Here is Hugh Aynesworth expose on the Garrison Investigation (1967)
What lies behind New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s increasingly notorious investigation of a “plot” to kill John F. Kennedy? To find out, NEWSWEEK sent a veteran reporter, who covered the assassination and its aftermath, to New Orleans for five weeks. His account follows.
by Hugh Aynesworth
What lies behind New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s increasingly notorious investigation of a “plot” to kill John F. Kennedy? To find out, NEWSWEEK sent a veteran reporter, who covered the assassination and its aftermath, to New Orleans for five weeks. His account follows. by Hugh Aynesworth Is Garrison is right. There has been a conspiracy in New Orleans—but it is a plot of Garrison’s own making. It is a scheme to concoct a fantastic “solution” to the death of John F. Kennedy, and to make it stick; in this cause, the district attorney and his staff have been indirect parties to the death of one man and have humiliated, harassed, and financially gutted several others.
Indeed, Garrison’s tactics have been even more questionable than his case. I have evidence that one of the strapping D.A.’s investigators offered an unwilling “witness” $3,000 and a job with an airline—if only he would “fill in the facts” of an alleged meeting to plot the death of the President. I also know that when the D.A.’s office learned that this entire bribery attempt had been tape-recorded, two of Garrison’s men returned to the “witness” and, he says, threatened him with physical harm.
Another man who spent many hours with District Attorney Garrison in a vain attempt todissuade him from his assassination-conspiracy theory has twice been threatened—once by one of the D.A.’s own “witnesses,” the second time by Garrison himself. Others—Cuban exiles, convicts, drug addicts, homosexuals, bums—have been hounded in more subtle ways. For most of Garrison’s victims are extremely vulnerable men. Some are already paying for their vulnerability. Chief among them is Clay L. Shaw, the New Orleans businessman-socialite, who now faces trial on a charge of conspiring to kill the President.
How did it all begin?
Garrison first became earnestly interested in the Kennedy assassination when he and Louisiana Sen. Russell Long rode side by side on an airplane bound for New York. Long said he had never actually believed the Warren commission report, that he still had doubts. Garrison later told me that he immediately decided that if such an important man thought there was something odd about the case, it was time to start digging
Garrison is known in New Orleans as a smart operator, a bit unorthodox, but nobody’s fool. He made his name by cleaning up his old haunt— the French Quarter—and putting a temporary halt to B-girl practices and lewd dancing in its gaudy strip joints. Later, he amazed the whole city by accusing eight criminal judges of taking too many days off and of winking at Mafia activity. But although the judges sued him for libel, Garrison’s right to criticize the judiciary was finally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thus, when he first announced his “conspiracy” case, most New Orleanians believed that “Big Jim must have something.” What Garrison had to start with was a colorfully pathetic “suspect” named David Ferrie. A onetime airline pilot, Ferrie had been questioned shortly after the assassination on the basis of a tip that he was Oswald’s “getaway pilot.” But the tipster was an alcoholic who later admitted that he had made up the story.
Despite his clean bill of health from the FBI and Secret Service, Ferrie became the center of Garrison’s investigation. He was questioned for hours, “tailed” and subjected to polygraph tests. His acquaintances were quizzed.
By February, word had leaked out of Garrison’s office that Ferrie was soon to be arrested and charged with the conspiracy of conspiracies. Through it all Ferrie called the D.A.’s investigation a “farce” and told friends he would sue Garrison if he were arrested. But as the weeks wore on, Ferrie, not a strong or stable man under the best of circumstances, began to show the strain. Then, suddenly on Feb. 22, he died—of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
Suicide: Garrison crowed that Ferrie’s death was “an apparent suicide” and he warned that same week: “We know who the rest of them are. The only way they are going to get away from us is to kill themselves.” A week after Ferrie’s death, Garrison ruefully admitted to me in his home, “Yeah, we helped kill the son of a bitch.”
Shortly after Ferrie’s fortuitous death, Garrison proclaimed that he had “solved” the President’s assassination; that he knew the individuals involved, the cities and other details of the “plot.” Arrests would be forthcoming, and convictions too. “Don’t bet against us,” the district attorney warned.
Two days later, a crucial “witness” miraculously appeared. Perry Raymond Russo, a 25-year-old insurance salesman from nearby Baton Rouge, claimed thathe had known David Ferrie well and that Ferrie had once said President Kennedy should have been killed for his bungling of the Bay of Pigs disaster. Garrison assigned former boxer Andrew J. Sciambra, 31, one year out of law school, to interview Russo. After his first conversation with Russo, Sciambra filed a 3,500-word memo in which he failed to mention anything about an assassination plot.
Ideal Witness: But later, after being given “truth serum” (sodium pentothal) and being prompted, Russo testified at length in a pretrial hearing about a key “conspiracy” meeting held in Ferrie’s apartment which also supposedly involved Clay Shaw and Lee Harvey Oswald. Russo seemed to be the ideal witness. He was cool, calm—”almost as if he was hypnotized,” said one attorney. Lo and behold, the defense later discovered that Russo had been hypnotized —just hours before he testified. Russo told the court he had stood around in the apartment and listened while Ferrie, Oswald and Shaw hatched their “plot.” He could recall phrases like “availability of exits,” “diversionary tactics,” and “triangulation of crossfire.” Russo offered a variety of unconvincing reasons why he had never mentioned the meeting to anyone before.
Garrison produced another unusual “witness” at the hearing, a 27-year-old Negro drug addict. Vernon Bundy said that while sitting on the lakefront one morning waiting to “pop” a cap of heroin he looked up and saw Oswald being handed a wad of money by Shaw. Bundy admitted he had a four-cap-a-day habit at that time and had been on drugs since the age of 13. One defense attorney asked Bundy how he could support such a demanding heroin habit when the cost would be nearly twice his salary.
“I steal sometimes,” Bundy replied.
Shaw: A price for vulnerability
After the three judges on the hearing panel agreed that the Russo and Bundy testimony was enough “evidence” to bind Shaw over for trial, one judge told a friend at the racetrack that although Garrison really didn’t have enough to bind the defendant over, he and his fellow judges had been fascinated by how well Russo stuck to his story for two days.
Many hypnotists probably were not so impressed. Garrison did not stop with Russo and Bundy. His men tried to get another “witness” to shore up his conspiracy charge. In fact, they tried about $3,000 worth.
Less than a week before Shaw’s pretrial hearing, two investigators from Garrison’s office visited an unemployed young man named Alvin Beaubouef at his New Orleans home. They told the 21-year-old they had “influence” and could help Beaubouef get a job with an airline if only he would help them substantiate the alleged plot. Beaubouef told them he couldn’t do anything without talking to his attorney. They made a date for 2:30 the next afternoon at the lawyer’s office. `
Just Like That’: One of the two investigators, Lynn Loisel, a New Orleans policeman assigned to Garrison’s office, showed up. What had Loisel told Beaubouef the night before, the attorney asked? “I told him we had liberal expense money,” Loisel replied. “And I said the boss is in a position to put him in a job, also that he would make a hero out of him, instead of a villain, you understand … I mean we can change the story around, you know, to positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt … You know, eliminate him, you know, into any kind of a conspiracy or what have you.”
The attorney wanted to know more about the offer of money. Loisel answered: “I would venture to say . .. Well, I’m, you know . .. fairly certain we could put $3,000 on him.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that, you know.” Loisel was asked about the promise of a job. “I don’t know,” the burly cop said. “I’m sure he would have to go up through the ranks, you know. The first year or two he might stay in a room in the back with the charts or something … I don’t know. Then he advances a little farther. Then he’s a co-pilot …
Then he’s a pilot.” Beaubouef’s lawyer asked if this was Garrison’s idea, if “the boss” meant Jim Garrison? Loisel replied that it did. Then Loisel laid out the “conspiracy plot” to which Beaubouef presumably would testify. He discussed “crossfire” and escaperoutes. As Loisel “recalled” it, Ferrie and Shaw had been arguing in the apartment—or maybe it had been Oswald and Shaw—the investigator couldn’t quite recall for sure. Loisel added: “Clay Shaw wanted some of his methods used, or his thoughts, you know, used. But anyway, that’s what we have in mind—along that line.”
Suggestion: “Was Al at the meeting?” the attorney asked. Loisel said: “No, Al wasn’t at the meeting.” But Loisel suggested that Dave Ferrie had told Beaubouef all about it. The attorney then asked how they would explain Beaubouef failure to come forward prior tothis. “I‘ll tell you how we go about that problem,” said Loisel. “Well, Dave Ferrie, bless his soul, is gone. Al was scared of Dave. Al has a family, you know. When Al first met Dave, he was a single man. Al has a family now. Al was threatened by Dave, you know, to never divulge this. Al or his family would be taken care of. You understand. Now that poor Daveis gone, Al has voluntarily come forth and told of his knowledge. I mean there’s 99,999 ways we can skin that cat, you know. I mean, it’s something, you know . . That’s his patriotic duty … He’s placing his family, you know, at the mercy of the D.A.’s office because he must clear his conscience . . and as an upstanding citizen.”
‘Check Back’: Beaubouef told Loisel that he really knew nothing about any plot concerning Ferrie or the assassination. But he offered to take the “truth serum,” hypnotism, polygraph tests, anything. He had one question. Would they still give him the job if he turned out to be of no help to them? Loisel said: “I’ll have to check back with the boss.” When the D.A.’s men learned that the meeting in the attorney’s office had been recorded on tape, Loisel and a colleague returned to threaten Beaubouef. He was told if he got in the way he would be shot. Then they hauled him down to the courthouse and made him sign a statement that said, in effect, that he didn’t consider the offer of $3,000 and a job as a bribe. They told him bluntly that they had “enough on him” to ruin him. Today, with a wife, an 11- month-old son and a job, Beaubouef is as worried about the existence of some pictures the D.A. holds over his head as he is about physical harm. So it goes in New Orleans, where several sit on the hot seat while Garrison thrashes around for “evidence” to implicate them and keep himself in the headlines. In the latest wrinkle last week, the district attorney brought into his investigation two men named Oswald (Julius J. and William S.) whose only connection with the assassination seemed to be that they worked at a New Orleans coffee company that once employed Lee Harvey Oswald. Composite Conspirator: In the beginning, Garrison theorized that Lee Harvey was an anti-Castro agent whose original mission was to kill the Cuban dictator. When Oswald could not get to Cuba, the D.A. charged, the plot “turned around” and the plotters (angered over the Bay of Pigs fiasco) set up Oswald in the Kennedy killing. But Garrison’s theory has undergone so many permutations that his composite conspirator now would probably be equal parts Oswald, homosexual, right-wing extremist, FBI agent, Cosa Nostra hood, CIA operative and Russian double agent. There is still some feeling in New Orleans that Big Jim must have something. But now that the facts of the real “conspiracy” are beginning to emerge there, Garrison seems to be losing his confidence. He is having trouble sleeping, and he says that a hired “torpedo” from Havana is stalking him.
The real question in New Orleans is no longer whether Garrison has “solved” the assassination. The question is how long the people of the city and the nation’s press will allow this travesty of justice to continue.
District Attorney Jim Garrison claims to have solved the President’s murder. What evidence does he have? How good is it?
by James Phelan
On the morning of February 20, a deluge of frantic incoming calls lighted up the telephone switchboard in the outer office of the district attorney of New Orleans, and for the next month it blazed like a pinball machine gone mad. Day after day, calls poured in from across the U.S., from London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, from South America, Mexico, Japan. At times the trunk lines jammed completely. One Moscow journalist made six transatlantic calls without ever reaching Garrison himself. “I dialed twenty-three times before I got the switchboard girl, ” said another newsman. “She said, ‘One moment, please,’ and that was the last I heard of her.”
Outside Garrison’s office the corridor boiled with newsmen, radiocasters, television crews, curiosity-seekers. There was a team of reporters from Paris Match, two men from the Russian news agency Tass and someone from the radio station at Anna, Ill., population 4,280. “I wonder where Norman Mailer is,” a newswoman said. “Everyone else is here.“
What fetched them running was the remarkable news that New Orleans was staging its own version of the Warren Commission, without the Warren Commission. Heading the new -investigation into the death of John F. Kennedy was District Attorney Jim (“Jolly Green Giant”) Garrison, a six foot-six-inch lawyer, with a contempt for orthodoxy and an instinctive dislike for anything that might be termed The Establishment. Articulate, sardonic, well-read, Garrison is an ardent admirer of Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and high priestess of a cult of absolutely unfettered individualism.
Garrison established his credentials as a maverick at the very outset of his Kennedy probe. When Congressman Gerald Ford suggested that he turn over any new evidence to the U.S. Attorney General for forwarding to the President, Garrison snapped, “I am running this investigation, not the President, not the Attorney General. Now if they want to help me, I’ll welcome their assistance. But I’m not reporting to anyone.”
In addition to a new management, New Orleans’s one-man Warren Commission had a new plot and an assortment of bizarre new characters. According to Garrison, instead of a one-man strike by a bitter, alienated loner, Kennedy’s tragic death was engineered by a group, in which Lee Harvey Oswald played a complex role of “participant, decoy and victim.” Said Garrison at the outset of the hullabaloo, “My staff and I solved the assassination weeks ago…. We know the key individuals, cities involved, and how it was done.”
Garrison’s startling announcement came when public discontent with the “lone assassin” explanation was growing. In January the Gallup Poll had reported that only 36 percent of the American people believed that Oswald had acted alone, and Rush to Judgment, author Mark Lane’s assault on the Warren Report, was topping best-seller lists both here and abroad.
News of the Garrison project first broke on February 17, in a story in the New Orleans State-Item by a pert, pixie-faced, girl crime reporter named Rosemary James. Based on information dug up by several staff reporters, she disclosed that in three months Garrison had expended $8,000 in public funds dispatching staff men to Florida, Washington, Texas and elsewhere, running down leads on the Kennedy assassination.
Garrison denounced the disclosure of his project as “outrageous” and “irresponsible.” Rosemary James, however, says, “I took a copy of the story to Garrison the day before we printed it. He read the lead, threw it back to me and said, ‘No comment.’ He said nothing about the story hurting his investigation, and if he had asked us to withhold it, I think the paper would have done so. ” Said Garrison, “Anyone who says I read that story in advance is a liar.”
