'Up with Steve Kornacki' for Sunday, August 25th, 2013
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UP with STEVE KORNACKI
August 25, 2013
Guests: Bob Herbert, Walter Fields, Jack Rosenthal, Robert Mann, Rick Perlstein, Joy Williams, Ana Marie Cox, Ben Jealous, Jamelle Bouie
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Yesterday tens of thousands of Americans
converged on the nation`s Capitol to commemorate the 50th anniversary of
the 1963 March on Washington. It was a historic event that spurred the
enactment of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and one that is now
remembered as one of the moral high points of American history.
But that is not what political leaders, major media outlets and millions of
everyday Americans were expecting right up until that march began in 1963.
They were bracing for violence and chaos. They were fearing strident and
inflammatory rhetoric and they were convinced that the main effect of the
rally would be to inflict a grievous wound, maybe even a fatal wound, on a
very movement it sought to advance.
That is the context in which the march took place 50 years ago this week,
context that can and all too often is lost to history. It came at a
particularly crucial and politically sensitive time in the civil rights
Three months before the march, in May of 1963, demonstrations in Birmingham
at -- excuse me, demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, had been met with
Sheriff Bull Connor`s violence; images of dogs and fire hose trained on
peaceful protesters, horrified millions of people around the globe.
In June, a month after that, Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the
schoolhouse door and President Kennedy sent in the Army National Guard to
desegregate the University of Alabama. Kennedy explained his decision in a
televised address that evening, a speech in which he formally called on
Congress to pass a civil rights bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are confronted
primarily with a moral issue. It as old as the Scriptures and as clear as
the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all
Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Hours after that speech, after midnight, Medgar Evers, the
leader of Mississippi`s NAACP, was shot and killed in his driveway just a
few steps from his front door. Civil rights leaders rallied across the
country and pressed for meaningful legislation and they determined that a
March on Washington, something that civil right leader A. Philip Randolph
had been talking about for years, was the way to go.
But the political class in Washington felt differently. Kennedy told civil
rights leaders in a June 22nd meeting that a march could kill the civil
rights bill he was now pushing for, saying, quote, "We want success in
Congress, not just a big show at the Capitol. Some people are looking for
an excuse to be against us."
The organizers were undeterred, though, and Washington panicked.
Washington had hosted massive crowds before but the scale of police
preparations for the march was unprecedented.
"Those were crowds of spectators," the police chief explained. "We do not
expect any spectators during the march. They will all be participants, on
one side or the other, or they would not be there."
Officers were told they couldn`t take the day off. Thousands of troops
were placed on call. The march was on a Wednesday, a work day. And
authorities weren`t sure if they`d keep all the bridges over the Potomac
Organizers were determined to prove these skeptics wrong. They appointed
2,000 parade marshals and they ran drills ahead of time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have assembled down here to take a physical look at
the area in which we are going to have to operate on Wednesday. Now, for
the record, because I`m directed by the march committee in New York to say
so, this is going to be -- police power. This will not a nonviolent group
and you will use nonviolent rhetoric.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As August 28th neared, the inevitability of the march began
sinking in. That`s when Kennedy reversed course. If it was going to
happen, he realized, it had to be a success, otherwise it would just give
ammunition to those who would kill his civil rights bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: This is an effort, however, to bring focus to the strong concern
of a good many citizens so that I think, as I said before, it`s in that
tradition that I meet with the leadership and in which I think it`s
appropriate that these people and anyone else who feels themselves
concerned should come to Washington, see their congressmen."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The Sunday before the march -- that was exactly 50 years ago
today, the executive secretary of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins, and Martin Luther
King Jr., both appeared on NBC`s "MEET THE PRESS." And this was the very
first question they were asked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK, NBC NEWS: There are a great many people, as I`m sure
you know, who believe that it`ll be impossible to bring more than 100,000
militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly riot.
What do you see as the effect on the just cause of the Negro if you do have
any incidents, if you do have any rioting?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And then the march happened. Tens of thousands of people
peacefully assembled, calling for equality for jobs and for action, and
just like that, the tone of the coverage changed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK MCGEE, NBC NEWS: Every prediction that its organizers made that can
be tangibly proved has been proved. They said it would be a peaceful,
nonviolent march, and it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I want to bring in Bob Herbert, former "New York Times"
columnist and distinguished senior fellow at demos.org; Robert Mann, he`s a
journalism professor at Louisiana State University and the author of "The
Walls of Jericho." It`s a history of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Walter Fields is the former political director of the New Jersey NAACP,
he`s now the executive editor of northstarnews.com, black public affairs
and news website. And we have Jack Rosenthal, who`s a former reporter,
editor and executive at "The New York Times," who`s also a Justice
Department aide to Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s.
So thanks, everybody, for joining us.
And, Bob, I was struck, I think, by everybody in this panel, by "MEET THE
PRESS" this Sunday 50 years ago, just the automatic assumption that if
there were black people coming to Washington, D.C., they are militant.
BOB HERBERT, DEMOS.ORG: Militant Negroes, look out.
To me it`s part of the problem with -- over what has happened in the past
half century, despite all the progress that has been made, I think not
nearly enough, I think that there are not enough militant Negroes out there
marching or doing whatever else, whatever else is necessary to bring
economic justice, which was the underlying theme -- or actually not so
underlying -- theme of the original March on Washington.
And I think that`s one of the reasons blacks are having such a hard time
KORNACKI: Well, Jack, I wondered, you were there in the Justice
Department, watching the preparations of (INAUDIBLE), being part of the
preparations for really -- just can you just take us back to, you know,
what the climate was like that would lead the entire media to sort of think
the way we just saw in that clip from "MEET THE PRESS," what was everybody
so scared of? Why were they thinking that way?
JACK ROSENTHAL, FORMER ADVISER TO ROBERT KENNEDY: Scared is just the right
word and it applied in two different ways. Yes, all the media were scared
-- first of all, there had never been such a big march in Washington
before. Nobody knew what to expect.
There had been some smaller demonstrations in other cities that had turned
violent, so there was reason for white people to be afraid of black
violence, which, really interesting looking back is how it wasn`t clear to
either the media or the government how afraid black people coming to the
They didn`t know whether they -- in the wake of Birmingham and other
places, and yet they were brave. And the really unspoken thing about this
march was what courage it took for 300,000 black people to come to
Washington and expose themselves to who knew what kind of harsh repression.
KORNACKI: And Robert, if you could take us back to just sort of -- we said
the idea for the March on Washington had gone back years, really decades
with A. Philip Randolph, the specific sort of political context of 1963
that led it to happen then.
What was it that organizers specifically were responding to and hoping to
achieve in 1963 and said, this is the time for the march?
ROBERT MANN, LSU: In part, they wanted the passage of the bill that
Kennedy had announced in June earlier that year; for years and years and
years, civil rights legislation had been stymied in Congress, particularly
in the Senate, because of the Southern senators led by Richard Russell in
Georgia, who prevented even the consideration of a civil rights bill until
1957 and then passage of two very weak bills in 1957 and 1960, there was
still a lot of work to be done.
And Kennedy wasn`t doing it. In all deference to Jack and his boss, there
was a lot disillusionment with Kennedy, who came in with great promises but
was not doing what the civil rights leadership thought he should do. So,
Birmingham was a part of it --
KORNACKI: What was Kennedy`s reluctance? Was it a political calculation
of back then the Democrats needed the South? The South was still a
Democratic region, more or less. Was it just fear of losing the South?
MANN: That was part of it. I think Kennedy was concerned about re-
election. It`s clear that he was more worried about Barry Goldwater than
Lyndon Johnson would eventually be because of all kinds of other reasons.
But Kennedy was also a president who was elected with a bare majority --
not even, I guess a majority of the country. And he was in many ways not
the creature of the Senate that Lyndon Johnson was.
So, he didn`t know, I think, how to pull the levers of power, how to
operate the Senate like Lyndon Johnson did, who of course had run the
Senate as majority leader did so masterfully and would do so masterfully
again once he became president.
I think Kennedy was tentative. I believe Kennedy didn`t really know how to
get that bill passed. And I think had he lived, it may have taken several
more years to see a civil rights bill pass that we eventually saw in 1964.
KORNACKI: We`ll get to that later, how the civil rights bill actually
ended up getting passed over the next year.
But, Walter, it strikes me because Kennedy`s reputation today, people think
of him as one of our great presidents and he`s remembered for some of his
speeches, as a courageous president. But the reluctance he had, that
Robert F. Kennedy had, when initially faced with the prospect of this
march, they didn`t want it to happen.
