Would King have met with Trump?

In the wake of my discontent about Steve Harvey, Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Floyd Mayweather and Kanye West having met and later praised President-elect Donald Trump over the past 60 days, a reader asked me yesterday whether Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, had he lived, would have taken a similar meeting?

Good question…

After careful consideration, I do believe that Dr. King would have met with Trump, but I doubt very seriously that he would have emerged from the sit-down with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face singing Trump’s praises. I say this with clear conviction; having read volumes of historical books on the man, including Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Parting the Waters” series and Clayborne Carson’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Autobiography of Dr Martin Luther King Jr” that give pedantic details into King’s life and work, I am convinced that King would have taken the meeting with Trump and no rational person would have called him a sellout, quisling or coon for having done so. But I am also convinced that Trump would have gotten more than an earful from King, as the Branch and Carson books delve deeply into similar meetings with Trumpesque types during the Montgomery Bus Boycott on through attempts to meet with racist white civic leaders from Albany, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. The books also chronicle how King clearly understood the hostility that he and his movement faced from men like Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, Alabama Governor George Wallace and notorious law enforcement figures like Albany Sheriff Laurie Pritchett and Birmingham Chief Bull Connor. Indeed, King understood who those men were and he never sought to curry favor with them, rather, he stood firmly on principles and challenged these men and their evil, twisted and unconstitutional biases and hatred towards Black people.

But Dr. King also fully understood that political indifference to civil rights could come in the form of a supposed friend; many middle and high school American history books choose to highlight the “friendship” between Dr. King and President John F. Kennedy, but scant mention is made of the fact that Kennedy used the IRS to crack down on Protestant clergy leaders who had opposed his candidacy due to his Catholic faith or for other reasons of concern. This, curiously, included King, one who had been subject to indictment in Alabama state court in May of 1960 on tax fraud charges stemming from his time as head of the Montgomery Improvement Association and his later leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Though an all White jury acquitted King of the charges, he remained under IRS and FBI surveillance well into 1962, the second year of Kennedy’s administration. That year, King settled with the IRS for $500.00, but Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Attorney General, instead of calling off the dogs, authorized further surveillance of King and the SCLC based upon their suspicions of the communist beliefs/ties of King’s trusted advisers Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levinson. In a tense June 1963 meeting at the White House, Kennedy went so far as to demand that King disassociate himself from the pair, a condescension that infuriated King and made him double down on his refusal to be dictated to even by the sitting president. Nevertheless, the FBI continued to keep tabs on King and as many of us now know, went as far as to blackmail King by threatening to release salacious sex tapes to undermine his influence.

But as far as speaking truth to power to presidents and presidents-elect even at the risk of his own life, it is critically important to note that the bullet that snuffed out Dr. King’s life was not fired when he was seeking to integrate the Montgomery bus lines, or when he sought to integrate public accomodations in Albany, Birmingham, Nashville or St. Augustine. It is also critically important to note that Dr. King was not killed while seeking to register Blacks to vote in Selma, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi or when he turned to the midwest and challenged discrimination in Chicago, Illinois. No, King’s fate was sealed once he began to openly question President Lyndon B. Johnson about his money making war in Vietnam and the fundamental foundations of capitalism as the root of extreme poverty among all races. It is one thing to be pissed at and skeptical of the Kennedy brothers in private, and something entirely different—and deadly—to speak and write passionately, eloquently and prolifically about Johnson as a tool of the military industrial complex in public.  In essence, King died because he did not support the status quo for the wealthy Robber Barons and their political lackeys. King did not have celebrity man crushes or bow down to the wealthy while seeking to line his own pockets with “hush” money in exchange for illusory promises to the masses of mere scraps from the master’s table. To that end, Dr. King provided the blueprint for all Americans of good conscience to follow in this era in which the gap between the American patrician and plebeian classes grows wider by the day—which is to challenge the status quo in both words and deeds. On what would have been King’s 88th birthday, lest we forget.

Requiescat in Pace my Morehouse Brother…

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