The day after publication of the first story, a key figure in the investigation stepped forward: David W. Ferrie. “You had to see Dave Ferrie to believe him,” says a New Orleans newsman, “and once you saw him you could never forget him.” Ferrie was 48, completely hairless, and habitually wore glued-on eyebrows and had tufts of hair fastened at random on his head with spirit gum. He had a nasal voice, an antipathy to soap and a penchant for authoritative statements.
He also had a long record of failure in a wildly disparate series of endeavors. Ferrie had been a teacher, an unsuccessful candidate for the priesthood, a pilot who had been discharged by Eastern Air Lines for homosexual activity, a “psychologist” with a “degree” from a diploma mill, a private investigator, a self-proclaimed cancer-cure researcher” and an amateur hypnotist. In New Orleans he had become enmeshed with a group of anti-Castro Cubans and had been training teams of “guerrilla jungle fighters” for some future assault on Cuba. To muddy things further, some of his acquaintances insisted later that Ferrie often expressed admiration for Fidel Castro. In his spare time, Ferrie labored on a miniature submarine that he was trying to fashion out of an airplane fuel tank. “Like most of Dave’s projects,” said a friend, “it didn’t work.”
Garrison later was to describe this exotic loser as “one of history’s most important individuals.” But when Ferrie first surfaced in the Garrison probe on February 18, Ferrie simply identified himself as a reject from the Warren Commission investigation. He had been picked up by Garrison’s men shortly after the Dallas tragedy in 1963, Ferrie declared, on a tip from an unstable New Orleans character. Ferrie said he gave the FBI a “meticulous accounting” of his movements on the weekend of the assassination. Says a Washington source, “The FBI squeezed Ferrie dry, found nothing there, and discarded him.” When Garrison opened his own investigation, three years later, he ran Ferrie through a new interrogation. Said Ferrie, “Supposedly I have been pegged as the getaway pilot.” Ferrie denied any role in any plot, denied that he ever knew Lee Oswald and termed Garrison’s project “an utter waste of time.”
Four days after he made this statement, David Ferrie was found dead in his filthy, cluttered apartment at 3330 Louisiana Avenue Parkway. Although the New Orleans coroner flatly declared his death due to natural causes (massive brain hemorrhage from an artery failure), Garrison referred to it darkly as a suicide, hinted it might be murder and began issuing a series of provocative statements.
“Evidence developed by our office,” Garrison declared, “had long confirmed that [Ferrie] was involved in events culminating in the assassination of President Kennedy.” Two days later, February 24, Garrison announced for the first time that he had “solved” the plot to murder President Kennedy, that “every individual involved” would be arrested and that “the only way they can escape is to kill themselves.”
Up to that point, the American press in general had been playing down the Garrison project, while the European papers had been bannering it. But within hours after the death of Ferrie and Garrison’s bold announcement, the jets began to deplane newsmen by the dozen at New Orleans International Airport, and the second Mardi Gras of 1967 was on.
It was one of those stories with a dozen rumors a day and no real news. After a bitter blast by the American Civil Liberties Union accusing him of prejudicial statements, Garrison began avoiding the press. Without Garrison — who had the whole story, whatever it might be, in his head — there was nothing left but conjecture.
I flew into New Orleans 10 days after the story broke. Four years earlier when Garrison, new to the D.A.’s office, had cleaned up the gamey clip joints in Bourbon Street for the first time in man’s memory. I had reported his reform campaign for the Post (‘.’The Vice Man Cometh ” June 8, 1963). I had spent a leisurely 10 days with Garrison and his chief investigator, a shrewd, tough ex-cop named Pershing Gervais, and had found Garrison’s directness and brutal candor remarkable for a politician. Now Gervais was gone, and a New Orleans writer warned, “You’ll see a difference in Garrison. He’s lost his best. people, and has surrounded himself with yes-men. There’s nobody to stop him or challenge him now.”
I picked up my first hot rumor four hours after getting into town. “Just got a tip,” a man told me. “The Post is financing Garrison in exchange for an exclusive story on the assassination plot. They’re sending a man down today to wrap it all up.” I told him I was the man from the Post and that his story was untrue. “Oh,” the man said.
For four days Garrison was unreachable. Interview-seekers had to queue up at his office just to leave a note for him, and it disappeared into a huge stack of similar notes. In the oyster bars on Iberville, the jazz clubs. and strip Joints on Bourbon Street, in the cool, dim-lighted New Orleans Press. Club, everyone asked the same question: “Do you think Garrison has something?” The answers fell, into three groups. Many New Orleans residents believed that Garrison knew exactly what he was doing. “He wouldn’t go out on a limb like this without something big,” they said. “He’s too smart.”
The second group, mainly Garrison’s enemies, said, “He’s gone off his rocker and is gbing to fall flat on his face.”
The. third group had a more sophisticated analysis. “He’s got hold of a little something, but not a real conspiracy. With all the Cuban refugees in this town boiling mad about the Bay of Pigs, there were probably a hundred people who talked about killing Kennedy. Garrison will come up with some scraps, make some headlines and drop it. When Ferrie died, that gave him a perfect out. It will all be over in a couple of weeks.”
The third group proved wrong first. On March 1, Garrison stunned New Orleans by suddenly ordering the arrest of Clay L. Shaw, a tall, gray-haired, 54-year-old bachelor, a familiar figure in New Orleans social, circles, and former managing director of the city’s International Trade Mart. Right after Shaw’s arrest, Garrison obtained a search warrant for Shaw’s residence in the French Quarter. The warrant application claimed that in September 1963, Ferrie, Oswald and Clay Shaw (“alias Clay Bertrand”) had held “meetings” in Ferrie’s apartment at which there was an “agreement and combination among” these three “and others” to kill Kennedy. Garrison claimed to have “a confidential informant who was present at the meetings and saw the conspirators and heard the plans.” Armed with the search warrant, Garrison’s men sped to Shaw’s home and carted off a wide variety of objects, which included five whips, some chains, a black hood and cape, pieces of leather, a black gown and a black “net-type hat.”
In a jammed press-conference, Shaw flatly denied all of Garrison’s charges. “I have not conspired with anyone at any time or at any place to murder our late and esteemed President,” he declared in a calm voice. Asked why he thought Garrison had arrested him, he replied with no visible show of rancor, “I have no way of knowing.“
The arrest of Shaw brought two new characters onstage. The first was Dean A. Andrews, a onetime private attorney, and an assistant district attorney at nearby Jefferson Parish until his suspension on March 16. Andrews, a roly-poly man addicted to sunglasses and startlingly elliptical conversation, had 14½ pages of testimony in the Warren Report. It had made three major points:
During Oswald’s stay in New Orleans in 1963, Oswald had come to his office for legal help about his discharge from the Marines, and had been accompanied by some “gay kids, Mexicanos.”
Someone by the name of “Clay Bertrand” called Andrews from time to time and asked him to represent homosexuals in trouble with the law.
The day after Kennedy’s assassination, Andrews, who was hospitalized with pneumonia, received a phone call from “a voice I recognized as Clay Bertrand.” The caller asked Andrews if he would go to Dallas and defend Oswald. Andrews told the caller he was sick, and nothing more came of it.
Andrews said he had seen Bertrand only twice. He told the Warren Commission Bertrand was about five feet eight inches,” with sandy hair. In an earlier interrogation by the “Fee-Bees” — his term for the FBI — he said Bertrand was about six feet two and had brown hair. Confronted with the six-inch disparity in Bertrand’s height, Andrews replied, “I don’t play Boy Scout and measure them.” He added a final colorful touch. After the assassination, he said, he spotted “that swinging cat” Bertrand in a bar. Bertrand “spooked and ran,” Andrews said. “I should have cracked him on the head with a bottle, but I figured to be a good law-abiding citizen and made the biggest mistake of the century.“
The elusive Clay Bertrand intrigued Jim Garrison. Early in his investigation, Garrison told me later, he became convinced that Clay Shaw was also Clay Bertrand. He called in Dean Andrews for further questioning, and Andrews reportedly claimed he couldn’t say for sure that Bertrand was Shaw or that he wasn’t. Garrison then took Andrews before the New Orleans grand jury, and on March 16 he was indicted for perjury in a matter “relating to a conspiracy to murder John F. Kennedy.” Andrews brushed the matter aside with a pure Dean Andrews quote. Throwing up his hands like a man who had borne more than mortal flesh should bear, he said, “Garrison thinks I have the key to some locks. The fact is I don’t even know where the locks are.”
Nine days before Clay Shaw’s preliminary hearing on March 14, I met Garrison at the Las Vegas airport. My note had finally worked its way through the stack in his office, and he had called me to apologize. “I’ve got to get away for some rest,” he said. “I’ll meet you in Vegas where we can relax and get some sun. I’ll tell you the whole incredible story.” He came off the plane slump-shouldered and exhausted.” I’ve been going for months on three or four hours’ sleep a night, working on this thing seven days a week,” he explained.
In the next two days we talked for about 10 hours. He told his story in bits and pieces, interrupted with long discursions on the shortcomings of the Warren Report. “What they did on the Warren Commission was send a hundred squirrels out to pick up leaves, acorns and sticks. Each squirrel brought something in and dumped it in a box. Then the head squirrels looked at this collection of junk and tried to reconstruct the terrain where it had been picked up. What it took to solve this puzzle was imagination and evaluation. It was like a chess game-and I once played an expert eight hours to a draw.”
His interest in the Kennedy assassination, Garrison said, had originated the previous fall when he flew from New Orleans to New York with Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana. “Up to that time I had assumed that the FBI had done a competent job,” he said, “but I found that Long had some doubts about the solution to the Kennedy killing. He is a knowledgeable Washington figure, so I began to have some second thoughts.”
On his return to New Orleans, Garrison said, he read a number of “excellent articles and books” criticizing the Warren Report and “realized that something was wrong.” He quietly opened his own investigation.
“You know how you can pluck at a thread and wind up unraveling a whole coat?” Garrison said. “The thread that unraveled this whole case was the trip that Ferrie made to Houston the day after Kennedy was killed. While everybody in the country was glued to their television sets, Ferrie takes off with two guys and drives through a thunderstorm to Houston. He told the FBI that he had this sudden desire to go skating, and he knew there was a skating rink in Houston. The FBI checked him out and found that he showed up at the skating rink, all right, and they dropped him. But you know what? They never even asked if Ferrie put on his skates! We checked and found that he just stood alongside a wall there that afternoon and told everybody who would listen, ‘I’m Dave Ferrie.’ We checked the rink and found that there was a phone on that wall. So it seemed plain that this was the message center.”
At the end of the 10 hours, Garrison had never explained what the “message center” was for, who called Ferrie there or whom Ferrie called.
Boiled down, his version of the Kennedy assassination made it out to be the result of a homosexual conspiracy masterminded by Dave Ferrie. “You can understand his motivation,” Garrison said. “Kennedy was a virile, handsome, successful man-everything Ferrie was not. In addition, there was the thrill of staging the perfect crime. Remember the Loeb and Leopold case in Chicago? It was the same thing with Kennedy.”
By the wildly convoluted script that Garrison had pieced together, Ferrie had trained some “Cuban wildcats” to go in and assassinate Castro, but then had “spun them off” and directed them against Kennedy. He claimed that Oswald and Ruby were both homosexuals and were both involved in the plot. He implied that Ruby — “his homosexual nickname was Pinkie” — executed Oswald to prevent him from telling all. He claimed that there were at least two other gunmen, firing from the famed “grassy knoll” at Dealey Plaza. He implied-without flatly stating-that he knew who they were. He gave me two Cuban names. Several weeks later I learned that he was planning to interrogate one of them as a cooperative witness, and apparently had recast him from a bad guy to a good guy.
At the end of two long rambling sessions, he told me that his key witness against Shaw would be Perry Russo, a 25-year-old insurance salesman.
He gave me two documents to read overnight. “Take these and brief yourself on them,” he said. “They’ll help you understand Perry Russo’s story.”
The first was a long memorandum from Garrison’s assistant, setting forth in detail what Perry Russo had said in his first interview. The other was a transcript of what Russo had said four days later, under hypnosis, in what purported to be an attempt by Garrison to “refresh his memory.” I read them three times, with a growing sense of disbelief. The two versions, from the same witness, told two completely different stories. And in the first account there was no mention of Oswald, Ferrie and Shaw plotting to kill anyone.
Shaw’s preliminary hearing opened March under dramatic security precautions. Newsmen were photographed, given special passes, frisk for weapons. Armed deputies lined the courtroom and kept the audience under constant watch.
Perry Russo was the whole show. Dark-haired and somber, the 25-year-old salesman proved a polite and imperturbable witness. In response to Garrison’s questioning, Russo said he had first met Ferrie in 1960. Russo had been trying to extricate a young friend from Ferrie’s influence at the request of his friend’s parents. Ferrie became so enraged at his efforts, Russo said, that he once threatened to kill him, but later they became friends.
Russo identified Lee Harvey Oswald as a man he had known as Ferrie’s roommate under the name of Leon Oswald. He said he saw Oswald — in the summer of 1963 with Ferrie at Ferrie’s apartment, once polishing a rifle with a telescopic sight mounted on it. He testified that “Oswald” seemed rather surly and was “antagonistic” to him.
He identified Clay Shaw as a man he had seen three times. The first time, he said, was during a visit by Kennedy to New Orleans, when he sat Shaw in the crowd. The third time was in a car with Ferrie, months after the assassination.
Their second meeting was the heart of Russo’s story. This, Russo said, was at a party at Ferrie’s apartment in the middle of September, about two months before Kennedy was killed. He said he had just “dropped in” and found eight or nine people there. The others drifted off, leaving Russo alone with “Clem Bertrand” — whom he identified as Clay Shaw — Oswald and Ferrie. And then, said Perry Russo, the three others began openly discussing the assassination of the President.
He said Ferrie “took the initiative” and discussed “diversionary shots.” He said there would be two or three people involved and one “would have to be the scapegoat” while the others made “the good shot.” The three discussed a plan to escape by plane to Brazil via Mexico or directly to Cuba. The only reference to Russo’s presence during this frank discussion was at the outset. Oswald said, “What the hell is he doing here?” Russo said Ferrie replied that Russo was “all right — he doesn’t know anything.” Russo declared that he had no part whatever in the plot; he was simply one of the world’s most fortuitous witnesses.