WALTER FIELDS, FORMER POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NAACP: Well, that`s because the
narrative has become sort of a civil rights fable. We don`t really look at
factually what the environment existed in 1963. You know, when we talk
about the fear of 100,000-200,000 African-Americans coming to Washington,
D.C., but we don`t really talk about the uncontrolled rage of white
You know, the 1963 march was a moment of disciplined outrage that you had
civil rights leaders, and we had institutions -- and that`s the other point
that we miss. You know, we had institutions, NAACP, CORE, National Urban
League, that had done a brilliant job of organizing.
You had a Bayard Rustin. You had an A. Philip Randolph. So the march,
while there was some fear on the part of white political leadership, I
think the confidence of the civil rights leadership was that, look, we`ve
done this before. We`re just doing this on a larger scale.
And it did take a lot of courage for that many African-Americans to come to
Washington, D.C., in 1963, but we have to remember that it was a political
event. But it wasn`t politicized. There wasn`t any fear on the part of
the civil rights leadership of offending John F. Kennedy.
It was a notion that we`re coming to affirm our rights. And so I think we
have to remember the march in that context, that it was a political moment
that wasn`t politicized because had you courageous leadership who
understood that the only place they could come to secure those rights was
the nation`s Capitol.
KORNACKI: So, I want to ask you, Jack, who was there in the Justice
Department while this was going on, I want to ask you what the sort -- what
the conversations were like and what the thinking was within the Kennedy
administration confronted with this rally that was going to happen.
What changed the Kennedy administration? We`re going to pick that up just
KORNACKI: So Jack, I sort of set this up before the break. But I`m just
curious what the conversations were within the administration, within the
Justice Department, as there`s sort of a recognition setting in this march
is going to happen.
What were the conversations like inside?
ROSENTHAL: Let me just say that the conversation here about the politics
at the time is a little bit oversimplified. What we`re forgetting is a
very different time. The senators from the South were then Democrats,
Dixiecrats, and they had been in power for a long time and had seniority.
So the people like James Eastman were chairmen of the committees.
So it wasn`t just a case of Kennedy wasn`t able to do what he had to do, it
was because these big obstacles were there on the Hill. So the design of
the `63 act, which became the `64 act, had to be done with that in mind.
Let me say, I was there as a young press secretary. I don`t pretend to
have had a policy role, but I had to understand things in order to brief
The scene in the room, in Robert Kennedy`s big office, Room 510 at the
Justice Department, people coming -- milling in and out all day. It was
the nerve center. Another thing people don`t remember is there was no such
things as cell phones. If you wanted to communicate there were a few
precious walkie-talkies, but otherwise you had to hoof it back to the
Justice Department. And I remember being one of the early rovers and
walking out among the crowd. Everybody was nervous it was going to be a
belligerent crowd. And there was reason for that. Even John Lewis was
preaching civil disobedience until early that morning.
But we went out on the street. And this was not an angry crowd. These
were respectful people. So we came back and that realization slowly dawned
on people in the room that, as you heard on the JFK film clip, with great
relief, this was going to be not just a political demonstration. This was
going to become a monumental movement for black America.
KORNACKI: You mention the Dixiecrats, the old white conservative Southern
Democrats, they kind of became Republicans after the civil rights
(INAUDIBLE). But let`s -- we have this clip -- this was one of them. He
was a governor, not a senator, but this was George Wallace, one of the
preeminent Dixiecrats of the 1960s, this is him responding to John F.
Kennedy, saying positive things about the march.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALLACE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA: The president has said this is
in the great tradition. I shall look forward to being there, but at the
same time, the great tradition, they have already alerted thousands upon
thousands of troops in the area of Washington for preparation for this
And so this great tradition of marching on Washington, on the one hand
being invited, and second, on the other hand, they`re preparing for -- as
if we were going to have a civil war in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I mean, Bob, there was -- in 1963 everybody knows -- at that
time thinks John F. Kennedy is going to be running for reelection the next
year. The question is is George Wallace going to run against him on the
I think it`s -- for people who did not live through the era, hearing George
Wallace now and reading about him now, it might be tempting to sort of
underestimate his political clout and the role he played in politics and
what he represented politically.
Maybe you can just talk about what the George Wallace wing represented
politically in the 1960s.
HERBERT: Wallace was an enormous deal. And Jack is right, Kennedy risked
if he stood foursquare in favor of civil rights, of losing the South. He
had won by the slenderest of margins in 1960.
So Kennedy had in mind the idea that there was a good chance that he would
be defeated in his bid for reelection, which would have been just a year
One of the things that think tends to be forgotten about the march,
though, is just how radical the leadership of the march was. I mean, King
gets all the attention. And the speech was, in fact, the greatest speech
that I`ve heard.
But the driving force -- forces behind the march was A. Philip Randolph,
who had created the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Bayard Rustin,
who was actually the guy who actually organized this tremendous march.
They were socialists. And Bayard Rustin was a pacifist --
ROSENTHAL: And he was denounced as a Communist.
HERBERT: And was denounced as a Communist, exactly right.
And the idea was that they thought, they had in mind, and I still believe
that you can`t separate jobs and justice, that economic justice goes
together, that you can`t have real freedom in a country like a capitalist
society like the United States if you can`t work, if you can`t support your
And that`s what they were trying to pound home. So you had to overcome
legal segregation and all other kinds of discrimination in order to get the
economic justice that would ensure that you could be a free citizen of this
society. And that was perceived as radical in those days.
KORNACKI: That fascinates me, too, as I read up on it, part of the story
of the march sort of coming together, Robert, was the message was toned
down a lot.
John Lewis was an example, I read an account of basically behind the
Lincoln Memorial, hours before the rally is to begin, John Lewis was in a
heated conversation with the other organizers, who were telling him, don`t
-- you know, don`t be that strident; don`t go that far. It seems like
there was an intentional effort to tone it down a little bit towards --
MANN: There was. And Bob is right. It was very militant, even when it
was toned down. And John Lewis` speech was very pugnacious.
MANN: Lewis, by my count, used the word revolution five or six times, but
so did Randolph, who gave the first speech. He used revolution -- the word
revolution about five times.
So, that idea of revolution permeated the speeches that day. We all think
of King and his speech, which was brotherhood of man and joining arms and
dreaming of the day.
But everything that came before it was much more militant.
And you`re right, Lewis, the archbishop -- the Catholic archbishop who was
going to lead the invocation to open up the whole thing refused to do it
unless Lewis removed the word patience is a dirty word, is a nasty, dirty
word. He wanted that out. And so he did.
And then the next day, King and Rustin and Randolph and all these other
giants of the civil rights movement who were also on the program went to
him again and said, you have got to tone this down because he was using
language about we`re going to march through the South like Sherman and burn
down the existing power structure and that, you know, that would have. in
some ways --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s what George Wallace would have wanted.
MANN: Oh, yes, (INAUDIBLE). He would have loved that.
And so King said, "John, that doesn`t sound like you."
And Randolph said, "Don`t ruin it for us," basically, paraphrasing him.
And Lewis backed it down. But you read Lewis today, not knowing what he
was going to say, it still seems like a very strong speech.
KORNACKI: We have -- I want to play it. We have a clip from John Lewis`
speech. We`re going to play a clip. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEWIS, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: But what political leader can stand up
and say, "My party is a party of principles"? For the party of Kennedy is
also the party of Eastland.
LEWIS: The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater.
Where is our party? Where is the political party that will make it
unnecessary to March on Washington?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We`ve got to squeeze a break in here, but I want to pick it up
right after this, talking about some of the other leaders of the march and
some of the tensions that existed among them. We`ll do that right after
KORNACKI: We heard from John Lewis there just before the break. John
Lewis was the only original speaker from 1963 who was still around and was
able to speak yesterday. He was 23 then; 73 now, still in Congress.
But Walter, you were just making the point after listening to that in the
break how the organizers of the march were very politically sophisticated,
very politically savvy.
Can you just explain that a little bit?
FIELDS: They were extremely sophisticated. Understand this, John Lewis
was a young man when he gave that speech. It was a radical expression of
his generation to what he was perceiving as the denial of opportunity.
The civil rights leadership at that time understood. We have to have
participation on all fronts. So you could have a John Lewis make that
statement. It was a radical expression for African-Americans at that time
to simply demand the right to vote. To come to Washington, D.C., and
demand any rights took a lot of courage.
So, you had the sophistication that existed because at the same time you
had the Southern Christian Leadership Conference challenging Jim Crow in
the South and the NAACP. You had Clarence Mitchell on Capitol Hill,
walking the corridors of power, trying to cut the deals to make that civil
rights bill happen.
So this sophistication was also apparent in 1963, but we can`t water down
the radical nature of the moment. All of those leaders in their own way
were very radical for their day.
