rigorously policed gaps between the social classes.

    Accessibility. Let’s face it, political writing is often more profitable if it’s less accessible rather than more. Imagine if MLK and Woodward’s point was injected into today’s political discourse. It’s difficult to imagine; media is paid to cleave discourse between FOX cleavage and Rachel Maddow’s haircut, which seems refreshed every time Obama refreshes a Bush policy.

    Was the Woodward moment included in the Selma film? That is the moment that contrasts the most with today’s compartmentalized divide and conquer politics. Why is this– IMO the most important part of the Selma speech– receiving so little ink and attention?

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