He withstood a long cross-examination without once visibly ruffling. He conceded that he had not identified a picture of Lee Oswald as “Leon Oswald” until Garrison’s office had sketched a series of beards on it. He acknowledged that he had seen Ferrie numerous times the assassination and never questioned them about the “murder plot” or, about the man named “Oswald” he had seen with a rifle. He had not come forward with his story in the three years since the assassination, he said for a variety of reasons. He “had confidence in the FBI” — which had reported that only Oswald was involved in the Dallas killing. Besides he “was involved with school, which was more pressing to me,” and “I never push myself off on anybody.”
He was followed on the standby Coroner Nicholas Chetta, who testified that he had administered Sodium Pentothal — the so-called truth serum — to Russo, and by Dr. Esmond Fatter, who said he interrogated three times under hypnosis. Each testified that hypnosis could assist a witness in sharpening his memory and enable him to recall past events.
The only witness other than Russo was a narcotics addict who claimed he saw — during a time he was on a four-cap-a-day heroin habit — two men he identified as Shaw and Oswald talking together on a New Orleans breakwater. At the conclusion of the four-day hearing, the judges ruled that there was “probable cause” to hold Clay Shaw for trial.
The way Russo related his story in court — and the way it was reported around the world — he has simply overheard an assassination plot and had told Garrison’s office about it when he saw a picture of one of the plotters — Dave Ferrie — in the newspapers. Garrison had then had Russo’s story “checked” by truth serum and hypnosis and it had stood up. But if Garrison’s own records could be believed, it hadn’t happened that way at all.
Russo was first interviewed by a Garrison aide on February 25, three days after Ferrie’s death and the day after Garrison had announced to the world that the case was solved. The interview was conducted in Baton Rouge, Russo’s hometown, by Andrew (“Moo”) Sciambra, a 31-year-old assistant D.A., just a year out of law school. “We talked about three hours, and Sciambra made a lot of notes,” Russo told me after the hearing.
Sciambra returned to New Orleans and on Monday, February 27, wrote a minutely detailedmemorandum to Garrison on what Russo had told him. It ran 3,500 words. At no point did it mention an “assassination plot.” It made no reference to the party at Ferrie’s apartment, where Russo later said the plot was discussed. There was no positive identification of Lee Harvey Oswald as “Leon” Oswald. Most striking of all, when shown a picture of Clay Shaw Russo had said nothing whatever, according to the memorandum, about having known him as “Bertrand.” The memo specifically said Russo had seen Shaw only twice — once at the Kennedy speech and once in a car with Ferrie. There was no mention whatever of Shaw’s even knowing Oswald.
According to a second memo by Sciambra, Russo was put under Sodium Pentothal on Monday afternoon in New Orleans, and this time he did make passing reference to the party at which the plot was discussed. There was no stenographic record made of this session, but Sciambra’s memo clearly states that Russo mentioned the party only after this prompting by Sciambra: “I then asked him if he could remember any of the details about Clay Bertrand being up in Ferrie’s apartment.”
The sensational story Russo later told on the witness stand was elicited from him under hypnotism two days afterward. The trance was induced by Dr. Fatter, who conducted the questioning. The answered were recorded by a stenographer.
Obtaining dependable testimony via hypnotism, according to competent psychiatrists, is a highly sensitive procedure. A subject in a deep trance is highly suggestible. Says Harry Arons, an expert in the field, “It is possible to lead a suggestible witness in any direction by improper questioning.“
Fatter used the device of having the hypnotized Russo picture a “television screen” and describe what he saw on it. When Russo yielded nothing about a party at Ferrie’s or an assassination plot, Fatter began setting the stage for him. “Now picture that television screen again, Perry, and it is a picture of Ferrie’s apartment and there are several people in there and there is a white-haired man. Tell me about it.”
RUSSO: “We are having a party and I came in and everybody is drinking beer. There are about ten of us and I am there, the roommate, Dave, some young boys and some other friends of Dave’s and I was with Sandra.” He went on about a “record player” and “a guy making a speech” — but nothing about Shaw, Bertrand, or an assassination plot.
Finally, Dr. Fatter set the whole scene for him. “Let your mind go completely blank, Perry — see that television screen again, it is very vivid — now notice the picture on the screen. There will be Bertrand, Ferrie and Oswald and they are going to discuss a very important matter and there is another man and girl there and they are talking about assassinating someone. Look at it and describe it to me.”
And under this prodding, Perry Russo finally came up with his story.
In their final session, two days before Clay Shaw’s hearing, Dr. Fatter gave Russo this post-hypnotic suggestion: “Any time you want to, you can permit yourself to become calm, cool and collected . . . . You will be amazed at how acute your memory will become in the next few weeks. Things will seem to pop into your mind and it will be only the truth as you saw it . . . . Remember, Perry, the truth always wins out . . . .”
Throughout his testimony, I listened with fascination as a “calm, cool and collected” Perry Russo related his marvelously detailed hypnotic vision — the story that differed so greatly from the one “Moo” Sciambra had originally reported.
After the judges ruled that Shaw should stand trial, I called Garrison. “Something bothers me,” I said. I told him there wasn’t a thing in Sciambra’s first report about a party, a plot or a “Bertrand.” Garrison seemed surprised; apparently, he had never read the report. “I’ll get Moo out here and have him explain it,” he said.
There were four of us in Garrison’s study when I questioned Sciambra — Garrison, Sciambra, a private investigator named William Gurvich, who is assisting Garrison on his probe, and myself. I asked Sciambra why his report on his first interview with Russo said nothing about an assassination plot. Sciambra said I didn’t know what I was talking about. I told him I had read his report carefully and knew exactly what was in it. “Maybe,” he said, shifting his story, “I forgot to put it in.”
“But you reported specifically that Russo said he had seen Shaw only twice, not three times,” I persisted. Sciambra said he had been “awfully busy with a half dozen other things and had to sandwich in the report and might have forgotten” to include everything. I said it seemed incredible that he would uncover testimony that might solve the crime of the century and then forget to report it.
“You made notes when you first talked to Russo,” I said. “Your original notes would show whether he mentioned an assassination plot.” Sciambra said he had burned his notes.
Later I asked Dr. Fatter where he got the information, he used in prompting Russo under hypnosis. He said it came from “Garrison’s office.”
Since the Shaw hearing, the girl Russo claimed accompanied him to the “plot” party, the former Sandra Moffit, has been located. She denied attending the party and said she had not even met Ferrie until 1965. Granting the potency of hypnotic suggestion, it seems possible that Perry Russo did not know, when he testified, what was fact and what was hypnotic hallucination.
At this writing Shaw’s trial has not been set and is at least six months away. This will give Jim Garrison a lot of time to try to solve the crime he said he solved months ago. When Garrison met me in Las Vegas he made a comment that seems to sum up the whole affair. “This case,” he said, “is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.”
When I was studying relevant events from the spring of 1963, I was of course drawn to Dr. King’s funeral service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Upon watching the video of the service, I was interested in the recording of a sermon by Dr. King called the Drum Major Instinct, the audio of which was played during his service. I was taken aback when the text of that sermon was missing the biblical references and passages as spoken by Dr. King. Someone had removed the scripture which was the basis of the sermon. Well, that portion has been restored in my post, partially for the religious aspect and for the insight on human nature. I also thought as I listened to the service” Why was Martin Luther King killed. I will leave nothing out in respect to that question nor will I frivolously insert nonsense; not to lead the parade but to keep the moral compass pointed toward the truth, where Dr. King would have wanted it to be.
This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach The Drum Major Instinct.
The Drum Major Instinct.
And out text for this morningis taken from a very familiair passage in the tenth chapteras recorded by St. Mark beginning with the thiry-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words, ” And James and Joh nthe sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we should desire.”And he said unto them, ” whatwould ye that I should do for you?” And they said unto him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the the other on thy left hand in thy glory.
But Jesus said unto them.“Ye know not what ye ask: Can you drink of the cup I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?And they said unto him “We can.”And Jesus said unto them ye shall indeed drink of the cup I drink of, and with. And the baptism that I am baptized with all shall be baptized. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give. But it shall be given them for whom it is prepared.
And Jesus goes onto the end end of that passage to say, ” But so shall it not be among you: But whosoever will be great among you. shall be your servant: and whosoever of you be cheifest shall be the servant of all.”
The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed as most of the Hebrews dreamed of a coming king of Israel who would set Jersusalem who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion and inrightousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would rein supremeas this new king of Israel.And they were saying when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other sit on the left hand of your throne.Now very quickly we condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request?
But before we condem them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at outselves. And we will discover the we to have those same basic desires for recognition and importance.That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course the other deciples got mad at James and John and you could understand why, but we must understand the we have those sameJames and John qualties. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct.It is a kind of Drum Major Instinct— To be out front. To lead the parade, A desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamnut of life.
And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct.
We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.
Now, in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.
Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.
There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn’t harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves? And they just boast and boast and boast, and that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.
Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we’ve seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who’s in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.
And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.
But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize— that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.
Reverend Abernathy eulogizes his friend. An almost inconceivable moment as the body of Dr. Martin Luther King lay in a coffin at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time it was unavoidable to not feel the loss. However, as the decades passed, the cataclysmic void of history, leadership and moral judgement becomes readily apparent. Trying to speculate on alternate timelines if Dr. King had lived is a fruitless task. And when seen in the larger context of 1968: to ‘ replace that stain of bloodshed,” said Robert Kennedy, ‘ which has spread across our land withan effort to understand, compassion, and love is a tall order in any generation.
REVEREND RALH DAVID ABERNATHY
EUOLOGY FOR DR. KING
APRIL 9, 1968
CALLING UP ON GOD, JESUS, WITH THEE, MY. SPIRIT. AND HE KNEELED DOWN, LORD LAY NOT THIS SIN TO THEIR CHARGE. IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD IS THE DEPTH OF HIS FAITH. ONCE FOR EVERY MAN AND NATION COMES THE MOMENT TO DECIDE.
SOME GREAT CAUSE, SOME GREAT DECISION OFFERED EACH BLOOM OR BLIGHT. AND THE CHARGE GOES BY FOREVER. THEN DECIDE WHAT TRUTH IS NOBLE… THEN IT IS THE BRAVE MEN CHOOSES WHILE THE COWARD STANDS ASIDE. ON THE MULTITUDE MAKE A RICHER OF THE FAITH THAT THEY ONCE DENIED. THOUGH THE CALLS OF EVIL, YET THE TRUTH FEAR THOU NOT, FOR I AM WITH THEE. BE NOT DISMAYED FOR I AM GOD. I WILL HELP THEE, YAY I WILL PROTEST WITH THE WITH THE RIGHT HAND OF MY RIGHTEOUSNESS.
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIGHT, SAITH THE LORD. MAY WE BE SEATED. WE GATHER HERE THIS MORNING ON ONE OF THE DARKEST HOURS IN THE HISTORY OF THE BLACK PEOPLE OF THIS NATION, AND IN ONE OF THE DARKEST HOURS IN THE HISTORY OF ALL MANKIND. FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, A 20TH CENTURY PROPHET WHO WAS IMBUED WITH THE PHILOSOPHY OF NONVIOLENCE. SENT FORTH INTO THE WILDERNESS OF THIS SICK NATION OF OURS, TO LIFE HIS VOICE AND CRY OUT TO THE PHARAOHS TO LET MY PEOPLE GO. WAS ASSASSINATED ON LAST THURSDAY EVENING, IN MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE. WE COME TO THE CHURCH WHERE HE WAS DEDICATED AND BLESSED AS A BABY, WHERE HE WAS BAPTIZED AS A CHRISTIAN, WHERE HE WAS ORDAINED TO SPREAD GOOD TIDINGS OF JOY TO ALL HIS PEOPLE, THE CHURCH WHERE HIS FATHER HAD PASTORED FOR MANY YEARS IN SUCH A MARVELOUS WAY FOR EIGHT YEARS. LET US CONTINUE THIS SERVICE NOW WITH A CHOIR OF EBENEZER BAPTIST CHURCH, THE CHOIR WHICH HE LOVED SO DEARLY, OF 70’S AT BAPTIST CHURCH. SENDING ONE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING’S FAVORITE HYMNS, WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS.
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS ON WHICH THE PRINCE OF GLORY DIED.
MY RICHEST GAIN I COUNT BUT LOSS AND POUR CONTEMPT ON ALL MY PRIDE
SEE FROM HIS HEAD, HIS HANDS, HIS FEET.
