(CNN) - The personal lawyer, draft speechwriter and confidant to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said he is sick and tired of presidential candidates trying desperately to link themselves to the legacy of the civil rights leader.
Clarence B. Jones, a prominent businessman and attorney, told me this morning that the recent disputes among Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama about King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, as well as the discussion in last night’s debate regarding who King would endorse, are silly.
“I don’t understand this preoccupation with 'Martin King did this, Martin King did that,'” said Jones, who accused candidates on both sides of the political spectrum of trying “to expropriate Martin’s legitimacy for their own purposes."
He added: "I guess that’s just the nature of politics. It’s regrettable.”
During last night’s CNN-CBC Institute debate, all three presidential candidates invoked the name of King and his legacy (Though it’s worth noting that the debate was held on the national celebration of the King holiday).
When asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer if King would have endorsed any of them, were he alive today, Edwards said the civil rights leader would back his candidacy.
Obama said King wouldn’t endorse any candidate. But it was the answer by Clinton that led me to reach out to Jones for clarification.
She suggested in her answer that King was a civil rights activist who didn't shy away from being involved in politics.
“He campaigned for political leaders,” Clinton said. “He lobbied them. He pushed them. He cajoled. He did everything he could to get them over the line so that they would be part of the movement that he gave his life for.”
I e-mailed Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, and he replied with an excerpt from the King archives at Stanford that said the leader had "campaigned actively for Johnson and welcomed the victory saying, ‘the forces of good will and progress have triumphed.’"
But Jones, who is writing his memoirs while in residence at Stanford's Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, disputes that.
“What Martin did was he campaigned hard for voter registration, and he spoke about the dangers of possibly Goldwater election,” he said. “He did talk about that. But he was not in any way part of the Johnson campaign.
“His way of doing it was to point out how important it was that as many black voters come to the polls as possible.”
But Nick Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America, told me that the Stanford papers and Jones are both right.
“At the Democratic convention in 1964, they had this big fight about seating the Mississippi delegation. And Dr. King was being very pragmatic about this thing. He didn’t want to fall on his sword. He wanted Johnson to get elected president and for them to work on the voting rights law,” said Kotz.
Kotz says that a deal emerged from that conflict, according to newspaper records of the time: King would go out and campaign – which he did, in at least half a dozen cities – to asking people to register to vote, but he was trying to get Lyndon Johnson elected.
“He wasn’t just telling them to register to vote. He was talking at rallies in each city that were organized by the Johnson campaign. They (Stanford and Jones) are really both right. At each stop did he say, ‘Vote for Lyndon Johnson?’ He may not have done that, but that’s what the whole thing was all about.”
–CNN Analyst Roland Martin