And I think this is what we miss about today. If you`re an advocate, your
job is to make power uncomfortable. Your job is not to become friends with
those in power or to buddy up with those. Your job is to make power
uncomfortable. That day, power was uncomfortable in Washington, D.C.
HERBERT: If I could add a point about the sophistication required just to
pull off this march the way that it was done and to keep things cool and
make it this wonderful moment in American history. So Bayard Rustin,
imagining the logistics of bringing folks from all over the country. These
were not rich people. You had to do -- you had to have transportation.
You had to have places for them to stay. You had to have facilities during
the march. You had to get people away from the scene after the march.
I mean, this was a tremendous undertaking, as Jack pointed out, in an era
when you didn`t have cell phones, you didn`t have the kind of
communications we have now and they pulled it off without a hitch. That
was a very sophisticated thing to do.
KORNACKI: And Jack, I know you wanted to make a point here.
ROSENTHAL: You probably remember there is a famous photo of the march,
leaders with their banners stretched clear across the street, held by 15 or
so black leaders.
And what`s pretty interesting to look at that picture now is here`s A.
Philip Randolph, who had started this in 1941, and Roy Wilkins, and Whitney
Young and others.
And who`s off way over to the side? Martin Luther King.
KORNACKI: In fact, I think we have -- this is actually the speaking
program from August 28th, 1963. I think we can put that up. And this kind
of -- there you go. Number 16 in order, somebody named The Reverend Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
But that`s -- Robert, that was -- we`re going to get to King a little bit
later. We`ve intentionally not talked about him right now for this precise
point, that until he stood on the steps of Lincoln Monument and made that
speech, he was not going to be the star of the day.
In fact, I think "The Washington Post" the day after, like in their 16
reports the day after the march, didn`t really -- didn`t do a story on
Martin Luther King`s speech. That wasn`t supposed to be what people were
there to hear.
MANN: Yes, a lot of people missed it. Although I went back the other day
and looked at the coverage the Associated Press did in New Orleans, for
And King`s speech, while it was completely absent from the pages of "The
Washington Post," was on the front page of the New Orleans "Times-
KORNACKI: So some people got it right.
MANN: Yes, AP got the story right. "The Post" missed it completely.
But you`re right. I also think that up to that point the real story was
not the speakers, although they were important and it was not going to be
King, but was the crowd itself. That`s the forgotten participant of this
whole thing, is the crowd itself and what it represented.
The threat, someone said in the opening part of your segment, militant
Negroes. And they turned out not to be that. And that made an enormously
powerful statement to the rest of country, which by the way, was watching
it on television, all three television networks were watching.
KORNACKI: You just -- Bob, you were telling me on one of the breaks about
you were one of the people watching on television. What did it look like
HERBERT: Well, I was 18. There was actually a bit of a holiday
atmosphere. It was during the week, but there was a bit of a holiday
atmosphere across the country because the three networks did cover it and
people were watching on television.
And I think especially in the African-American community, there was this
awareness, even as the day was unfolding, before King`s speech, that this
was a profound moment, that something enormous was going on. And there was
a unifying aspect to it.
I do think that the crowd was militant if you don`t equate militant with
violent, which I do not. It was militant in the sense that African-
Americans had had enough that they were going to go down South, that they
were going to go to Washington, that they were going to vote, they were
going to do whatever it took to sort of redress these grievances.
So I think that the march itself was a galvanizing event, even as it was
occurring on television, for African-Americans across the country.
KORNACKI: We will talk about the immediate political fallout from the
march. We`re talking about the march to civil rights and voting rights two
years later, after this.
KORNACKI: We talked earlier about the reluctance of the Kennedy
administration to get behind the march. Belatedly President Kennedy did.
Robert, I want to ask you about, politically, so the march goes off. It is
a success. All of the detractors were wrong. It`s the end of August 1963.
Obviously, President Kennedy is killed a few months later.
But within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is enacted.
What role did the march play in that enactment?
MANN: It played a diminishing role in some ways politically. I think that
by the end of the year there was a lot of despair in the civil rights
movement. What they expected that march to do had, at least before
Kennedy`s assassination, had not come to pass.
Then Kennedy is assassinated and they realize, who`s the president? The
Southerner, Lyndon Johnson, who they had thought of as an opponent of civil
So there was this moment, as Kennedy -- it was clear that the civil rights
bill was not going to get out of the House Judiciary Committee. It could
not be moved. And we`ve suddenly got this Southern president who has not
been our -- has not been our friend historically.
And it took a while for Lyndon Johnson to persuade people that he would
exactly -- he would do what he said he would do.
Now, I think personally the most important civil rights speech of 1963 was
not at the Mall of Washington, it was at Gettysburg on May 30th of 1963, at
the Gettysburg Cemetery, when Lyndon Johnson went there and gave what I
think is one of the strongest civil rights speeches in the history of the
movement and fully and completely identified himself with African-Americans
and what they wanted in the way of justice and economic equality and said,
patience is not enough. We can no longer ask African-American blacks to be
patient anymore. And not many people were listening, but those who did
listen knew that they had a president who was going to be fully behind what
they wanted in the way of a strong civil rights bill.
KORNACKI: How much -- Jack, how much truth, looking back, is there to
that? Because I hear people make the claim a lot, we always hear about
Lyndon Johnson, the legislative master. He understood the Senate. He
understood how to get something through Congress the way that John F.
I hear that piece of it and then I hear the fact that he was a Southerner,
that he had been friends with the segregationists and he had some
credibility with segregationists built up from his years in Texas. And
sort of like an "only Nixon can go to China" thing.
I wonder how much truth is there to the idea that without LBJ taking over
for JFK at the end of `63, there wouldn`t be a Civil Rights Act in `64?
ROSENTHAL: Well, impossible to answer the question in those terms, because
there was an assassination, that shocked the country so deeply, and gave,
as Robert Caro says in his latest LBJ book, it gave tremendous impetus to
the beginning of the Johnson administration.
Then in the next 12 weeks or 16 weeks, an incredible array of legislation
passed on that wave of national shock, of which this was a major component.
But there were also -- Bob can tell us -- one major piece of legislation
after another Johnson was able to get through, riding the wave of national
KORNACKI: Walter, how do you assess the legacies of Kennedy and Johnson
when it comes to civil rights?
FIELDS: Well, I think the thing that we`re missing is the fact that there
was a violent reaction in the South after the March on Washington.
I mean, we saw violence, we saw the bombing in Birmingham. So, the South
exploded after the `63 march. And I think -- you know, I think Lyndon
Johnson, when he became president, I think he had two enormous burdens.
One was the burden of Jack Kennedy. Here is this icon who has been
assassinated as a young man.
The other burden was, as being from the South, he was watching the South go
up in flames.
So I think Johnson understood the moment. That`s why that speech at
Gettysburg was so important. Johnson`s speech at Gettysburg, if you listen
to it, it mimics a lot of what Dr. King said at the March on Washington,
the whole notion that we`ve run out of time, that we can`t be patient. We
can`t afford to be patient.
Lyndon Johnson at that moment understands what he has on his hands. The
country is getting ready to go virtually into another civil war. So Lyndon
Johnson at that moment became presidential. He rose to the occasion.
ROSENTHAL: You remember what he said at the signing of the `64 act? He
said, I`ve just given the South to the Republicans for the next 30 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he underestimated --
KORNACKI: Well, in`64, the stat that always jumps out at me was Barry --
so the Republicans in `64 nominated Barry Goldwater, who joins the
filibuster against civil rights. The state of Mississippi, which had given
FDR something like 95 percent of the vote just a generation earlier, gave
Barry Goldwater 87 percent in 1964, the guy who participated in the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then the Voting Rights Act of `65 was so important
because that changed the face of government in the United States. And just
like you may have handed the South over to the GOP for all those decades,
but you really changed -- you changed the United States of America, you
know, I think, for the better as a result of that Voting Rights Act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he might have changed party labels but we need to
understand that, you know, racism is racism, no matter if it`s a Democrat
or a Republican.
So, the notion that he signed the party away for 30 years, you know, brings
me back to the moment of, what`s your responsibility as a civil rights
leader? That that was a political calculation that lindy Lyndon Johnson
made. Civil rights leadership had a different equation that they have to
And their equation was we have to figure out a way to make African-
Americans full participants in this society.
So, yes, this may cost the Democratic Party, but eventually we believe it`s
going to benefit the nation. And that`s where we are today.
KORNACKI: And it is interesting -- what it really did, we say it signed
the South away for Democrats. In a lot of ways it did. But it sorted out
the parties. We forget ,too, there were liberal Republicans, moderate
Republicans from the North, who we would now call Democrats. It brought
them into the Democratic Party. So (INAUDIBLE) we`re out of time.
