January 22nd, 2008
01:25 PM ET
6 years ago

Martin: King confidant to candidates: Stop invoking his name

Martin: King’s confidant wants candidates to stop invoking his name.
Martin: King’s confidant wants candidates to stop invoking his name.

(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


Filed under: Roland Martin
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Eli

    I don't think it is fair of Mr. Jones to bring up the 'who would Martin Luther King endrose?' thing in reference to last night's debate. As I recall, it was a journalist who asked the question, not any of the candidates. So if anything, maybe it is the media who are too obsessed with trying to tie Dr. King's legacy to the whole election.

    I wish someone would have probed further into how exactly they plan to make healthcare affordable (whether insurance is mandatory or not.) My wife has diabetes and other health problems, and I know people who are cancer survivors or have other serious health problems. Making insurance mandatory won't do any of them a lick of good because either they won't find anyone who will sell it to them for any price, or they will only be able to buy a policy that exempts the problems they actually have as 'pre-existing conditions' or some other such lunacy.

    Wasting time asking an unknowable question like who Dr. King would endorse when there are major questions on the table about the economy, health care and how ordinary people are going to survive this recession is an insult to those of us who realize how high the stakes are.

    January 23, 2008 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  2. HERB

    CNN WHY DID YOU GO FIND OBAMA GRAND MOTHR IN AFRICA? WHY HAVEN'T YOU FOUND HIS GRAND PARENTS IN MISSOURI OR WHERE EVER THEY ARE. THE OTHER PEOPLE HAVE GRAND PARENTS AND WHY HAVE YOU NOT INFORMED THE GQ PUBLIC ABOUT THESE. I GUESS AMERICA WILL NEVER GET BEYOND THE RACE (SKIN COLOR) THING. HOW AWFUL. I DON'T THINK THE FOUNDING FATHERS IDENTIFIED A RELEGION OR THE COLOR OF ONE SKIN AS A PREREQUSITE FOR PRESIDENT.

    January 23, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. DR The Independent

    Roland,

    Another good point.

    I wish everyone will stop using his MLK's name for their own gain. They can all how much they honor him by practicing his teachings and this goes for everyone, black, white, orange and purple.

    In my observation, lot of people have used his name for personal gain.

    January 23, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Kris

    You're kidding about the Founding Father statement right? They used black people as slaves and woman couldn't even vote muchless run for public office.

    I don't think MLK was reffering to any orange or purple people. Fighting for the rights of purple people goes way too far!

    January 23, 2008 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  5. Aly

    It is a good point, and I agree with Jones that it is regrettable that MLK's message is being watered down and used for personal gain. I think the question was asked partly because it was MLK day and questions like those are generally to get a feel for how the candidates perceive history. Its more to gauge perspective which can be as important as questions about policy. Obama's answer was the only one that came close to my reading of MLK's politics. Yes it is 'unknowable' but based on reading and history, MLK would not have supported any of the democratic candidates even (or perhaps especially not) Obama. Read King's thoughts on "Tokenism" in “The Sword that Heals.” and "Facing the Challange of a New Age" both essays by MLK. They begins to explain why.

    February 3, 2008 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |

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