SO MUCH SORROW AND LOVE FLOW MINGLED DOWN DID E’ER SUCH LOVE AND SORROW MEET OR THORNS COMPOSE SO RICH, SO RICH A CROWNWERE THIS WHOLE REALM OF NATURE MINE THAT WERE A PRESENT FAR TOO SMALL
LOVE SO AMAZING
SO DIVINE DEMANDS MY SOUL
MY LIFE, MY ALL
THAT IS BOW OUR HEADS IN A MOMENT OF SOLEMN UTTERANCE. ETERNAL AND EVERLASTING GOD OUR FATHER, THOU WHO ART THE GIVER AND SUSTAINER OF LIFE, FROM WHOM ALL THINGS HAVE COME, AND TO WHOM ALL THINGS SHALL RETURN, WE BESEECH THY COMFORTING PRESENCE IN THIS HOUR. THIS HOUR OF DEEPEST AGREEMENT. FOR OUR HEARTS — DEEPEST BEREAVEMENT. FOR OUR HEARTS ARE HEAVILY LADEN WITH SORROW AND REMORSE AT THE REMOVAL OF ONE OF HISTORY’S TRUE’S REPRESENTATIVES OF THY WILL AND PURPOSE FOR MANKIND. WHILE WE PRAY FOR COMFORT, WE PRAY FOR WISDOM TO GUIDE OUR THOUGHTS TO LIGHT AT THIS HOUR. WE HOLD GOD IN OUR UNLIMITED DIVISION — GOD IN — WE CANNOT BEGIN TO COMPREHEND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS TRAGIC OCCURRENCE. WE KNOW HE HAS NO FEAR OF DEATH. HELP US TO FIND CONSOLATION IN THE FACT THAT HIS LIFE WAS NOT — WAS A GIFT GIVEN TO US AT THIS CRUCIAL JUNCTURE IN HISTORY OUT OF THE GREATNESS OF THY BEING. — OUT OF THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THY BEING. WE HAVE NO REAL PLANS UPON IT. IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME, HE CAME , AND IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME, HE HAS GONE. HE KNEW WHERE HE CAME FROM, AND HE KNEW WHERE HE WAS GOING. AND SO, AS WE ABIDE IN THIS KNOWLEDGE, OUR GRATITUDE WILL A BASE OUR SORROW. HE FOR THE MOMENT WILL NOT TRULY DIE, BUT LIVE FOR ETERNITY AND DEDICATE HIS LIFE TO THOSE ULTIMATE PRINCIPLES OF TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND LOVE, AS THIS MAN HAS DONE, WILL NEVER DIE. INSPIRE US TO ACCEPT THE IMPERATIVE THAT IS LIFE SO FULLY EXEMPLIFIED, THAT WE MUST NOT JUDGE THE WORTH OF OUR LIVES BY THEIR PHYSICAL LONGEVITY, BUT THE QUALITY OF THEIR SERVICE TO MANKIND. HE HAS SHOWN US HOW TO LIVE, O GOD. HE HAS SHOWN US HOW TO LOVE, YET THE MANNER OF HIS TEACHING AND THE MANNER OF HIS BEING WAS BOTH STRANGE AND UNFAMILIAR IN OUR WORLD. A WORLD ABOUND IN WAR, HATRED, AND RACISM. A WORLD THAT EXALTS THE WICKED AND CRUCIFIED THE RIGHTEOUS. A WORLD WHERE CONDEMNATION IS FAMILIAR, WHERE A WORLD OF KINDNESS IS STRANGE. SO CAME FORTH A PECULIAR MAN. HE TAUGHT A PECULIAR TEACHING. SO HE WAS NOT OF THIS WORLD. THE CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT OF THIS NATION, WHO HAVE BEEN SO GRACIOUS IN THEIR TRIBUTE, WILL BE GUIDED BY THEIR SERVANT, AND THE LEGISLATIVE POWERS DETERMINED TO PASS WITHOUT COMPROMISE OR RESERVATION, LEGISLATION SO VITALLY NEEDED TO PRESERVE THE TRANQUILITY AND SOCIAL DISRUPTION. GRANT, O LOVER OF PEACE, THAT WE WILL HAVE AN EFFECTIVE SETTLEMENT IN VIETNAM, TO END THE CRIMINAL ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACIES. TUNE OUR HEARTS, O GOD, TO HEAR AND RESPOND TO THE ECHOES OF GRANT, O LOVER OF PEACE, THAT WE WILL HAVE AN EFFECTIVE SETTLEMENT IN VIETNAM, TO END THE CRIMINAL ATROCITIES COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACIES. TUNE OUR HEARTS, O GOD, TO HEAR AND RESPOND TO THE ECHOES OF THIS UNDYING VOICE OF THE AGES, A VOICE OF LOVE AND RECONCILIATION, A VOICE OF HOPE AND CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE. GRANT THAT IN RESPONSE TO HIS SACRIFICIAL DEATH, WE WILL WORK TOWARD THAT DAY WHEN THE LONG AND TRAGIC TUNE OF MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN WILL RESOLVE INTO A CHORUS OF PEACE AND BROTHERHOOD. THEN LOVE WILL TEAR OUT THE VEIL OF THE FIRES OF ANGER, AND FROM
THE ASHES GROW A TREE OF PEACE.
THIS IS OUR PRAYER. GRANT US THY BENEDICTION.
Fitton Books by Robert P. Fitton
American Injustice-volume 1 and 2 available spring 2021.
I speak to your underdiferent circumstances than I hadintended to just twenty-four hours ago. For this is a time of shame and a time of sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity — my only event of today — to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It’s not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet. No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled or uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.
Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children — whenever we do this, then whole nation is degraded. “Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their case and pay the cost.”
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and we call it entertainment. We make it easier for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition that they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of rioting, and inciting riots, have by their own conduct invited them. Some look for scapegoats; others look for conspiracies. But this much is clear: violence breeds violence; repression breeds retaliation; and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions — indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.
And this too afflicts us all. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and to be mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as alien, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear — only a common desire to retreat from each other — only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
For all this there are no final answers for those of us who are American citizens. Yet we know what we must do, and that is to achieve true justice among all of our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or by revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course, we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek — as do we — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Most people would flinch when those words are heard. Martin Luther King’s message over the years had prompted the bigots and the haters to come out of the shadows. Bringing African Americans into the mainstream of American life did not comport with those with prejudice and evil intent. Even though the civil rights movement was far from attaining the mainstream goals many powerful people did not want any social change between the races. King acknowledging the consequences of his efforts on the night before his death is quite extraordinary. Patch and Natalie in American Injustice-volume 2 are swept up by this event and the effect on the 1968 campaign. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the spring of 2022.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863 and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.
But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.
But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.
Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.
We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”
That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.
They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
American Injustice volumes 1 and 2 are available in the Spring of 2022.
In politics two weeks is a lifetime. One statement, policy change or perhaps a gaff can cause a campaign to freefall or another to skyrocket or at the least have a new life. Both Kennedy and McCarthy faced the man in the White House, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Gene McCarthy beat Johnson in New Hampshire. Bobby Kennedy’s campaign started with the mantra of challenging Johnson head on. Then in less than two weeks from Kennedy’s announcement for president Lyndon Johnson shocked even some of his advisors and shook the political landscape by withdrawing from the race. Patch and Natalie, who are fans of Bobby, are elated. But the competition with Johnson as a motivation for votes is gone. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the spring of 2022.
Good evening, my fellow Americans: Tonight, I want to speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. No other question so preoccupies our people. No other dream so absorbs the 250 million human beings who live in that part of the world. No other goal motivates American policy in Southeast Asia. For years, representatives of our governments and others have traveled the world–seeking to find a basis for peace talks. Since last September, they have carried the offer that I made public at San Antonio. And that offer was this: That the United States would stop its bombardment of North Vietnam when that would lead promptly to productive discussions—and that we would assume that North Vietnam would not take military advantage of our restraint. Hanoi denounced this offer, both privately and publicly. Even while the search for peace was going on, North Vietnam rushed their preparations for a savage assault on the people, the government, and the allies of South Vietnam. Their attack—during the Tet holidays—failed to achieve its principal objectives. It did not collapse the elected government of South Vietnam or shatter its army–as the Communists had hoped. It did not produce a “general uprising” among the people of the cities as they had predicted. The Communists were unable to maintain control of any of the more than 30 cities that they attacked. And they took very heavy casualties. But they did compel the South Vietnamese and their allies to move certain forces from the countryside into the cities. They caused widespread disruption and suffering. Their attacks, and the battles that followed, made refugees of half a million human beings. The Communists may renew their attack any day. They are, it appears, trying to make 1968 the year of decision in South Vietnam–the year that brings, if not final victory or defeat, at least a turning point in the struggle. This much is clear: If they do mount another round of heavy attacks, they will not succeed in destroying the fighting power of South Vietnam and its allies. But tragically, this is also clear: Many men–on both sides of the struggle–will be lost. A nation that has already suffered 20 years of warfare will suffer once again. Armies on both sides will take new casualties. And the war will go on. There is no need for this to be so. There is no need to delay the talks that could bring an end to this long and this bloody war. Tonight, I renew the offer I made last August–to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace. We assume that during those talks Hanoi will not take advantage of our restraint. We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So, tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to deescalate the conflict. We are reducing-substantially reducing–the present level of hostilities. And we are doing so unilaterally, and at once. Tonight, I have ordered our aircraft and our naval vessels to make no attacks on North Vietnam, except in the area north of the demilitarized zone where the continuing enemy buildup directly threatens allied forward positions and where the movements of their troops and supplies are clearly related to that threat. The area in which we are stopping our attacks includes almost 90 percent of North Vietnam’s population, and most of its territory. Thus, there will be no attacks around the principal populated areas, or in the food-producing areas of North Vietnam. Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end–if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi. But I cannot in good conscience stop all bombing so long as to do so would immediately and directly endanger the lives of our men and our allies. Whether a complete bombing halt becomes possible in the future will be determined by events. Our purpose in this action is to bring about a reduction in the level of violence that now exists. It is to save the lives of brave men–and to save the lives of innocent women and children. It is to permit the contending forces to move closer to a political settlement. And tonight, I call upon the United Kingdom and I call upon the Soviet Union–as cochairmen of the Geneva Conferences, and as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council–to do all they can to move from the unilateral act of deescalation that I have just announced toward genuine peace in Southeast Asia. Now, as in the past, the United States is ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end. I am designating one of our most distinguished Americans, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as my personal representative for such talks. In addition, I have asked Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson, who returned from Moscow for consultation, to be available to join Ambassador Harriman at Geneva or any other suitable place–just as soon as Hanoi agrees to a conference. I call upon President Ho Chi Minh to respond positively, and favorably, to this new step toward peace. But if peace does not come now through negotiations, it will come when Hanoi understands that our common resolve is unshakable, and our common strength is invincible. Tonight, we and the other allied nations are contributing 600,000 fighting men to assist 700,000 South Vietnamese troops in defending their little country. Our presence there has always rested on this basic belief: The main burden of preserving their freedom must be carried out by them–by the South Vietnamese themselves. We and our allies can only help to provide a shield behind which the people of South Vietnam can survive and can grow and develop. On their efforts–on their determination and resourcefulness–the outcome will ultimately depend. I pay tribute once again tonight to the great courage and the endurance of its people. South Vietnam supports armed forces tonight of almost 700,000 men–and I call your attention to the fact that that is the equivalent of more than 10 million in our own population. Its people maintain their firm determination to be free of domination by the North. There has been substantial progress, I think, in building a durable government during these last 3 years. The South Vietnam of 1965 could not have survived the enemy’s Tet offensive of 1968. The elected government of South Vietnam survived that attack–and is rapidly repairing the devastation that it wrought. The South Vietnamese know that further efforts are going to be required: –to expand their own armed forces, –to move back into the countryside as quickly as possible, –to increase their taxes, –to select the very best men that they have for civil and military responsibility, –to achieve a new unity within their constitutional government, and –to include in the national effort all those groups who wish to preserve South Vietnam’s control over its own destiny. Last week President Thieu ordered the mobilization of 135,000 additional South Vietnamese. He plans to reach–as soon as possible–a total military strength of more than 800,000 men. To achieve this, the Government of South Vietnam started the drafting of 19-year-olds on March 1st. On May 1st, the Government will begin the drafting of 18-year-olds. Last month, 10,000 men volunteered for military service–that was two and a half times the number of volunteers during the same month last year. Since the middle of January, more than 48,000 South Vietnamese have joined the armed forces–and nearly half of them volunteered to do so. All men in the South Vietnamese armed forces have had their tours of duty extended for the duration of the war, and reserves are now being called up for immediate active duty. President Thieu told his people last week, I quote, “We must make greater efforts and accept more sacrifices because, as I have said many times, this is our country. The existence of our nation is at stake, and this is mainly a Vietnamese responsibility.” He warned his people that a major national effort is required to root out corruption and incompetence at all levels of government. We applaud this evidence of determination on the part of South Vietnam. Our first priority will be to support their effort. We shall accelerate the reequipment of South Vietnam’s armed forces–in order to meet the enemy’s increased firepower. And this will enable them progressively to undertake a larger share of combat operations against the Communist invaders. On many occasions I have told the American people that we would send to Vietnam those forces that are required to accomplish our mission there. So, with that as our guide, we have previously authorized a force level of approximately 525,000. Some weeks ago–to help meet the enemy’s new offensive–we sent to Vietnam about 11,000 additional Marine and airborne troops. They were deployed by air in 48 hours, on an emergency basis. But the artillery, tank, aircraft, medical, and other units that were needed to work with and to support these infantry troops in combat could not then accompany them by air on that short notice. In order that these forces may reach maximum combat effectiveness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to me that we should prepare to send–during the next 5 months–the support troops totaling approximately 13,500 men. A portion of these men will be made available from our active forces. The balance will come from reserve component units which will be called up for service. The actions that we have taken since the beginning of the year –to reequip the South Vietnamese forces, –to meet our responsibilities in Korea, as well as our responsibilities in Vietnam, –to meet price increases and the cost of activating and deploying reserve forces, –to replace helicopters and provide the other military supplies we need, all of these actions are going to require additional expenditures. The tentative estimate of those additional expenditures is $2.5 billion in this fiscal year, and $2.6 billion in the next fiscal year. These projected increases in expenditures for our national security will bring into sharper focus the Nation’s need for immediate action: action to protect the prosperity of the American people and to protect the strength and the stability of our American dollar. On many occasions I have pointed out that, without a tax bill or decreased expenditures, next year’s deficit would again be around $20 billion. I have emphasized the need to set strict priorities in our spending. I have stressed that failure to act and to act promptly and decisively would raise very strong doubts throughout the world about America’s willingness to keep its financial house in order. Yet Congress has not acted. And tonight we face the sharpest financial threat in the postwar era–a threat to the dollar’s role as the keystone of international trade and finance in the world. Last week, at the monetary conference in Stockholm, the major industrial countries decided to take a big step toward creating a new international monetary asset that will strengthen the international monetary system. I am very proud of the very able work done by Secretary Fowler and Chairman Martin of the Federal Reserve Board. But to make this system work the United States just must bring its balance of payments to–or very close to–equilibrium. We must have a responsible fiscal policy in this country. The passage of a tax bill now, together with expenditure control that the Congress may desire and dictate, is absolutely necessary to protect this Nation’s security, to continue our prosperity, and to meet the needs of our people. Now, what is at stake is 7 years of unparalleled prosperity. In those 7 years, the real income of the average American, after taxes, rose by almost 30 percent–a gain as large as that of the entire preceding 19 years. [So the steps that we must take to convince the world are exactly the steps we must take to sustain our own economic strength here at home. In the past 8 months, prices and interest rates have risen because of our inaction. We must, therefore, now do everything we can to move from debate to action–from talking to voting. And there is, I believe–I hope there is–in both Houses of the Congress–a growing sense of urgency that this situation just must be acted upon and must be corrected. My budget in January, we thought, was a tight one. It fully reflected our evaluation of most of the demanding needs of this Nation. But in these budgetary matters, the President does not decide alone. The Congress has the power and the duty to determine appropriations and taxes. And the Congress is now considering our proposals and they are considering reductions in the budget that we submitted. As part of a program of fiscal restraint that includes the tax surcharge, I shall approve appropriate reductions in the January budget when and if Congress so decides that that should be done. One thing is unmistakably clear, however: Our deficit just must be reduced. Failure to act could bring on conditions that would strike hardest at those people that all of us are trying so hard to help. So, these times call for prudence in this land of plenty. And I believe that we have the character to provide it, and tonight I plead with the Congress and with the people to act promptly to serve the national interest, and thereby serve all of our people. Now let me give you my estimate of the chances for peace: –the peace that will one day stop the bloodshed in South Vietnam, –that will–all the Vietnamese people–be permitted to rebuild and develop their land, –that will permit us to turn more fully to our own tasks here at home. I cannot promise that the initiative that I have announced tonight will be completely successful in achieving peace any more than the 30 others that we have undertaken and agreed to in recent years. But it is our fervent hope that North Vietnam, after years of fighting that has left the issue unresolved, will now cease its efforts to achieve a military victory and will join with us in moving toward the peace table. And there may come a time when South Vietnamese–on both sides–are able to work out a way to settle their own differences by free political choice rather than by war. As Hanoi considers its course, it should be in no doubt of our intentions. It must not miscalculate the pressures within our democracy in this election year. We have no intention of widening this war. But the United States will never accept a fake solution to this long and arduous struggle and call it peace. No one can foretell the precise terms of an eventual settlement. Our objective in South Vietnam has never been the annihilation of the enemy. It has been to bring about a recognition in Hanoi that its objective–taking over the South by force–could not be achieved. We think that peace can be based on the Geneva Accords of 1954–under political conditions that permit the South Vietnamese–all the South Vietnamese–to chart their course free of any outside domination or interference, from us or from anyone else. So tonight I reaffirm the pledge that we made at Manila–that we are prepared to withdraw our forces from South Vietnam as the other side withdraws its forces to the north, stops the infiltration, and the level of violence thus subsides. Our goal of peace and self-determination in Vietnam is directly related to the future of all of Southeast Asia–where much has happened to inspire confidence during the past 10 years. We have done all that we knew how to do to contribute and to help build that confidence. A number of its nations have shown what can be accomplished under conditions of security. Since 1966, Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in all the world, with a population of more than 100 million people, has had a government that is dedicated to peace with its neighbors and improved conditions for its own people. Political and economic cooperation between nations has grown rapidly. And I think every American can take a great deal of pride in the role that we have played in bringing this about in Southeast Asia. We can rightly judge–as responsible Southeast Asians themselves do–that the progress of the past 3 years would have been far less likely–if not completely impossible–if America’s sons and others had not made their stand in Vietnam. At Johns Hopkins University, about 3 years ago, I announced that the United States would take part in the great work of developing Southeast Asia, including the Mekong Valley, for all the people of that region. Our determination to help build a better land-a better land for men on both sides of the present conflict–has not diminished in the least. Indeed, the ravages of war, I think, have made it more urgent than ever. So, I repeat on behalf of the United States again tonight what I said at Johns Hopkins–that North Vietnam could take its place in this common effort just as soon as peace comes. Over time, a wider framework of peace and security in Southeast Asia may become possible. The new cooperation of the nations of the area could be a foundation-stone. Certainly, friendship with the nations of such a Southeast Asia is what the United States seeks–and that is all that the United States seeks.