I want to thank Robert Mann of Louisiana State University; and Jack
Rosenthal, a former staffer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations,
Justice Department`s -- Martin Luther King, the man we didn`t on purpose
talk about much here. We will next. He`s one of the most admired
Americans of all time. But it wasn`t always that way. We`re going to talk
about that next.
KORNACKI: The 20th century was winding down in 1999 and the Gallup
organization took a poll. Think back over the last 100 years of human
history, Americans were told, and tell us what one person you most admire.
Every name you`d expect to make the list was probably there. Nelson
Mandela came in at 14th. Gandhi was number 13. Churchill was 10. FDR was
sixth. Einstein was fourth.
At the very top it was a close call with first place going to Mother Teresa
and second going to Martin Luther King Jr.
It`s not like that was a surprise or something. If you took the same poll
again today, Martin Luther King would probably finish close to the top once
again. He really is one of the most revered and admired figures of
But now take a look back at this. It`s the Gallup`s annual list of the 10
most admired Americans from 1967. This is the list for the last full year
that Martin Luther King was alive. You can see that Billy Graham made it.
Everett Dirksen; he was the Senate minority leader back then, he made it.
George Wallace, the arch segregationist Alabama governor, even he cracked
the top 10.
But Martin Luther King, he was nowhere to be found.
We can put some numbers on this, too. Gallup used to use something it
called the scale-o-meter (ph) or maybe the scaleometer (ph), something like
that. It was used to measure the popularity of public figures. It tested
Martin Luther King in 1966. The results came back, 32 percent positive and
63 percent negative, a difference of 2 to 1.
This raises two questions. The first is how the man who seemed to inspire
the whole country, or at least a clear majority of it with his "I have a
dream" speech in 1963 ended up with such a battered reputation just a
couple of years later. Probably has something to do with what King did
after the March on Washington, after the Civil Rights Act was signed and
after voting rights became law. The final few years of his life, when his
mission shifted out of the South and into Chicago, beyond racial justice
and into issues of economic justice. When he became an early and unsparing
critic of the Vietnam War.
There were always Americans with backward racial attitudes who despised
Martin Luther King. But that activism spurred many of the day`s moderate
and mainstream voices to turn on him, too. When King bemoaned that his old
allies had no use for his non-violence when it was applied to, quote,
"little brown Vietnamese children," "The Washington Post" editorialized
that he had, quote, "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country,
So the better question maybe is how King went from that, from being
pilloried by mainstream voices, disliked by the majority of the country to
being the universally admired man we think of today. It certainly took a
Five years after his murder in 1973, Illinois became the first state to
create a Martin Luther King holiday. Massachusetts and Connecticut
followed the next year and other states followed them.
But there was resistance, lots of it. The holiday push went national in
the early 1980s. A bill to make the third Monday in January a federal
holiday, Martin Luther King Day. One of Ronald Reagan`s allies on the
Right, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms smeared King with innuendo and
claims of Communist sympathizing. J. Edgar Hoover`s FBI had spied on King
for the last six years of his life. The records wouldn`t be unsealed for
decades to come.
With no evidence, Helms asserted that those records would show that King
was not a loyal American. And on the eve of the Senate vote, Reagan backed
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t fault
Senator Helms` sincerity with regard to wanting the records opened up. I
think that he`s motivated by a feeling that if we`re going to have a
national holiday named for any American when it`s only been named for one
American in all our history up to this time, that he feels we should know
everything there is to know about an individual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: By 1983, though, public opinion was swinging back to King`s
side. A third of the Senate`s Republicans voted against the holiday. So
did a handful of conservative Democrats. But it passed with 78 votes.
And Reagan, after apologizing to King`s widow for what he had said at that
press conference, signed it into law. Even then, though, it still took two
decades to make Martin Luther King Day a truly coast-to-coast holiday.
Arizona voters rejected making MLK Day a state holiday in 1990. Then they
changed their mind after a two-year boycott cost the state $340 million in
business and a chance to host the Super Bowl.
Took until 1999 for New Hampshire -- that`s "Live free or die" New
Hampshire -- to get around to honoring King. And only when Utah changed
what had been called Human Rights Day to Martin Luther King Day in 2000,
did all 50 states recognize the national MLK holiday.
We reached the point where King`s status as a great American isn`t
litigated anymore. Schools all across the country teach kids about his
fight for civil rights, the peaceful protests that landed him in jail, the
mesmerizing speech he gave in Washington 50 years ago this week, the
tragedy of his murder.
We honor rightly his courage, his fortitude, his dignity and his decency.
But are we remembering and honoring everything he stood for? Or have we
forgotten some essential aspects of his legacy over the last four decades,
the four decades that transformed Martin Luther King from a polarizing
figure into an ageless, national icon? We`ll talk about that next.
KORNACKI: Talking about the history of Martin Luther King, his legacy.
And I want to bring in Rick Perlstein; he`s a contributor to "The Nation"
magazine; and Ana Marie Cox, senior political columnist at "The Guardian."
We`re talking about in that setup there Martin Luther King after the march,
and then the Martin Luther King beyond "I have a dream." This is from the
"National Review" in 1965, September 7th, 1965, right after the Watts
riots. And this is a conservative writer, Will Herberg. I think this
captures a lot of the sentiment that was being directed towards King in the
latter years of his life.
After the Watts riots, he writes, "If you are looking for those ultimately
responsible for the murder, arson and looting in Los Angeles, look to them:
they are the guilty ones, these apostles of `non-violence`.
"For years now the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates have
been deliberately undermining the foundations of internal order in this
And Rick, you have written extensively about this era. It seems there was
a big movement in this country, even after we had, you know, the Civil
Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. You had riots in the late `60s and
there`s an effort to pin that on Martin Luther King.
RICK PERLSTEIN, "THE NATION": Well, you don`t have to go to an obscure
figure like Will Herberg. Let`s talk about --
KORNACKI: That`s the one I found.
PERLSTEIN: Talk about a guy who signed that bill in 1983, Ronald Reagan,
and saying we shall overcome.
Do you know what he said after Martin Luther King`s assassination?
KORNACKI: Tell us.
PERLSTEIN: He said he had it coming. He said it`s just the sort of great
tragedy when we begin compromising with law and order and people started
choosing which laws they would break.
He`s referring to civil disobedience. This was pretty much a consensus
view on the Right among the same people who celebrate Martin Luther King
Frankly, Martin Luther King had to be forgotten before he could be
remembered. Martin Luther King called himself a socialist. Jesse Helms
wasn`t pulling that out of nowhere. One of his closest associates, Daniel
Levinson (ph), St. Louis (ph) Levinson (ph), probably had been a communist.
And the main demand of the march for jobs and freedom was a phrase that was
resounding at the time, but we don`t remember it now, "a Marshall Plan for
the cities," which meant a massive federal investment in developing the
depressed urban areas of America, which I don`t think we heard yesterday in
KORNACKI: There`s also -- and Rick starts to get to it. We see the
Vietnam War in the late `60s, Martin Luther King was a very outspoken
critic of that. He took his movement to Chicago after the Voting Rights
Act was signed. And I think revealed a little bit -- the country probably
liked to believe at that point that racism was a Southern problem and that
sort of exposed that it was a lot bigger and broader than that.
FIELDS: We also shouldn`t act like King wasn`t hated before he was killed.
Dr. King had issues within the African-American community. Remember, this
was the young Baptist preacher who went to the National Baptist Convention
conference. I believe it was 1960, and confronted black Baptist ministers
about not getting involved in a civil rights movement.
He had to create a separate organization, a progressive, national Baptist
convention because younger, black Baptist ministers were embedded in the
struggle while older black Baptists didn`t want any part of it.
So, King wasn`t despised just after his death. He was despised throughout
his entire life when he took on this burden of moving this movement.
So, I think, you know, the context that we need to operate on is that Dr.
King -- the Dr. King that is so beloved now, it`s easy to love an icon when
they`re dead. But in the moment, we have a different story that needs to
be told. And we need to change the narrative about the perception of M.L.
King before and after his death.
KORNACKI: OK, well, this all teased a much longer segment we`re going to
have right after this break. We`re up against the end of the hour break,
but we`re going to pick that up about how we got from -- to the Martin
Luther King we think of today from the Martin Luther King we were just
talking about. We`ll get to that after this.
KORNACKI: We`re talking about the evolution of Martin Luther King`s
legacy. We`re here with Bob Herbert of demos.org, Rick Perlstein of "The
Nation," Walter Fields, former head of the NAACP in New Jersey and Ana
Marie Cox of "The Guardian".
