Nixon, it turns out, had a much closer relationship with King than did Kennedy. In the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., records show considerable handwritten notes and correspondence between Nixon and King. This includes a 1957 letter from King acknowledging their previous meetings, which thanked Nixon for his "assiduous labor and dauntless courage in seeking to make the Civil Rights Bill a reality," and praised him for his "devotion to the highest mandates of the moral law."
But in 1960, on the eve of the election, Nixon was in a tough spot. Nixon's public silence might be misconstrued as acceptance of King's arrest. On the other hand, as a candidate for his boss's job, Nixon worried about the political costs of appearing ungrateful if he chastised President Dwight Eisenhower for not taking stronger action. Eisenhower, however, was content to let the Justice Department handle the matter.
According to historian and presidential biographer Stephen Ambrose, while Nixon made no public comments, he telephoned Attorney General William Rogers to find out if King's constitutional rights were being infringed, thus opening the door for federal involvement. Nixon, a lawyer, was concerned about the ethics of calling a judge to get him to release someone.
Nixon, writes Ambrose, told his press secretary: "I think Dr. King is getting a bum rap. But despite my strong feelings in this respect, it would be completely improper for me or any other lawyer to call the judge. And Robert Kennedy should have known better than to do so." That Bobby Kennedy, also a lawyer, nevertheless made a phone call to the judge did not alter the issue of whether it was appropriate. In retrospect, an easy call, but not at the time.
Two million pamphlets titled, "'No Comment' Nixon Versus a Candidate With a Heart, Senator Kennedy," were distributed in black churches. Never mind that in 1956 Nixon revealed he was an honorary member of the NAACP. Or that Nixon pushed for passage of the '57 civil rights bill in the Senate. Or that Time magazine wrote that Nixon's support for civil rights incurred the wrath of one of his segregationist opponents, Sen. Richard Russell, D-Ga., who sarcastically called Nixon the NAACP's "most distinguished member."
But the GOP-is-racist meme can be heard nightly on MSNB-Hee Haw and in political science and history classes all over the country. Actor Morgan Freeman calls the tea party racist. Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., tells us that the GOP wants to "literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws."
Keeping blacks ignorant of history remains crucial to this caricature of the Republican Party -- and to the monolithic Democratic black vote. Not so black and white, is it?
Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an "Elderado," visit www.LarryElder.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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