One day, my fellow citizens, there will be peace in Southeast Asia. It will come because the people of Southeast Asia want it–those whose armies are at war tonight, those who, though threatened, have thus far been spared. Peace will come because Asians were willing to work for it–and to sacrifice for it-and to die by the thousands for it. But let it never be forgotten: Peace will come also because America sent her sons to help secure it. It has not been easy–far from it. During the past 4½ years, it has been my fate and my responsibility to be Commander in Chief. I have lived—daily and nightly–with the cost of this war. I know the pain that it has inflicted. I know, perhaps better than anyone, the misgivings that it has aroused. Throughout this entire, long period, I have been sustained by a single principle: that what we are doing now, in Vietnam, is vital not only to the security of Southeast Asia, but it is vital to the security of every American. Surely, we have treaties which we must respect. Surely, we have commitments that we are going to keep. Resolutions of the Congress testify to the need to resist aggression in the world and in Southeast Asia. But the heart of our involvement in South Vietnam–under three different presidents, three separate administrations–has always been America’s own security. And the larger purpose of our involvement has always been to help the nations of Southeast Asia become independent and stand alone, self-sustaining, as members of a great world community–at peace with themselves, at peace with all others. And with such an Asia, our country–and the world–will be far more secure than it is tonight. I believe that a peaceful Asia is far nearer to reality because of what America has done in Vietnam. I believe that the men who endure the dangers of battle there–fighting there for us tonight–are helping the entire world avoid far greater conflicts, far wider wars, far more destruction, than this one. The peace that will bring them home someday will come. Tonight, I have offered the first in what I hope will be a series of mutual moves toward peace. I pray that it will not be rejected by the leaders of North Vietnam. I pray that they will accept it as a means by which the sacrifices of their own people may be ended. And I ask your help and your support, my fellow citizens, for this effort to reach across the battlefield toward an early peace.
Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this: Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us. Yet, I believe that now, no less than when the decade began, this generation of Americans is willing to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Since those words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, the people of America have kept that compact with mankind’s noblest cause. And we shall continue to keep it. Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people. This I believe very deeply. Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only.
For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship. And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand. There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospects of peace for all peoples. So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and all of its ugly consequences. Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people. United we have kept that commitment. And united we have enlarged that commitment. And through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement. Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead. What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, and distrust, and selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
And believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President. But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, and a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace–and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause–whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require. Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless all of you.
Nothing was taken for granted when Robert Kennedy announced for President on March 16, 1968. He jumped into the race, facing an incumbent president, an anti-war senator who won the New Hampshire primary, and the thought he was only garnering support because of his fallen brother. In a second speech on March 18, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy traveled from an exuberant student reception at Kansas State to the University of Kansas where it became somewhat apparent that his message might generate interest in his candidacy. In the novel American Injustice volume 2, Patch Kincaid and Natalie Tompkins are part of a clandestine network unraveling the JFK assassination. That connection prompts their superiors to follow Bobby Kennedy’s campaign, specifically looking for a CIA operative. As they move with the campaign the incredible political and personal change in Senator Kennedy’s public persona becomes evident. American Injustice- volumes 1 and 2 are available in the Spring of 2022.
Thank you very much. Chancellor, Governor and Mrs. Docking, Senator and Mrs. Pierson, ladies and gentlemen and my friends, I’m very pleased to be here. I’m really not here to make a speech I’ve come because I came from Kansas State and they want to send their love to all of you. They did. That’s all they talk about over there, how much they love you. Actually, I want to establish the fact that I am not an alumnus of Villanova.
I’m very pleased and very touched, as my wife is, at your warm reception here. I think of my colleagues in the United States Senate, I think of my friends there, and I think of the warmth that exists in the Senate of the United States – I don’t know why you’re laughing – I was sick last year and I received a message from the Senate of the United States which said: “We hope you recover,” and the vote was forty-two to forty.
And then they took a poll in one of the financial magazines of five hundred of the largest businessmen in the United States, to ask them, what political leader they most admired, who they wanted to see as President of the United States, and I received one vote, and I understand they’re looking for him. I could take all my supporters to lunch, but I’m – I don’t know whether you’re going to like what I’m going to say today but I just want you to remember, as you look back upon this day, and when it comes to a question of who you’re going to support – that it was a Kennedy who got you out of class.
I am very pleased to be here with my colleagues, Senator Pierson, who I think has contributed so much in the Senate of the United States – who has fought for the interests of Kansas and has had a distinguished career, and I’m very proud to be associated with him. And Senator Carlson who is not here, who is one of the most respected members of the Senate of the United States – respected not just on the Republican side – by the Democratic side, by all of his colleagues and I’m pleased and proud to be in the Senate with Senator Carlson of the State of Kansas.
And I’m happy to be here with an old friend, Governor Docking. I don’t think there was anyone that was more committed to President Kennedy and made more of an effort under the most adverse circumstances and with the most difficult of situations than his father, who was then Governor of the State of Kansas – nobody I worked with more closely, myself, when I was in Los Angeles. We weren’t 100 percent successful, but that was a relationship that I will always value, and I know how highly President Kennedy valued it and I’m very pleased to see him – and to have seen his mother, Mrs. Docking today also, so I’m very pleased to be in his State.
And then I’m pleased to be here because I like to see all of you, in addition.
In 1824, when Thomas Hart Benton was urging in Congress the development of Iowa and other western territories, he was opposed by Daniel Webster, the Senator from Massachusetts. “What,” asked Webster, “what do we want with this vast and worthless area? This region of savages and wild beasts. Of deserts of shifting sands and of whirlwinds. Of dust, and of cactus and of prairie dogs.
“To what use,” he said, “could we ever hope to put these great deserts? I will never vote for one-cent from the public treasury, to place the west one inch closer to Boston, than it is now.” And that is why, I am here today, instead of my brother Edward.
I’m glad to come here to the home of the man who publicly wrote: “If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.” And despite all the accusations against me, those words were not written by me, they were written by that notorious seditionist, William Allen White. And I know what great affection this university has for him. He is an honored man today, here on your campus and around the rest of the nation. But when he lived and wrote, he was reviled as an extremist and worse. For he spoke, he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words. He did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and with illusions. This spirit of honest confrontation is what America needs today. It has been missing all too often in the recent years and it is one of the reasons that I run for President of the United States.
For we as a people, we as a people, are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand. This country needs honesty and candor in its political life and from the President of the United States. But I don’t want to run for the presidency – I don’t want America to make the critical choice of direction and leadership this year without confronting that truth. I don’t want to win support of votes by hiding the American condition in false hopes or illusions. I want us to find out the promise of the future, what we can accomplish here in the United States, what this country does stand for and what is expected of us in the years ahead. And I also want us to know and examine where we’ve gone wrong. And I want all of us, young and old, to have a chance to build a better country and change the direction of the United States of America.
This morning I spoke about the war in Vietnam, and I will speak briefly about it in a few moments. But there is much more to this critical election year than the war in Vietnam.
It is, at a root, the root of all of it, the national soul of the United States. The President calls it “restlessness.” Our cabinet officers, such as John Gardiner and others tell us that America is deep in a malaise of spirit: discouraging initiative, paralyzing will and action, and dividing Americans from one another, by their age, their views and by the color of their skin and I don’t think we have to accept that here in the United States of America.
Demonstrators shout down government officials and the government answers by drafting demonstrators. Anarchists threaten to burn the country down and some have begun to try, while tanks have patrolled American streets and machine guns have fired at American children. I don’t think this a satisfying situation for the United States of America.
Our young people – the best educated, and the best comforted in our history, turn from the Peace Corps and public commitment of a few years ago – to lives of disengagement and despair – many of them turned on with drugs and turned off on America – none of them here, of course, at Kansas – right?
All around us, all around us, – not just on the question of Vietnam, not just on the question of the cities, not just the question of poverty, not just on the problems of race relations – but all around us, and why you are so concerned and why you are so disturbed – the fact is, that men have lost confidence in themselves, in each other, it is confidence which has sustained us so much in the past – rather than answer the cries of deprivation and despair – cries which the President’s Commission on Civil Disorders tells us could split our nation finally asunder – rather than answer these desperate cries, hundreds of communities and millions of citizens are looking for their answers, to force and repression and private gun stocks – so that we confront our fellow citizen across impossible barriers of hostility and mistrust and again, I don’t believe that we have to accept that. I don’t believe that it’s necessary in the United States of America. I think that we can work together – I don’t think that we have to shoot at each other, to beat each other, to curse each other and criticize each other, I think that we can do better in this country. And that is why I run for President of the United States.
And if we seem powerless to stop this growing division between Americans, who at least confront one another, there are millions more living in the hidden places, whose names and faces are completely unknown – but I have seen these other Americans – I have seen children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds have been so destroyed for their whole life that they will have no future. I have seen children in Mississippi – here in the United States – with a gross national product of $800 billion dollars – I have seen children in the Delta area of Mississippi with distended stomachs, whose faces are covered with sores from starvation, and we haven’t developed a policy so we can get enough food so that they can live, so that their children, so that their lives are not destroyed, I don’t think that’s acceptable in the United States of America and I think we need a change.
I have seen Indians living on their bare and meager reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent, and with so little hope for the future, so little hope for the future that for young people, for young men and women in their teens, the greatest cause of death amongst them is suicide.
That they end their lives by killing themselves – I don’t think that we have to accept that – for the first American, for this minority here in the United States. If young boys and girls are so filled with despair when they are going to high school and feel that their lives are so hopeless and that nobody’s going to care for them, nobody’s going to be involved with them, and nobody’s going to bother with them, that they either hang themselves, shoot themselves or kill themselves – I don’t think that’s acceptable and I think the United States of America – I think the American people, I think we can do much, much better. And I run for the presidency because of that, I run for the presidency because I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity, but they cannot, for the mines are closed and their jobs are gone and no one – neither industry, nor labor, nor government – has cared enough to help.
I think we here in this country, with the unselfish spirit that exists in the United States of America, I think we can do better here also.
I have seen the people of the black ghetto, listening to ever greater promises of equality and of justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddled in the same filthy rooms – without heat – warding off the cold and warding off the rats.
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world. From the beginning our proudest boast has been the promise of Jefferson, that we, here in this country would be the best hope of mankind. And now, as we look at the war in Vietnam, we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind and whether the opinion maintained a descent respect for us or whether like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately our very security, in the single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives. I do not want, and I do believe that most Americans do not want, to sell out America’s interest to simply withdraw – to raise the white flag of surrender in Vietnam – that would be unacceptable to us as a people, and unacceptable to us as a country. But I am concerned about the course of action that we are presently following in South Vietnam. I am concerned, I am concerned about the fact that this has been made America’s War. It was said, a number of years ago that this is “their war” “this is the war of the South Vietnamese” that “we can help them, but we can’t win it for them” but over the period of the last three years we have made the war and the struggle in South Vietnam our war, and I think that’s unacceptable.