So I want to pick it up with you, Ana Marie, but I want to start by, here`s
an example of how history kind of evolves, because the "Chicago Sun-Times,"
a conservative newspaper, had an editorial this week where they basically
retracted a 50-year-old editorial, an editorial from 1963, where they
opposed the March on Washington.
And, you know, we have a -- I think we have a clip -- we can put it on the
screen of the original editorial. This newspaper, of course, approves of
the fundamental cause of civil rights, it does not, however, approve of the
march as the method to dramatize that cause. "It must be peaceful, if
there`s violence, it will do irreparable damage to the cause the marchers
espouse." We looked in the first segment about how, you know, all of these
predictions were so wrong, but it also shows how much 50 years later, a lot
of institutions, I think, sort of like the Chicago "Sun Times" can look
back and say the way history is interpreted today, things we said back
then, that were acceptable at that time, are now completely unacceptable.
And I think that sort of applies to Martin Luther King`s legacy in a
ANA MARIE COX, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, it does. I mean I think it will be
interesting to see what happens in another 30 years with things like
marriage equality, but to sort of flip backwards, it`s interesting we call
it an evolution of the view of Martin Luther King. It`s really more of an
erosion of the view of Martin Luther King where we take away the stuff that
we -- history sort of washes away the kinds of things that people are not
as comfortable with.
You know, it`s interesting that list that you showed about the people who
are most admired in the world, almost every one of the people on that list,
you know, Gandhi and MLK included, are much more radical and revolutionary
than people seem to realize. I like to call it wish-washing rather than
whitewashing. We sort of project backwards onto these people what we wish
that they would have done and what we wish that they would have said, which
is a lot more tame.
And, of course, they wouldn`t have accomplished what they had accomplished
if they hadn`t been as revolutionary, if they hadn`t been as radical. I
mean I really appreciate everything we`ve said around the table about
Martin Luther King. And his vision for justice, which was much more about
systematic oppression than about man-to-man dislike. You know, like he saw
that and that`s something that the Chicago "Sun Times" editorial, people
can say, well, I don`t like it when individual white people are mean to
individual black people.
COX: Like, that`s very easy to say, you don`t like that, you know, that
you`re against that. What`s harder to argue and what Martin Luther King
argued very eloquently is about a system that oppresses large groups of
people. And that`s what we talk about when we talk about economic justice
and that`s what`s been lost.
KORNACKI: And what is like -- Bob, what do you think when -- the average
person sort of thinks of Martin Luther King right now, it`s the "I Have a
Dream Speech," and I think that the problem with that, I guess, in terms of
his legacy -- the reason, I guess, the reason why it makes him so palatable
sort of across the ideological spectrum now is every side can look at that
speech and see what they want to see. If you`re conservative, then you
are, you know, you`re vehemently opposed to affirmative action and you can
look and say, well, this is just a declaration of "I want a color blind
KORNACKI: You know, you know, he`s become a warm and fuzzy guy, almost a
grandfatherly figure, which is weird.
PERLSTEIN: That (INAUDIBLE) classification of Martin Luther King.
HERBERT: . for someone who was 39 when he was killed. You know, yeah, I
mean I go back to the word militant. I mean, he was an extremely militant
guy, which was really weird because the black militants, some of them are
advocating violence, had a problem with King. But King was always, like so
many other civil rights leaders, in your face on this issue of racial and
And then they demonstrated profound courage. So, those marches, you know,
the Edmund Pettus Bridge and going into the south and then when he went
into Chicago and that sort of thing. So, what we`re talking about here are
smart, sophisticated, tough-minded, militant individuals that are making
demands on the society. And that`s why they got so much push back. That`s
why there was so much conflict. They were perceived correctly as
PERLSTEIN: Yes. Fundamental to his heart and soul was the idea of pushing
the frontiers of justice. Once he accomplished something, pushing to the
next thing. And David Zirin from "The Nation" wrote in his piece on the
March on Washington that Martin Luther King probably wouldn`t have gotten
to speak at the March on Washington yesterday, because he was far too
I think one of the people Martin Luther King would be protesting today,
Martin Luther King Jr. would be protesting is Martin Luther King III
because one of the reasons we only know the "I Have A Dream" clip is
because they have privatized the speech and will require people to pay to
broadcast more of it. One of the people he would be protesting against is
the Chicago "Sun-Times" who just happened to fire their entire photography
staff last year. I mean he would be pushing against the regime of
austerity and privatization, he`d probably be pushing back against the
African-American leaders like Cory Booker who is, you know, throwing in his
life at Wall Street (ph). The fact of .
KORNACKI: You have a very specific view of the 2013 agenda of .
PERLSTEIN: Well, I think it`s - and this is a guy who called himself a
socialist. You know, and this is a guy who called for a Marshall plan for
the city. And this is a guy who called the United States the greatest
perpetrator of violence in the world today. Maybe he`d be protesting
against Barack Obama who said nothing about the military coup in Honduras,
which is only three years ago and had death squads running around. He
refused to call it a military coup because that would .
COX: . talk about .
PERLSTEIN: . require the United States to act.
COX: About NSA spying, I`m pretty sure he`d be protesting.
KORNACKI: Well, but (INAUDIBLE) illusions, but I think this is -- this is
what I mean. There`s people can look back and we can extrapolate almost
anything we want, right?
COX: No, I don`t -- No, you can`t.
FIELDS: But there`s a truth .
FIELDS: . about Dr. King`s life. So, if you go back to that dream speech,
the truth about that speech is that the dream part of it was sort of the
Baptist minister coming out of Dr. King. At that moment in his speech,
he`s winding it down and he`s trying to figure out how to connect all the
points that he previously made. Now, if you go to the part of that speech
when he start talking about a promissory note, return ink-marked
insufficient funds, where he warns that don`t think that negroes are going
to be content on this day and then go back and it`s business as usual for
this nation. Dr. King`s speech was a radical expression. And the only
speech that I can compare it to, and none of us were alive at the time, was
Frederick Douglas`s, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," sort of
this notion that in this moment, I have to indict my country for its
failure to honor the words that it wrote on paper. So, I think it`s OK to
talk about the speech, but we need to get away from calling it the dream
speech. Because it wasn`t the dream speech.
COX: It`s the demand.
FIELDS: It`s the demand speech. And he lays out a set of demands for
America. And marching orders for the African-American community and the
nation as a whole. So, the part of King that we need to embrace, the King
prior to his assassination and the King at the time of his assassination,
was a person who made demands upon this government for justice. Who
understood the transformation of King was that the struggle that is
inherent for African-Americans is a global struggle.
KORNACKI: Testify, brother .
FIELDS: . But, you know, that`s the truth of Martin Luther King.
KORNACKI: But my question then would be, so, we just talked about how his
legacy has sort of evolved over the last 40-plus years into this sort of
ageless national icon and I think it`s precisely because he`s been
depoliticized in a lot of ways. It`s not the specific demands of his
speech in 1963 that people remember. It`s the more lyrical .
KORNACKI: I have a dream moment. And if you -- I take your point .
FIELDS: . but it`s his demand.
KORNACKI: . but if you reclaim the legacy in the way you`re talking about,
that would take him right off the most admired list again, wouldn`t it?
FIELDS: Well, that`s OK. And I think he would be OK with that. Because
he wasn`t interested in being an icon. He wasn`t interested in being a
celebrity. He was interested in justice. If you`re interested in justice,
you could care less about what place you`re on some list of most admired
because you`re too busy trying to effect change. And this is what we miss
in today`s environment. We miss the fact that there was some courageous
men and women of that moment who could have cared less if they were invited
to talk on a television program or radio program. All they cared about was
HERBERT: . but was vilified everywhere he went.
PERLSTEIN: And with all due respect, Roy Wilkins .
PERLSTEIN: . the president of the NAACP said, I don`t want anything to do
with this march. He told "The New York Times," he like John F. Kennedy, he
kind of jumped on the bandwagon, but he also said, gee, I sure hope that
it`s not too disruptive.
COX: Yeah, I mean people don`t want -- that`s what`s been erased from his
legacy, the disruptive part of it, the demand part of it. I think people
tend to see the March on Washington and the dream speech as the pinnacle.
Like we have those like - you know, there was this like march of increase
of justice, and march of increase of equality and the speech was kind of
like the cherry on top. Like, look, we`ve made it, everybody. But really,
that was the beginning of the fight. That`s when he realized that he had
the momentum, or he hoped he had the momentum, and the people behind him
and the argument to make that this is the larger struggle than just for
African-Americans. This is an economic struggle for workers.
PERLSTEIN: You know, he was a socialist. You know, he would be profoundly
dismayed by the America that he would see today.
HERBERT: And the point that gets missed when you start looking at it
through those kinds of lenses, is the reality behind the march, behind the
speech, the justice, why there was a need for this demand for justice.
Which was the terrible situation of blacks and low income people, poor
people in the United States at that time. And it was grim, it was
gruesome. And that`s what`s missed today.
People do not -- are not willing in either -- most of the time in the media
or politicians and others, to acknowledge how much suffering there is in
the United States. How much injustice there still is in this country. The
poverty, the people out of work, the families struggling, the extreme
inequality. You know, and that`s where the spotlight really ought to be.
And we said in one of the earlier segments that the real heroes of the
march were the people who actually marched. And I think that that was
recognized. For all the attention King got, that was recognized that the
200,000 to 250,000 people who showed up had really demonstrated something
that they stood for something. And we`re missing that now.
KORNACKI: OK, I want to thank Rick Perlstein of "The Nation" and I want to
think Walter Fields of NorthStarNews.com.
From "I Have a Dream" to "I Solemnly Swear." Barack Obama, white America
and the King dream. That`s next.
KORNACKI: This coming Wednesday the actual 50th anniversary of the March
on Washington will be commemorated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,
the same steps where Martin Luther King stood and delivered his speech.
This time it will be commemorated by the nation`s first African-American
president. The symbolism is powerful, the ultimate realization of King`s
dream. But in the run-up to the anniversary this past week there was fresh
evidence that President Obama, now in his second elected term in office,
still meets resistance and resentment rooted in his race. Speaking at a
GOP fund-raiser on August 12th, Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage
reportedly said that President Obama, quote, "hates white people." This
according to the "Portland Press Herald", which cited two unnamed
Republican lawmakers who were there in its report. And we should know that
LePage, who has a history of pushing the envelope with his rhetoric has
denied making the remark.
There`s plenty of irony here if LePage did make the comment, though. After
all, he`s the governor of the nation`s whitest state. Maine, where about
97 percent of the population is white. But that state has now given Barack
Obama nearly 60 percent of its votes in the past two national elections.
So, this at least partly refutes LePage`s alleged depiction of the
president held then to alienating white people, but it`s also true that the
way white America perceives and responds to its first black president has
been complicated. Over the last four plus years, an alarming share of the
opposition to President Obama has been rooted in explicit appeals to racial
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: This president, I think, has exposed
himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seeded hatred
for white people or the white culture. I don`t know what it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Last year Obama won the national popular vote 51 to 47 percent,
but among white voters he was crushed by Mitt Romney by 20 points. Today
Obama`s approval rating is 48 percent overall, but just 36 percent among
whites, this according to Gallup. But granted, it`s heartily a usual for a
Democrat to struggle with white voters. Past Democratic presidential
candidates have routinely lost the white vote by large margins. But it`s
also impossible to ignore the way race has been used by the president`s
I want to bring in L. Joy Williams, political strategist and founder of the
public affairs from LJW community strategies and Jamelle Bouie, staff
writer at "Daily Beast." Thanks for joining us. And L. Joy, I`ll just
start with you, because I sort of - I go back and forth on this, and we
have the examples of maybe Paul LePage of Maine, we have Glenn Beck - and
these countless others, we don`t need to catalog them all right here, and
you look at the sort of statistical struggles in approval rating, in
election results that we can look at for Obama with white voters. At the
same time, you can say well, John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis,
Democrats, white or black, struggle with white voters. There are just --
Republicans are more the home of white voters at this point. How do you
sort of see the role of race in opposition to President Obama?
L. JOY WILLIAMS, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: You know, well, it`s particularly
interesting and from a cultural perspective and how this impacts people`s
votes, right? Because, you know, we can see over time how particularly
middle class and working class whites have been sort of separated from the
coalition for a long period of time, where the issues that they care about
in terms of taxes, and jobs, and unemployment, and things like - and gun
safety, all of those things, they are more likely aligned with us, you
know, but yet they`re still given rhetoric and pushed rhetoric that
separates them from the broad coalition.
And so, they end up voting against their interest. We`ve talked about this
on the show a number of times, right? And so race just adds into that and
has a particularly strong impact when it comes to election because the
rhetoric is, you are not like them. They are different from you.
President Obama is different from you. He doesn`t see the issues the way
that you see them. And these people are against you.
And that has people voting against their interests, particularly their
economic interests, particularly their social interests. And sort of that
is what plays a part. I don`t think it`s necessarily, in reading some of
the articles and the analysis about that, it seems to place the blame on
the president and on the Democrats. Which I don`t think is necessarily the
problem, right, because they are speaking to issues, they are talking about
the issues that people care about, but there is this other side, this
opposition that is separating people upon race.
KORNACKI: Well, and Jamelle, we would say, you know, struggling with white
voters, like it`s just this sort of monolithic block, but we can see clear
divisions when you break down the white vote by region, you know, in the
South particularly in the Deep South, President Obama`s approval rating
will drop like, you know, 20 percent or something like that. I think he
got ten percent of the vote in Mississippi last year, ten percent of the
white vote. By age, you know, younger whites are a lot more friendly to
President Obama than older whites. By college degree status. So, there
are lots of divisions here. So, it`s really pockets of resentment we`re
talking about among white voters towards Obama.
JAMELLE BOUIE, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Right. That`s absolutely right. In the
Deep South, basically, Obama got maybe ten to 20 percent of the white vote
in all these states. Then as you leave the south, this percent of the
white vote grows until you get to the northeast where he`s winning a
majority. The Midwest, where he`s winning a large plurality of the West.
The West Coast, winning a majority again. I think it`s worth noting that
one of the clearest ways to figure out someone`s views on the welfare
state, on the redistribution to the poor is just to ask them their racial
views. It`s a consistent finding of political scientists, which I think
points to something very important. Which is that while I think a lot of
the -- it`s not a lot, but some of the opposition to Obama is shaped by his
race. I`m not sure it`s necessarily rooted in Barack Obama in particular,
and more the larger, longer, broader dynamic of whites being suspicious of
redistribution to non-whites. And in particular, the black underclass.
KORNACKI: And the Democratic Party represents .
BOUIE: Right. And the Democratic Party representing that. It was the
case -- look back 100 years and you find people willing to distribute
private charity to Italian immigrants and Irish immigrants. Maybe not
really liking them, but willing to say these people can be reformed and
brought into mainstream society, but refusing to do the same for blacks.
Many black social leaders in the urban north had a -- had a hard time
getting fundraising and funds to set up recreation centers for black youth
in these cities in the 1900s, 1910s, that their white counterparts couldn`t
find. And you can see the same in terms of dynamics operating there. So
what`s happening with Obama and the white vote, I think, is part of a much
larger story of whites just being distrustful of the idea of giving money
COX: And also, just lower class whites being especially mistrustful.
COX: And that`s another thing that you see as you sort of go down the
country from north to south. It`s in the South that you see lower class
whites really voting against their economic interests. You know, Maine is
actually kind of a good example where you see more middle class and lower
middle class workers willing to take the economic argument, you know, for
what they are, which is an economic argument that will help them. And
willing to see that.
And, you know, I mean it`s interesting there are so - I mean it`s a verbal
tick of politicians for the past maybe 50 years to just refer to the middle
class as though it was always the same thing. But people are more and more
increasingly not identifying as middle class. The one subsections of the
population that`s increasing as identification or people identifying as
working class and as lower class. And I think if Obama and the Democratic
Party can take the legacy of King, which we were just talking about and
talk about economic justice in a way that, you know, sort of just talks
about the redistribution as something that`s a right to everyone .
COX: You know, I think that they can -- they can soldier on and that
coalition can grow. And maybe some of those people, some of the white
working class vote can be brought back.
BOUIE: Well, it is interesting because this connects to the discussion
we`re having about the 1960s and about that the Civil Rights Act and then
that leads to the sort of backlash in the South among the old white ethnics
in the North, then Nixon Southern strategy and all this stuff. But the
president of the NAACP is going to weigh in on us, too, and he`s going to
join us live from Washington. And that`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is that promise that 45
years ago today brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand
together on a mall in Washington before Lincoln`s Memorial and hear a young
preacher from Georgia speak of his dream. The men and women who gathered
there could have heard many things. They could have heard words of anger
and discord. They could have been called to succumb to so many fears and
frustration of dreams deferred, but what the people heard instead, people
from every creed and color, from every walk of life, is that in America,
our destiny is inextricably linked, that together our dreams can be one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That`s Barack Obama five years ago this week accepting the
Democratic presidential nomination on the anniversary back then, 45TH
anniversary back then of Martin Luther King`s "I have a dream" speech.
Joining us now to talk about the challenges the first black president faces
50 years from Martin Luther King`s speech is NAACP President Ben Jealous.