I don’t accept the idea that this is just a military action, that this is just a military effort, and every time we have had difficulties in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia we have had only one response, we have had only one way to deal with it – month after month – year after year we have dealt with it in only on way and that’s to send more military men and increase our military power and I don’t think that’s what the kind of a struggle that it is in Southeast Asia.
I think that this is a question of the people of South Vietnam, I think its a question of the people of South Vietnam feeling its worth their efforts – that they’re going to make the sacrifice – that they feel that their country and their government is worth fighting for and I think the development of the last several years have shown, have demonstrated that the people of South Vietnam feel no association and no affiliation for the government of Saigon and I don’t think it’s up to us here in the United States, I don’t think it’s up to us here in the United States, to say that we’re going to destroy all of South Vietnam because we have a commitment there. The commander of the American forces at Ben Tre said we had to destroy that city in order to save it. So 38,000 people were wiped out or made refugees. We here in the United States – not just the United States government, not just the commanders of and forces in South Vietnam, the United States government and every human being that’s in this room – we are part of that decision and I don’t think that we need do that any longer and I think we should change our policy.
I don’t want to be part of a government, I don’t want to be part of the United States, I don’t want to be part of the American people and have them write of us as they wrote of Rome: “They made a desert and they called it peace.”
I think that we should go to the negotiating table, and I think we should take the steps to go to the negotiating table.
And I’ve said it over the period of the last two years, I think that we have a chance to have negotiations, and the possibility of meaningful negotiations, but last February, a year ago, when the greatest opportunity existed for negotiations the Administration and the President of the United States felt that the military victory was right around the corner and we sent a message to Ho Chi Minh, in February 8th of 1967 virtually asking for their unconditional surrender, we are not going to obtain the unconditional surrender of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong anymore than they’re going to obtain the unconditional surrender of the United States of America. We’re going to have to negotiate, we’re going to have to make compromises, we’re going to have to negotiate with the National Liberation Front. But people can argue, “That’s unfortunate that we have to negotiate with the National Liberation Front,” but that is a fact of life. We have three choices: We can either pull out of South Vietnam unilaterally and raise the white flag – I think that’s unacceptable.
Second, we can continue to escalate, we can continue to send more men there, until we have millions and millions of more men and we can continue to bomb North Vietnam, and in my judgment we will be no nearer success, we will be no nearer victory than we are now in February of 1968.
And the third step that we can take is to go to the negotiating table. We can go to the negotiating table and not achieve everything that we wish. One of the things that we’re going to have to accept as American people, but the other, the other alternative is so unacceptable. One of the things that we’re going to have to accept as American people and that the United States government must accept, is that the National Liberation Front is going to play a role in the future political process of South Vietnam.
And we’re going to have to negotiate with them. That they are going to play some role in the future political process of South Vietnam, that there are going to be elections and the people of South Vietnam, are ultimately going to determine and decide their own future.
That is the course of action, that is the course of action that I would like to see. I would like to see the United States government to make it clear to the government of Saigon that we are not going to tolerate the corruption and the dishonesty. I think that we should make it clear to the government of Saigon that if we’re going to draft young men, 18 years of age here in the United States, if we’re going to draft young men who are 19 years-old here in the United States, and wer’re going to send them to fight and die in Khe Sanh, that we want the government of South Vietnam to draft their 18-year-olds and their 19-year-olds.
And I want to make it clear that if the government of Saigon, feels Khe Sanh or Que Son and the area in the demilitarized zone are so important, if Khe San is so important to the government of Saigon, I want to see those American marines out of there and South Vietnamese troops in there.
I want to have an explanation as to why American boys killed, two weeks ago, in South Vietnam, were three times as many – more than three times as many, as the soldiers of South Vietnam. I want to understand why the casualties and the deaths, over the period of the last two weeks, at the height of the fighting, should be so heavily American casualties, as compared to the South Vietnamese. This is their war. I think we have to make the effort to help them, I think that we have to make the effort to fight, but I don’t think that we should have to carry the whole burden of that war, I think the South Vietnamese should.
And if I am elected President of the United States, with help, with your help, these are the kinds of policies that I’m going to put into operation.
We can do better here in the United States, we can do better. We can do better in our relationships to other countries around the rest of the globe. President Kennedy, when he campaigned in 1960, he talked about the loss of prestige that the United States had suffered around the rest of the globe, but look at what our condition is at the present time. The President of the United States goes to a meeting of the OAS at Montevideo- can he go into the city of Montevideo? Or can he travel through the cities of Latin America where there was such deep love and deep respect? He has to stay in a military base at Montevideo, with American ships out at sea and American helicopters overhead in order to ensure that he’s protected, I don’t think that that’s acceptable.
I think that we should have conditions here in the United States, and support enough for our policies, so that the President of the United States can travel freely and clearly across all the cities of this country, and not just to military bases.
I think there’s more that we can do internally here, I think there’s more that we can do in South Vietnam. I don’t think we have to accept the situation, as we have it at the moment. I think that we can do better, and I think the American people think that we can do better.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”
So I come here to Kansas to ask for your help. In the difficult five months ahead, before the convention in Chicago, I ask for your help and for your assistance. If you believe that the United States can do better. If you believe that we should change our course of action. If you believe that the United States stands for something here internally as well as elsewhere around the globe, I ask for your help and your assistance and your hand over the period of the next five months.
And when we win in November, and when we win in November, and we begin a new period of time for the United States of America – I want the next generation of Americans to look back upon this period and say as they said of Plato: “Joy was in those days, but to live.” Thank you very much.
I watched with great anticipation when Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States and recorded the event on my tiny reel-to-reel recorder. We did not live in a world of instant news back then. Although I never heard the Senator speak at Kansas State, I was aware the ‘the campaign was on.’ When I heard this speech in 2021 Bobby Kennedy’s voice and his moral certainty invigorated all those ideals I felt at 17 years old and that were too easily buried between the pages of history. I wanted to bring in as much of that spring of 1968 into volume II of American Injustice as I could without dragging the novel’s flow. The energy of the crowd at this and subsequent speeches sustained that flow.
The reason I’m here is that someone sent me a history of this city. And I discovered that it was founded by people from Chicago who came to Kansas to found a town named Boston, which they later changed to Manhattan. So I knew I’d be right at home.
I am proud to come here at the invitation of Alfred M. Landon. I met him at the White House when he visited there. I know how highly President Kennedy respected Governor Landon, and the continuing contribution he made – still makes – the public life of the country.I am also glad to come to the home state of another Kansan, who wrote,“If our colleges and universities do not breed men who riot, who rebel, who attack life with all the youthful vision and vigor, then there is something wrong with our colleges. The more riots that come on college campuses, the better world for tomorrow.”The man who wrote these words was that notorious seditionist, William Allen White – the late editor of the Emporia Gazette and one of the giants of American journalism. He is an honored man today; but when he lived and wrote, he was often reviled on your campus and across the nation as an extremist – or worse. For he spoke as he believed. He did not conceal his concern in comforting words; he did not delude his readers or himself with false hopes and illusions. It is in this spirit that I wish to speak today.
A Year of Choice
For this is a year of choice – a year when we choose not simply who will lead us, but where we wish to be led; the country we want for ourselves – and the kind we want for our children. If in this year of choice, we fashion new politics out of old illusions, we insure for ourselves nothing but crisis for the future – and we bequeath to our children the bitter harvest of those crises.For with all we have done, with all our immense power and richness, our problems seem to grow not less, but greater. We are in a time of unprecedented turbulence, of danger and questioning. It is at its root a question of the national soul. The President calls it “restlessness;” while cabinet officers and commentators tell us that America is deep in a malaise of the spirit – discouraging initiative, paralyzing will and action, dividing Americans from one another by their age, their views, and the color of their skins.There are many causes. Some are in the failed promise of America itself: in the children I have seen, starving in Mississippi; idling their lives away in the ghetto; committing suicide in the despair of Indian reservations; or watching their proud fathers sit without work in the ravaged lands of Eastern Kentucky. Another cause is in our inaction in the face of danger. We seem equally unable to control the violent disorder within our cities – or the pollution and destruction of the country, of the water and land that we use and our children must inherit. And a third great cause of discontent is the course we are following in Vietnam: in a war which has divided Americans as they have not been divided since your state was called “bloody Kansas.” Crisis of Confidence
This questioning and uncertainty at home, divisive war abroad – has led us to a deep crisis of confidence: in our leadership, in each other, and in our very self as a nation.Today I would speak to you of the third of those great crises: of the war in Vietnam. I come here, to this serious forum in the heart of the nation to discuss with you why I regard our policy there as bankrupt: not on the basis of emotion, but fact; not, I hope, in clichés – but with a clear and discriminating sense of where the national interest really lies.I do not want – as I believe most Americans do not want – to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that the course we are following at the present time is deeply wrong. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that we are acting as if no other nations existed, against the judgment and desires of neutrals and our historic allies alike. I am concerned – as I believe most Americans are concerned – that our present course will not bring victory; will not bring peace; will not stop the bloodshed; and will not advance the interests of the United States or the cause of peace in the world.I am concerned that, at the end of it all, there will only be more Americans killed; more of our treasure spilled out; and because of the bitterness and hatred on every side of this war, more hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese slaughtered; so that they may say, as Tacitus said of Rome: “They made a desert and called it peace.”And I do not think that is what the American spirit is really all about.Let me begin this discussion with a note both personal and public. I was involved in many of the early decisions on Vietnam, decisions that helped set us on our present path. It may be that the effort was doomed from the start; that it was never really possible to bring all the people of South Vietnam under the rule of the successive governments we supported – governments, one after another, riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and greed; governments which did not and could not successfully capture and energize the national feeling of their people. If that is the case, as it well may be, and then I am willing to bear my share of the responsibility, before history and before my fellow citizens. But past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation. Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live. Now as ever, we do ourselves best justice when we measure ourselves against ancient tests, as in the Antigone of Sophocles: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.”
Reversals and Escalations
The reversals of the last several months have led our military to ask for 206,000 more troops. Recently, it was announced that some of them – a “moderate” increase, it was said – would soon be sent. But isn’t this exactly what we have always done in the past? If we examine the history of this conflict, we find the dismal story repeated time after time. Every time – at every crisis – we have denied that anything was wrong; sent more troops; and issued more confident communiqués. Every time, we have been assured that this one last step would bring victory. And every time, the predictions and promises have failed and been forgotten, and the demand has been made again for just one more step up the ladder.But all the escalations, all the last steps, have brought us no closer to success than we were before. Rather, as the scale of the fighting has increased, South Vietnamese society has become less and less capable of organizing or defending itself, and we have more and more assumed the whole burden of the war. In just three years, we have gone from 16,000 advisers to over 500,000 troops; from no American bombing North or South, to an air campaign against both, greater than that waged in all the European theater in World War II; from less than 300 American dead in all the years prior to 1965, to more than 500 dead in a single week of combat in 1968.And once again the President tells us, as we have been told for twenty years, that “we are going to win;” “victory” is coming.But what are the true facts? What is our present situation?
The Present Situation
First, our control over the rural population – so long described as the key to our efforts – has evaporated. The Vice President tells us that the pacification program has “stopped.” In the language of other high officials, it is a “considerable setback” with “loss of momentum,” “some withdrawal from the countryside,” “a significant psychological setback both on the part of pacification people themselves and the local population.” Reports from the field indicate that the South Vietnamese Army has greatly increased its tendency to “pull into its compounds in cities and towns, especially at night, reduce its patrolling, and leave the militia and revolutionary development cadres open to enemy incursion and attack.” Undoubtedly, this is one reason why, over two recent weeks, our combat deaths – 1049 – were so much greater than those of the South Vietnamese – 557. Like it or not, the government of South Vietnam is pursuing an enclave policy. Its writ runs where American arms protect it: that far and no farther. To extend the power of the Saigon government over its own country, we now can see, will be in essence equivalent to the reconquest and occupation of most of the entire nation.Let us clearly understand the full implications of that fact. The point of our pacification operations was always described as “winning the hearts and minds” of the people. We recognized that giving the countryside military security against the Viet Cong would be futile – indeed that it would be impossible – unless the people of the countryside themselves came to identify their interests with ours, and to assist not the Viet Cong, but the Saigon government. For this we recognized that their minds would have to be changed – that their natural inclination would be to support the Viet Cong, or at best remain passive, rather than sacrifice for foreign white men, or the remote Saigon government.It is this effort that has been most gravely set back in the last month. We cannot change the minds of people in villages controlled by the enemy. The fact is, as all recognize, that we cannot reassert control over those villages now in enemy hands without repeating the whole process of bloody destruction which has ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam throughout the last three years. Nor could we thus keep control without the presence of millions of American troops. If, in the years those villages and hamlets were controlled by Saigon, the government had brought honesty, social reform, land – if that had happened, if the many promises of a new and better life for the people had been fulfilled – then, in the process of reconquest, we might appear as liberators: just as we did in Europe, despite the devastation of war, in 1944-45. But the promises of reform were not kept. Corruption and abuse of administrative power have continued to this day. Land reform has never been more than an empty promise. Viewing the performance of the Saigon government over the last three years, there is no reason for the South Vietnamese peasant to fight for the extension of its authority or to view the further devastation that effort will bring as anything but a calamity. Yet already the destruction has defeated most of our own purposes. Arthur Gardiner is the former chief of the United States AID mission in South Vietnam, and currently Executive Director of the International Voluntary Services. He tells us that we are “creating more Viet Cong than we are destroying” – and “increasing numbers of Vietnamese are becoming benevolently neutral toward the Viet Cong.” As a consequence, the political war – so long described as the only war that counts – has gone with the pacification program that was to win it. In a real sense, it may now be lost beyond recall.