Ben, thanks for joining us.
We`re having a discussion here about how on the King anniversary, white
Americans have responded to having a black president for the first time. I
wonder as you look back at the last four plus years of the Obama
presidency, are you generally encouraged by what you`ve seen or has it been
discouraging in some ways?
BEN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: I think it`s a very generational question
in many ways. If you look at the young people of this country who had
grown up with a black president for much of their lifetime, and you look at
their views, it`s clear that their views are more inclusive, more
progressive in many ways than those of their parents. And when you look at
many of their parents, there are many -- I`ve had conversations on
airplanes, at airports, traveling across the country with white men who
confess that they thought more about race and looked into their own heart,
older white men, and yet it`s not surprising that the fiercest resistance
and often the most racially tinged resistance comes from people who are
sort of the oldest who are still active in our society.
There`s a lot there who have gone way out on a limb, but if you will,
they`re not surprised, you know, the older progressives aren`t surprised
that the people who are often most fiercely opposed to our president tend
to look like them.
What is deeply ironic about Governor LePage and his continued comments is
that, you know, he descends from the French Catholics in Maine. And the
NAACP, geez, 70 years ago, 80 years ago, when the French Catholics were
targeted for lynchings in that state, were very vocally opposed and
standing up for them. And he has a lot, frankly, personally, to be
appreciative for, just as our president does, for all the civil rights
community has done to not only fight racial intolerance but intolerance
based on faith as well. I just wish Governor LePage would just stop making
these divisive comments. He`s done them for years. And he really needs, I
think, to just realize how transformative of a figure he could be if he
could just be a bit bigger in the comments he makes.
KORNACKI: I wonder, you mention the idea that a lot of this is
generational. So, we`re talking in terms of the -- sort of the backlash
among Southern whites and among the old -- we call them the northern white
ethnics after the civil rights movement in the 1960s that Richard Nixon
catered to. A lot of the conservative movement catered to. Is that
something do you see sort of -- you talk about it as being generational, is
that something you see fading away with time?
JEALOUS: Look, you know, six, seven years ago Ken Mehlman, who was then
chairman of the RNC, came to apologize to the NAACP for the Republicans
indulging in the Southern strategy. And the reality is that will go down
as one of the biggest mistakes in U.S. politics. The old Dixiecrats should
have found themselves men and women with no country in politics. They
should have been required by both major parties to, frankly, move beyond
racism if they were going to take leadership. And the decision of the
Republicans, who had been the civil rights party, if you will, since, you
know, for at that point about 100 years, to make this sort of Faustian
bargain with people who were at that time in their rhetoric explicitly
white supremacist, it was just simply a huge mistake.
It has diminished that party for many years. And the reality is now they
have a big choice to make. Because obviously, you know, not every
Republican, not every Republican leader by a longshot is Barry Goldwater,
but they still continue to tolerate too much of that type of rhetoric. And
they have a choice. Either they`re going to become a party that is, you
know, progressively sort of by itself in this country, with a very diverse
country and a not very diverse party, or they`re going to make a courageous
decision to get back to their roots and be the party of Frederick Douglass,
be the part of Lincoln, be the party of so many civil rights leaders who
came from World War II and became active in that party only to find
themselves disowned by that party just a couple of decades later -- just a
couple of decades later, when that party decided to bring in Barry
Goldwater, Strom Thurmond and all their ilk.
COX: Hi, Mr. Jealous, this is Ana Marie Cox, "Guardian," US. I am just
wondering, as Steve said, we were sort of talking about how this
generational difference might map across class. I am wondering if you know
anything about that. Are younger whites and blacks more likely to see each
other as a cohort across class lines or not? And when you say they`re more
progressive than the older generation, does that mean that they`re willing
to look at what we would call economic justice issues as well as racial
JEALOUS: Look, you have two things going on for young people in this
country. One is race just matters less to them. They are less likely to
be hung up on racial differences, regardless of their class. The other is
they`re more likely to be poor than the past generation. You know, the
rich continually getting richer and the poor continually getting poorer has
had a disproportionate impact on young people in this country.
I recently came back from a gathering in Detroit, of young people who are
retail, and restaurant workers, fast food workers, who are demanding the
minimum wage be leapt forward to catch up with inflation, because it`s
fallen woefully behind. It actually should be about $15, and that is where
they would like to see it. These are young people who see themselves as
having absolutely nothing to lose in this economy. They`re barely hanging
on to the edge, working for $7.25. And at rooms they were like a rainbow,
there were men, there were women, black, Latino, white, Asian, I`m sure
there were Native people in the room as well. The reality is that they saw
themselves as being on the same team. And that team is people who in this
economy, despite their brilliance, despite their clear leadership
potential, have been relegated to the absolute margin and forced to survive
on $7.25, which is something you just can`t do.
So yes, I do believe this generation, this rising generation, just like so
many others, and in some ways more than others because they`re less tripped
up on race, are willing to work together based on the common interest of
kitchen table issues.
You`re seeing it with older people, too. We saw it with white union
workers in 2012 throughout the Midwest, for instance. So, I think there`s
reasons to be hopeful that race both for kind of older folks in the
workforce and younger folks in the workforce. Younger folks is becoming
less and less of a barrier to people actually sitting down and saying, you
know, we got some real things in common, some real issues we got to solve.
We can only solve them if we work together.
KORNACKI: Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP. Thanks for joining us this
morning. We`re going to pick this right back up with the panel. President
Obama, the first black president, and white America, we`ll talk more after
KORNACKI: I was trying to think about this before the show, how to talk
about President Obama`s relationship, you know, white America, white
voters, and actually found myself thinking back to the 2008 Democratic
primaries, it was Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton. And one of the
interesting things that jumps out at me looking back at that was the states
that really, I think, were decisive for Obama in terms of getting that 100,
150 delegate advantage were overwhelmingly white states -- Alaska, Utah,
North Dakota, Maine, Iowa, states where he -- except for Iowa, where he
racked up gigantic shares of the vote and he beat her by 15, 20 delegates.
And that added up. And then when he took the contest into states like
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, states that are majority white but they have
sizeable black populations in them, the white voters seemed a lot more
hostile to him there than they did in all white states.
COX: There`s also a demographic issue in those states. They targeted
small states, returning -- student population, getting back to generational
difference. Where turning the student population, can make a huge, huge
difference in a place like Alaska.
KORNACKI: But it`s more than just students turning out, like in Kansas,
COX: But they also targeted states where they knew that they could make a
big difference. And these other states, they knew that they were going to
not be able to influence the vote beyond a certain point. This is not to
say that what you`re saying isn`t true. That they found resistance. They
found Hillary voters, actually. Those states had Hillary voters that were
unwilling to look at Obama, for whatever reason. But I think we know what
that reason might have been.
KORNACKI: But it just -- again, we`re talking about getting 75 percent of
the vote in these all-white states, which was remarkable. I remember when
that happened in February that year, I said, that`s amazing. An all-white
state, the black candidate gets that kind of support. And then the contest
shifted to Pennsylvania, where suddenly we`re hearing about these white
working class voters.
HERBERT: I think that`s because those were states where the whites in
those states didn`t have to deal with black people. I think that, you
know, we can take too intellectual, too analytical an approach to these
issues, where we don`t acknowledge the depth of the racism that still
exists in this society and the extent to which blacks are suffering as a
result of that racism. Where you see it, for example, we never talk about
job discrimination anymore. We don`t talk about housing discrimination
anymore. But just start trying to move blacks into white neighborhoods and
watch the pushback you get. Just start trying with all the school reform,
just try -- start trying to get black students into white schools. People
will go nuts.
The schools in the United States are segregated now as they were in the
late `60s, which is insane. But we don`t address that anymore. We talk
about how attitudes are changing. I`m not sure attitudes have changed that
much. Rhetoric has changed. The racism remains. And blacks are now
farther behind than they were several years ago economically.
BOUIE: I think attitudes can change. And at the same time, the structure
of the society that was built on like basically a racial case system can
remain. So the perception of blacks -- I`m sure a lot of people would say
I`m not a racist, I have, this is (INAUDIBLE), I have no ill will toward
black people, but still they could -- they can subconsciously recognize
blackness as being something they want to stay away from.
HERBERT: That`s racist.
BOUIE: But it`s not --
HERBERT: If you see black people as lesser beings, as genetically
inferior, as I am convinced, most white people see black people, that`s
BOUIE: I`m not sure -- I think racism is too broad of a term to capture
what we`re talking about. I am not sure--
WILLIAMS: I need to ask this question. Why are we so scared to say that
people`s views of me seeing a person of color and not being comfortable
with being in the same room with them, my children being in the same
classroom as them, or me living next to them is not racist? Why do we have
to say maybe you`re not racist -- why do we have to do that?