Our Regressive Ally
The second evident fact of the last two months is that the Saigon government is no more or better an ally than it was before; that it may even be less; and that the war inexorably is growing more, not less, an American effort. American officials continue to talk about a government newly energized, moving with “great competence,” taking hold “remarkably well,” doing “a very, very good piece of work of recovery.” I was in the Executive Branch of the government from 1961 to 1964. In all those years, we heard the same glowing promises about the South Vietnamese government: corruption would soon be eliminated, land reform would come, and programs were being infused with new energy. But those were not the facts then, and they are not the facts today. The facts are that there is still no total mobilization: no price or wage controls, no rationing, and no overtime work. The facts are, as a Committee of the House of Representatives has told us, that land reform is moving backward, with the government forces helping landlords to collect exorbitant back rents from the peasantry. The facts are that 18-year-old South Vietnamese are still not being drafted; though now, as many times in the past, we are assured that this will happen soon. The facts are that thousands of young South Vietnamese buy their deferments from military service while American Marines die at Khe Sanh.The facts are that the government has arrested monks and labor leaders, former Presidential candidates, and government officials – including prominent members of the Committee for the Preservation of the Nation, in which American officials placed such high hopes just a few weeks ago.Meanwhile, the government’s enormous corruption continues, debilitating South Vietnam and crippling our effort to help its people. Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have officially documented the existence, extent, and results of this corruption: American AID money stolen, food diverted from refugees, government posts bought and sold while essential tasks remain undone. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations has reported that the Vietnamese Collector of Customs had engaged in smuggling gold and opium – and that he was protected by figures even higher in the government. President Johnson has responded to criticism of corruption in Vietnam by reminding us that there is stealing in Beaumont, Texas. I for one do not believe that Beaumont is so corrupt. I do not believe that any public official, in any American city, is engaged in smuggling gold and dope, selling draft deferments, or pocketing millions of dollars in U. S. government funds. But however, corrupt any city in the United States may be, that corruption is not costing the lives of American soldiers; while the pervasive corruption of the Government of Vietnam, as an American official has told us, is a significant cause of the prolongation of the war and the continued American casualties. As this government continues on its present course, and our support for it continues, the effect can only be to leave us totally isolated from the people of Vietnam. Our fighting men deserve better than that.
The Cost of Destruction
Third, it is becoming more evident with every passing day that the victories we achieve will only come at the cost of destruction for the nation we once hoped to help. Even before this winter, Vietnam and its people were disintegrating under the blows of war. Now hardly a city in Vietnam has been spared from the new ravages of the past two months. Saigon officials say that nearly three quarters of a million new refugees have been created, to add to the existing refugee population of two million or more. No one really knows the number of civilian casualties. The city of Hue, with most of the country’s cultural and artistic heritage, lies in ruins: Of its population of 145,000, fully 113,000 are said to be homeless. There is not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough medical care. There is only death and misery and destruction.An American commander said of the town of Ben Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.” It is difficult to quarrel with the decision of American commanders to use air power and artillery to save the lives of their men; if American troops are to fight for Vietnamese cities, they deserve protection. What I cannot understand is why the responsibility for the recapture and attendant destruction of Hue, and Ben Tre and the others, should fall to American troops in the first place.If Communist insurgents or invaders held New York or Washington or San Francisco, we would not leave it to foreigners to take them back and destroy them and their people in the process. Rather I believe there is not one among us who would not tear the invaders out with his bare hands, whatever the cost. There is no question that some of the South Vietnamese Army fought with great bravery. The Vietnamese – as these units, and the Viet Cong have both shown us – are a courageous people. But it is also true that a thousand South Vietnamese soldiers, in Hue on leave for Tet, hid among the refugees for three weeks, making no attempt to rejoin their units or join the town’s defense; among them was a full colonel. And it is also true that in the height of the battle for Hue, as trucks brought back American dead and wounded from the front lines, millions of Americans could see, on their television screens, South Vietnamese soldiers occupied in looting the city those Americans were lighting to recapture.If the government’s troops will not or cannot carry the light for their cities, we cannot ourselves destroy them. That kind of salvation is not an act we can presume to perform for them. For we must ask our government – we must ask ourselves: where does such logic end? If it becomes “necessary” to destroy all of South Vietnam in order to “save” it, will we do that too? And if we care so little about South Vietnam that we are willing to see the land destroyed and its people dead, then why are we there in the first place?Can we ordain to ourselves the awful majesty of God – to decide what cities and villages are to be destroyed, who will live and who will die, and who will join the refugees wandering in a desert of our own creation? If it is true that we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people, we must ask, are they being consulted – in Hue, or Ben Tre, or in the villages from which the 3 million refugees have fled? If they believe all the death and destruction are a lesser evil than the Wet Cong, why did they not warn us when the Viet Cong came into Hue, and the dozens of other cities, before the Tet Offensive? Why did they not join the fight?Will it be said of us, as Tacitus said of Rome: “they made a desert and called it peace?”It is also said that we are protecting Thailand – or perhaps Hawaii – from the legions of the Communists. Are we really protecting the rest of Southeast Asia by this spreading convict? And in any case, is the destruction of South Vietnam and its people a permissible means of defense?Let us have no misunderstanding. The Viet Cong are a brutal enemy indeed. Time and time again, they have shown their willingness to sacrifice innocent civilians, to engage in torture and murder and despicable terror to achieve their ends. This is a war almost without rules or quarter. There can be no easy moral answer to this war, no one-sided condemnation of American actions. What we must ask ourselves is whether we have a right to bring so much destruction to another land, without clear and convincing evidence that this is what its people want. But that is precisely the evidence we do not have. What they want is peace, not dominated by any outside force. And that is what we are really committed to help bring them, not in some indefinite future, but while some scraps of life remain still to be saved from the holocaust.
Our Weakening World Position
The fourth fact that is now clearer than ever is that the war in Vietnam, far from being the last critical test for the United States is in fact weakening our position in Asia and around the world, and eroding the structure of international cooperation, which has directly supported our security for the past three decades. In purely military terms, the war has already stripped us of the graduated-response capability that we have labored so hard to build for the last seven years. Surely the North Koreans were emboldened to seize the Pueblo because they knew that the United States simply cannot afford to fight another Asian war while we are so tied down in Vietnam. We set out to prove our willingness to keep our commitments everywhere in the world. What we are ensuring instead is that it is most unlikely that the American people would ever again be willing to engage in this kind of struggle. Meanwhile our oldest and strongest allies pull back to their own shores, leaving us alone to police all of Asia; while Mao Tse-Tung and his Chinese comrades sit patiently by, fighting us to the last Vietnamese: watching us weaken a nation which might have provided a stout barrier against Chinese expansion southward; hoping that, we will further tie ourselves down in protracted war in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand; confident, as it is reported from Hong Kong, that the war in Vietnam “will increasingly bog down the United States, sapping its resources, discrediting its power pretensions, alienating its allies, fraying its ties with the Soviet Union, and aggravating dissensions among Americans at home.” As one American observer puts it, truly “We seem to be playing the script the way Mao wrote it.”All this bears directly and heavily on the question of whether more troops should now be sent to Vietnam – and, if more are sent, what their mission will be. We are entitled to ask – we are required to ask – how many more men, how many more lives, how much more destruction will be asked, to provide the military victory that is always just around the corner, to pour into this bottomless pit of our dreams?But this question the Administration does not and cannot answer. It has no answer – none but the ever – expanding use of military force and the lives of our brave soldiers, in a conflict where military force has failed to solve anything in the past. The President has offered to negotiate – yet this weekend he told us again that he seeks not compromise but victory, “at the negotiating table, if possible, on the battlefield if necessary.” But at a real negotiating table, there can be no “victory” for either side; only a painful and difficult compromise. To seek victory at the conference table is to ensure that you will never reach it. Instead, the war will go on, year after terrible year – until those who sit in the seats of high policy are men who seek another path. And that must be done this year.For it is long past time to ask: what is this war doing to us? Of course, it is costing us money – fully one-fourth of our federal budget – but that is the smallest price we pay. The cost is in our young men, the tens of thousands of their lives cut off forever. The cost is in our world position – in neutrals and allies alike, every day more baffled by and estranged from a policy they cannot understand.
The Price We Pay
Higher yet is the price we pay in our own innermost lives, and in the spirit of our country. For the first time in a century, we have open resistance to service in the cause of the nation. For the first time perhaps in our history, we have desertions from our army on political and moral grounds. The front pages of our newspapers show photographs of American soldiers torturing prisoners. Every night we watch horror on the evening news. Violence spreads inexorably across the nation, filling our streets and crippling our lives. And whatever the costs to us let us think of the young men we have sent there: not just the killed, but also those who have to kill; not just the maimed, but also those who must look upon the results of what they do.It may be asked, is not such degradation the cost of all wars? Of course, it is. That is why war is not an enterprise lightly to be undertaken, nor prolonged one moment past its absolute necessity. All this – the destruction of Vietnam, the cost to ourselves, the danger to the world – all this we would stand willingly, if it seemed to serve some worthwhile end. But the costs of the war’s present course far outweigh anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the people of Vietnam. It must be ended, and it can be ended, in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing he and he alone was in the right. We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop.
What We Can Do
And the fact is that much can be done. We can – as I have urged for two years, but as we have never done – negotiate with the National Liberation Front. We can – as we have never done – assure the Front a genuine place in the political life of South Vietnam. We can – as we are refusing to do today – begin to deescalate the war, concentrate on protecting populated areas, and thus save American lives and slow down the destruction of the countryside. We can – as we have never done – insist that the Government of South Vietnam broaden its base, institute real reforms, and seek an honorable settlement with their fellow countrymen.This is no radical program of surrender. This is no sell-out of American interests. This is a modest and reasonable program, designed to advance the interests of this country and save something from the wreckage for the people of Vietnam.This program would be far more effective than the present course of this Administration – whose only response to failure is to repeat it on a larger scale. This program, with its more limited costs, would indeed be far more likely to accomplish our true objectives.And therefore, even this modest and reasonable program is impossible while our present leadership, under the illusion that military victory is just ahead, plunges deeper into the swamp that is our present course.So, I come here today, to this great University, to ask your help: not for me, but for your country and for the people of Vietnam. You are the people, as President Kennedy said, who have “the least ties to the present and the greatest ties to the future.” I urge you to learn the harsh facts that lurk behind the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves. Our country is in danger: not just from foreign enemies; but above all, from our own misguided policies – and what they can do to the nation that Thomas Jefferson once told us was the last, best, hope of man. There is a contest on, not for the rule of America, but for the heart of America. In these next eight months, we are going to decide what this country will stand for – and what kind of men we are. So, I ask for your help, in the cities and homes of this state, into the towns and farms: contributing your concern and action, warning of the danger of what we are doing – and the promise of what we can do. I ask you, as tens of thousands of young men and women are doing all over this land, to organize yourselves, and then to go forth and work for new policies – work to change our direction – and thus restore our place at the point of moral leadership, in our country, in our own hearts, and all around the world.
In my upcoming novel American Injustice Volume 2 an African American father encounters extreme prejudice in an airport as his daughters are listening to Dr. King’s speech on March 14, 1968. When Patch Kincaid attempts to intervene to stop the attack on the man, the police arrest him. This was the convoluted morals world faced by everyday citizens as well as Dr. King and others in the nonviolent civil rights movement. This speech by Dr. King is indicative of what happens in the airport. During this spring of 1968 the world not only turned upside down but inside out. Two days after Dr. King’s speech Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States.
“The Other America” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Grosse Pointe High School
March 14, 1968
Dr. Meserve, Bishop Emrich, my dear friend Congressman Conyers, ladies and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight and to have the great privilege of discussing with you some of the vital issues confronting our nation and confronting the world. It is always a very rich and rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned people of good will all over our nation and all over the world, and I certainly want to express my deep personal appreciation to you for inviting me to occupy this significant platform.
I want to discuss the race problem tonight and I want to discuss it very honestly. I still believe that freedom is the bonus you receive for telling the truth. Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. And I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it. And so I want to use as a title for my lecture tonight, “The Other America.” And I use this title because there are literally two Americas. Every city in our country has this kind of dualism, this schizophrenia, split at so many parts, and so every city ends up being two cities rather than one. There are two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. In this America, millions of people have the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality flowing before them. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom, and human dignity for their spirits. In this America children grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, thousands and thousands of people, men in particular walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. In this other America, millions of people are forced to live in vermin-filled, distressing housing conditions where they do not have the privilege of having wall-to-wall carpeting, but all too often, they end up with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. Almost forty percent of the Negro families of America live in sub-standard housing conditions. In this other America, thousands of young people are deprived of an opportunity to get an adequate education. Every year thousands finish high school reading at a seventh, eighth and sometimes ninth grade level. Not because they’re dumb, not because they don’t have the native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated if you will, that the best in these minds can never come out. Probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic problem. There are so many other people in the other America who can never make ends meet because their incomes are far too low if they have incomes, and their jobs are so devoid of quality. And so in this other America, unemployment is a reality and under-employment is a reality. (I’ll just wait until our friend can have her say) (applause). I’ll just wait until things are restored and… everybody talks about law and order. (applause) Now before I was so rudely interrupted… (applause), and I might say that it was my understanding that we’re going to have a question and answer period, and if anybody disagrees with me, you will have the privilege, the opportunity to raise a question if you think I’m a traitor, then you’ll have an opportunity to ask me about my traitorness and we will give you that opportunity.
Now let me get back to the point that I was trying to bring out about the economic problem. And that is one of the most critical problems that we face in America today. We find in the other America unemployment constantly rising to astronomical proportions and black people generally find themselves living in a literal depression. All too often when there is mass unemployment in the black community, it’s referred to as a social problem and when there is mass unemployment in the white community, it’s referred to as a depression. But there is no basic difference. The fact is, that the negro faces a literal depression all over the U.S. The unemployment rate on the basis of statistics from the labor department is about 8.8 per cent in the black community. But these statistics only take under consideration individuals who were once in the labor market, or individuals who go to employment offices to seek employment. But they do not take under consideration the thousands of people who have given up, who have lost motivation, the thousands of people who have had so many doors closed in their faces that they feel defeated and they no longer go out and look for jobs, the thousands who’ve come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. These people are considered the discouraged and when you add the discouraged to the individuals who can’t be calculated through statistics in the unemployment category, the unemployment rate in the negro community probably goes to 16 or 17 percent. And among black youth, it is in some communities as high as 40 and 45 percent. But the problem of unemployment is not the only problem. There is the problem of under-employment, and there are thousands and thousand, I would say millions of people in the negro community who are poverty stricken – not because they are not working but because they receive wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the main stream of the economic life of our nation. Most of the poverty stricken people of America are persons who are working every day and they end up getting part-time wages for full-time work. So the vast majority of negroes in America find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. This has caused a great deal of bitterness. It has caused a great deal of agony. It has caused ache and anguish. It has caused great despair, and we have seen the angered expressions of this despair and this bitterness in the violent rebellions that have taken place in cities all over our country. Now I think my views on non-violence are pretty generally known. I still believe that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the negro in his struggle for justice and freedom in the U.S.
Now let me relieve you a bit. I’ve been in the struggle a long time now, (applause) and I’ve conditioned myself to some things that are much more painful than discourteous people not allowing you to speak, so if they feel that they can discourage me, they’ll be up here all night.
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity. Now every year about this time, our newspapers and our televisions and people generally start talking about the long hot summer ahead. What always bothers me is that the long hot summer has always been preceded by a long cold winter. And the great problem is that the nation has not used its winters creatively enough to develop the program, to develop the kind of massive acts of concern that will bring about a solution to the problem. And so we must still face the fact that our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nations winters of delay. As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption. The question now, is whether America is prepared to do something massively, affirmatively and forthrightly about the great problem we face in the area of race and the problem which can bring the curtain of doom down on American civilization if it is not solved. And I would like to talk for the next few minutes about some of the things that must be done if we are to solve this problem.
The first thing I would like to mention is that there must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country.Now however unpleasant that sounds, it is the truth. And we will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation and we must see racism for what it is. It is the nymph of an inferior people. It is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the work, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior. To put it in philosophical language, racism is not based on some empirical generalization which, after some studies, would come to conclusion that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the notion that the very being of a people is inferior. And their ultimate logic of racism is genocide. Hitler was a very sick man. He was one of the great tragedies of history. But he was very honest. He took his racism to its logical conclusion. The minute his racism caused him to sickly feel and go about saying that there was something innately inferior about the Jew he ended up killing six million Jews. The ultimate logic of racism is genocide, and if one says that one is not good enough to have a job that is a solid quality job, if one is not good enough to have access to public accommodations, if one is not good enough to have the right to vote, if one is not good enough to live next door to him, if one is not good enough to marry his daughter because of his race. Then at that moment that person is saying that that person who is not good to do all of this is not fit to exist or to live. And that is the ultimate logic of racism. And we’ve got to see that this still exists in American society. And until it is removed, there will be people walking the streets of live and living in their humble dwellings feeling that they are nobody, feeling that they have no dignity and feeling that they are not respected. The first thing that must be on the agenda of our nation is to get rid of racism.
Secondly, we’ve got to get rid of two or three myths that still pervade our nation. One is the myth of time. I’m sure you’ve heard this notion. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And I’ve heard it from many sincere people. They’ve said to the negro and/to his allies in the white community you should slow up, you’re pushing things too fast, only time can solve the problem. And if you’ll just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out. There is an answer to that myth. It is the time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m sad to say to you tonight I’m absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the forces on the wrong side in our nation, the extreme righteous of our nation have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will and it may well be that we may have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people who will say bad things in a meeting like this or who will bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must always help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.
Now there is another myth and that is the notion that legislation can’t solve the problem that you’ve got to change the heart and naturally I believe in changing the heart. I happen to be a Baptist preacher and that puts me in the heart changing business and Sunday after Sunday I’m preaching about conversion and the need for the new birth and re-generation. I believe that there’s something wrong with human nature. I believe in original sin not in terms of the historical event but as the mythological category to explain the universality of evil, so I’m honest enough to see the gone-wrongness of human nature so naturally I’m not against changing the heart and I do feel that that is the half-truth involved here, that there is some truth in the whole question of changing the heart. We are not going to have the kind of society that we should have until the white person treats the negro right – not because the law says it but because it’s natural because it’s right and because the black man is the white man’s brother. I’ll be the first to say that we will never have a truly integrated society, a truly colorless society until men and women are obedient to the unenforceable. But after saying that, let me point out the other side. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.
And so while legislation may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men when it’s vigorously enforced and when you change the habits of people pretty soon attitudes begin to be changed and people begin to see that they can do things that fears caused them to feel that they could never do. And I say that there’s a need still for strong civil rights legislation in various areas. There’s legislation in Congress right now dealing with the whole question of housing and equal administration of justice and these things are very important for I submit to you tonight that there is no more dangerous development in our nation than the constant building up of predominantly negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This will do nothing but invite social disaster. And this problem has to be dealt with – some through legislation, some through education, but it has to be dealt with in a very concrete and meaningful manner.
Now let me get back to my point. I’m going to finish my speech. I’ve been trying to think about what I’m going to preach about tomorrow down to Central Methodist Church in the Lenten series and I think I’ll use as the text, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I want to deal with another myth briefly which concerns me and I want to talk about it very honestly and that is over-reliance on the bootstrap philosophy. Now certainly it’s very important for people to engage in self-help programs and do all they can to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. Now I’m not talking against that at all. I think there is a great deal that the black people of this country must do for themselves and that nobody else can do for them. And we must see the other side of this question. I remember the other day I was on a plane and a man starting talking with me and he said I’m sympathetic toward what you’re trying to do, but I just feel that you people don’t do enough for yourself and then he went on to say that my problem is, my concern is, that I know of other ethnic groups, many of the ethnic groups that came to this country and they had problems just as negroes and yet they did the job for themselves, they lifted themselves by their own bootstraps. Why is it that negroes can’t do that? And I looked at him and I tried to talk as understanding as possible but I said to him, it does not help the negro for unfeeling, sensitive white people to say that other ethnic groups that came to the country maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty years voluntarily have gotten ahead of them and he was brought here in chains involuntarily almost three hundred and fifty years ago. I said it doesn’t help him to be told that and then I went on to say to this gentlemen that he failed to recognize that no other ethnic group has been enslaved on American soil. Then I had to go on to say to him that you failed to realize that America made the black man’s color a stigma. Something that he couldn’t change. Not only was the color a stigma, but even linguistic then stigmatic conspired against the black man so that his color was thought of as something very evil. If you open Roget’s Thesaurus and notice the synonym for black you’ll find about a hundred and twenty and most of them represent something dirty, smut, degrading, low, and when you turn to the synonym for white, about one hundred and thirty, all of them represent something high, pure, chaste. You go right down that list. And so in the language a white life is a little better than a black life. Just follow. If somebody goes wrong in the family, we don’t call him a white sheep we call him a black sheep. And then if you block somebody from getting somewhere you don’t say they’ve been whiteballed, you say they’ve been blackballed. And just go down the line. It’s not whitemail it’s blackmail. I tell you this to seriously say that the nation made the black man’s color a stigma and then I had to say to my friend on the plane another thing that is often forgotten in this country. That nobody, no ethnic group has completely lifted itself by it own bootstraps. I can never forget that the black man was free from the bondage of physical slavery in 1863. He wasn’t given any land to make that freedom meaningful after being held in slavery 244 years. And it was like keeping a man in prison for many many years and then coming to see that he is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. Alright good night and God bless you.
And I was about to say that to free, to have freed the negro from slavery without doing anything to get him started in life on a sound economic footing, it was almost like freeing a man who had been in prison many years and you had discovered that he was unjustly convicted of, that he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted and you go up to him and say now you’re free, but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town or you don’t give him any money to buy some clothes to put on his back or to get started in life again. Every code of jurisprudence would rise up against it. This is the very thing that happened to the black man in America. And then when we look at it even deeper than this, it becomes more ironic. We’re reaping the harvest of this failure today. While America refused to do anything for the black man at that point, during that very period, the nation, through an act of Congress, was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the mid-west, which meant that it was willing to under gird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. Not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges for them to learn how to farm. Not only that it provided county agents to further their expertise in farming and went beyond this and came to the point of providing low interest rates for these persons so that they could mechanize their farms, and today many of these persons are being paid millions of dollars a year in federal subsidies not to farm and these are so often the very people saying to the black man that he must lift himself by his own bootstraps. I can never think … Senator Eastland, incidentally, who says this all the time gets a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year, not to farm on various areas of his plantation down in Mississippi. And yet he feels that we must do everything for ourselves. Well that appears to me to be a kind of socialism for the rich and rugged hard individualistic capitalism for the poor.
Now let me say two other things and I’m going to rush on. One, I want to say that if we’re to move ahead and solve this problem we must re-order our national priorities. Today we’re spending almost thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight what I consider an unjust, ill-considered, evil, costly, unwinable war at Viet Nam. I wish I had time to go into the dimensions of this. But I must say that the war in Viet Nam is playing havoc with our Domestic destinies. That war has torn up the Geneva accord, it has strengthened, it has substituted.. . alright if you want to speak, I’ll let you come down and speak and I’ll wait. You can give your Viet Nam speech now listen to mine. Come right on. Speaker: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joseph McLawtern, communications technician, U.S. Navy, United States of America and I fought for freedom I didn’t fight for communism, traitors and I didn’t fight to be sold down the drain. Not by Romney, Cavanagh, Johnson – nobody, nobody’s going to sell me down the drain. Alright, thank you very much. I just want to say in response to that, that there are those of us who oppose the war in Viet Nam. I feel like opposing it for many reasons. Many of them are moral reasons but one basic reason is that we love our boys who are fighting there and we just want them to come back home. But I don’t have time to go into the history and the development of the war in Viet Nam. I happen to be a pacifist but if I had had to make a decision about fighting a war against Hitler, I may have temporarily given up my pacifism and taken up arms. But nobody is to compare what is happening in Viet Nam today with that. I’m convinced that it is clearly an unjust war and it’s doing so many things – not only on the domestic scene, it is carrying the whole world closer to nuclear annihilation. And so I’ve found it necessary to take a stand against the war in Viet Nam and I appreciate Bishop Emrich’s question and I must answer it by saying that for me the tuitus? cannot be divided. It’s nice for me to talk about … it’s alright to talk about integrated schools and in integrated lunch counters which I will continue to work for, but I think it would be rather absurd for me to work for integrated schools and not be concerned about the survival of the world in which to integrate. The other thing is, that I have been working too long and too hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up at this stage of my life segregating my moral concern. I must make it clear. For me justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Now for the question of hurting civil rights. I think the war in Viet Nam hurt civil rights much more than my taking a stand against the war. And I could point out so many things to say that… a reporter asked me sometime ago when I first took a strong stand against the war didn’t I feel that I would have to reverse my position because so many people disagreed, and people who once had respect for me wouldn’t have respect, and he went on to say that I hear that it’s hurt the budget of your organization and don’t you think that you have to get in line more with the administration’s policy … and of course those were very lonely days when I first started speaking out and not many people were speaking out but now I have a lot of company and it’s not as lonesome now. But anyway, I had to say to the reporter, I’m sorry sir but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader and I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by kind of taking a look at a gallop poll and getting the expression of the majority opinion. Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a succor for consensus but a mold of consensus. And on some positions cowardice ask the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question is it politics? Vanity asks the question is it popular? The conscience asks the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politics nor popular but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.
Now the time is passing and I’m not going to… I was going into the need for direct action to dramatize and call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment. I’ve been searching for a long time for an alternative to riots on the one hand and timid supplication for justice on the other and I think that alternative is found in militant massive non-violence. I’ll wait until the question period before going into the Washington campaign. But let me say that it has been my experience in these years that I’ve been in the struggle for justice, that things just don’t happen until the issue is dramatized in a massive direct-action way. I never will forget when we came through Washington in 1964, in December coming from Oslo. I stopped by to see President Johnson. We talked about a lot of things and we finally got to the point of talking about voting rights. The President was concerned about voting, but he said Martin, I can’t get this through in this session of Congress. We can’t get a voting rights bill, he said because there are two or three other things that I feel that we’ve got to get through and they’re going to benefit negroes as much as anything. One was the education bill and something else. And then he went on to say that if I push a voting rights bill now, I’ll lose the support of seven congressmen that I sorely need for the particular things that I had and we just can’t get it. Well, I went on to say to the President that I felt that we had to do something about it and two weeks later we started a movement in Selma, Alabama. We started dramatizing the issue of the denial of the right to vote and I submit to you that three months later as a result of that Selma movement, the same President who said to me that we could not get a voting rights bill in that session of Congress was on the television singing through a speaking voice “we shall overcome” and calling for the passage of a voting rights bill and I could go on and on to show. . .and we did get a voting rights bill in that session of Congress. Now, I could go on to give many other examples to show that it just doesn’t come about without pressure and this is what we plan to do in Washington. We aren’t planning to close down Washington, we aren’t planning to close down Congress. This isn’t anywhere in our plans. We are planning to dramatize the issue to the point that poor people in this nation will have to be seen and will not be invisible. Now let me finally say something in the realm of the spirit and then I’m going to take my seat. Let me say finally, that in the midst of the hollering and in the midst of the discourtesy tonight, we got to come to see that however much we dislike it, the destinies of white and black America are tied together. Now the races don’t understand this apparently. But our destinies are tied together. And somehow, we must all learn to live together as brothers in this country or we’re all going to perish together as fools. Our destinies are tied together. Whether we like it or not culturally and otherwise, every white person is a little bit negro and every negro is a little bit white. Our language, our music, our material prosperity and even our food are an amalgam of black and white, so there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white routes and there can ultimately be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster without recognizing the necessity of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We must come to see. . .yes we do need each other, the black man needs the white man to save him from his fear and the white man needs the black man to free him from his guilt.
John Donne was right. No man is an island and the tide that fills every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. And he goes on toward the end to say, “any man’s death diminishes me because I’m involved in mankind. Therefore, it’s not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Somehow we must come to see that in this pluralistic, interrelated society we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And by working with determination and realizing that power must be shared, I think we can solve this problem, and may I say in conclusion that our goal is freedom and I believe that we’re going to get there. It’s going to be more difficult from here on in but I believe we’re going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom and Our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here. Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence we were here. Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were written we were here. And for more than two centuries our forbearers labored here without wages. They made cotton King, they built the homes of their masters in the midst of the most humiliating and oppressive conditions and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to grow and develop and if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face including the white backlash will surely fail.
We are going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. So however difficult it is during this period, however difficult it is to continue to live with the agony and the continued existence of racism, however difficult it is to live amidst the constant hurt, the constant insult and the constant disrespect, I can still sing we shall overcome. We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.
We shall overcome because Carlisle is right. “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.” Yet that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the Bible is right. “You shall reap what you sow.” With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children all over this nation – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, “Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, We are Free At Last.”