BOUIE: No one is saying that.
BOUIE: No one is saying that. What I`m trying to say at the very least is
that if you look at Asian-American immigrants, there`s a well-documented
phenomena of Asian-American immigrants or African immigrants absorbing
negative perception of blacks. And I`m not sure we should call that --
it`s indicative of a racist society, but as far as personal prejudice goes,
I am not sure how you discuss that.
KORNACKI: And I think -- I want to hear what you have to say to that and I
think everybody else does, so we`re going to tease it.
KORNACKI: OK, Ana Marie, after that build-up, there you go.
COX: We were talking about whether or not racism exists in the United
States. And I will say blanket, it`s true, yes, racism exists in the
United States. Racism exists between individual people. Racism exists
between classes. The problem is actually in some ways, it has to do with
the whitewashing, as it were, of Martin Luther King. Right? Is that we
individually no longer -- it`s become such an offensive, such a charged
term, we almost can`t talk about problems as being racist, because people
are so disinclined -- it`s no longer OK, like, acceptable, to talk about it
among your friends, your white friends, about being racist. I think it`s
right to call these attitudes and these systems and this systematic
oppression of blacks as being racist.
But I don`t know what the solution is to move forward with these things.
I`m not sure if to call individual people racist is going to move us
forward at all.
I do think that -- that it can be pointed out that these systems do, you
know, affect black people. I`m just finally -- we have not talked about
the Voting Rights Act. One of the reasons why I think it`s applicable here
is that in some ways, again, the success of the civil rights movement has
meant that the South has adopted the northern way of being racist. They
have adopted these systems that oppress black people and that are not yet
targeted on race. They do not mention race. They know better than to do
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that does tie together. One, in terms of I do
think in the time that we live in, in being able to say to someone,
particularly you are racist because something that you wrote, and then
there is the immediate defense, I`m not racist, I have friends and my
sister is married to a black man, and people do that.
There is a difference of racism and racist thought and racist practice that
has -- where you have the power to change laws or policies that then have a
racial impact, right? And then there`s racial insensitivity. You saying
something or a joke or -- you know, doing something which often happens in
our pop culture right now, where people misapply that to being racist as
opposed to racially insensitive.
But in terms of this connection to the Voting Rights Act and how people`s
views of voter ID and if you go through the polls across the country in
terms of people that has a racial impact. And the policy and the practice
is racist. Right? And so to be able to say that you as an elected
official pushing this legislation in terms of ID and restricting people`s
access to the ballot and things like that, that is racially -- that is
racially insensitive and racist. And therefore, while you continuing to
push that makes you pushing racist policies and rituals --
WILLIAMS: It`s hard to -- it`s hard to separate and you are not racist.
KORNACKI: I think the other thing that complicates, especially when you
talk about Southern states where you`re talking about voter ID laws and
everything, as we mentioned earlier, the voting patterns in those states,
the partisan divide in those states is now so fractured along racial ethnic
cultural lines. Absolutely these lines are targeting -- African-Americans
are targeting young voters, are targeting student voters. It`s also
clearly a political motivation, too. It`s Republicans saying, this is the
Democratic base. We`re going to disenfranchise the Democratic base.
KORNACKI: Not that it makes it right, but you know.
HERBERT: But I`m trying to talk about things that are even more specific
than that. I`m not talking about individual instances of people being
racist or whatever. I`m talking about job discrimination, where black
people show up for a job with equal qualifications and don`t get the jobs.
I`m talking about housing discrimination, where you can`t move into
neighborhoods because those neighborhoods are white, even if you can afford
it. These kinds of things are still widespread in the United States of
America, and nobody even talks about them anymore.
And it`s true, we can`t say something is racist, we can`t say that people
are racist. Well, in that case, if people are suffering as a result of it,
then what`s the answer? How do you -- how do you move forward? And to me,
the only answer is, because I think the society has gotten to the point
where they won`t deal with racism on any vast scale, I think the only
response is for blacks themselves to finally say, enough already, as they
did back in the 1960s, and for blacks to become more militant in the fight
against racism and racist behavior in this country.
WILLIAMS: And I think the point is to call it out. Is to say, your policy
-- the policies that you`re pushing is racist, and so --
KORNACKI: Quick last point to Jamelle.
BOUIE: Here`s the thing. I`m in complete agreement that the structure of
our society is racist. That we are a society that`s built on the premise
of a black underclass. But, as Bob said earlier about this being sort of -
- us trying to make an academic distinction. I actually think outright
calling things racist is not a constructive political thing to do.
KORNACKI: OK. That`s the final point. This was a very interesting
conversation I think to be a part of and to listen to. On the anniversary
week of the March on Washington, what should we know today? My answers
KORNACKI: So what should we know for today? We should know that in
addition to being the 50TH anniversary of the March on Washington, August
28TH, this coming Wednesday, also marks another key civil rights
anniversary. It was on August 28TH, 1957, 56 years ago South Carolina
Senator Strom Thurmond, who was then a Democrat, waged a marathon, one-man
filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, for 24 hours and 18
minutes. That`s the all-time Senate record. His defiance was for show.
Eventually he stood down, and the bill with a much, much weaker forerunner
to the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed. The main force behind the
`57 civil rights bill was a Democrat, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, who
would go on to serve as president and apply his legislative savvy to
enacting that `64 Civil Rights Act. And it was the enactment of the `64
Civil Rights Act that led Thurmond that same year to leave the Democratic
Party for good, a move that was imitated by countless white conservative
Democrats in the South in the years and decades that followed.
We should know that Colin Powell is speaking out against North Carolina`s
restricted new voting law. At the annual North Carolina CEO forum on
Thursday, the former secretary of state said that the law signed by
Governor Pat McCrory, a fellow Republican, quote, "immediately turns off a
voting bloc the Republican Party needs because it disproportionately
affects young and minority voters." We also know the governor`s office
says that McCrory, who had spoken just before Powell, left before Powell`s
speech and didn`t hear it, but we also know that he`s probably heard about
it since then.
Finally, we should know about some of the numbers that illustrate the
strides that have been made in the 50 years since the March on Washington
and the strides we still need to make. Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau,
we know that in 1964, about 26 percent of blacks age 24 and over had
completed four years of high school. In 2012, that number had risen to 85
percent. The number of black undergraduate students in 2012 was more than
10 times what it was in 1964, growing from under 240,000 to 2.6 million.
We also know that in 1970, there were just 1,469 black elected officials in
America. That`s throughout all levels of government, from the U.S. Senate
down to city councils. Now the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies estimates there are more than 10,000 black elected officials in the
We know that financial disparities remain prevalent. Pew Research Center
analysis also found that between 1967 and 2011, median income of black
households rose from 24,000 to nearly $40,000. In 1967, black households
earned 55 percent of what white households earned, and today that number
has only risen to 59 percent.
Want to find out what my guests think we should know. We`ll start with
HERBERT: Well, it was the march in `63 was a march for jobs and freedom.
And now the fast-food workers and other low-wage workers are gearing up for
additional strikes and demonstrations. In the spirit of that march, they
want a living wage, and this effort is not going to go away.
KORNACKI: All right.
WILLIAMS: Recently there was a tragic case of a transgender person being
beaten and ultimately passing here in New York City. And what, I`d like to
say that at the same time I`m asking those who are supportive and active in
the rights for transgender, the rights for LGBTQ community completely and
asking them to support voting rights and some of the issues that we`re
pushing. I as an activist am also going to join them in standing on the
violence, increase in violence in transgender here in New York and across
the country. Transgender people, they are human beings. And so I don`t
understand how you can beat a human being to death, whether or not you
agree with whatever they are, they are human beings. As an activist, I
will join that movement.
KORNACKI: OK. Jamelle.
BOUIE: About 68 percent of younger Republicans believe that a more diverse
nominee would help the GOP win; 60 percent of younger Republicans believe
that the GOP should reconsider some positions; 43 percent believe they
should maybe even moderate, and 38 percent say the congressional GOP has
not been -- has not compromised enough with President Obama to move things
KORNACKI: There`s that generational split again. Ana Marie.
COX: I`m going to end on an upbeat note. Which is this week President
Obama`s administration came out fairly forcefully in favor of read (ph)
blind (ph) dog related ordinances in mostly local places, laws that target
pit bulls specifically are proven to be not very constructive. The Obama
administration did that after only 30,000 signatures on the we the people
website, usually takes 100,000. So way to go.
KORNACKI: I want to thank Bob Herbert, L. Joy Williams, Jamelle Bouie and
Ana Marie Cox. Thank you all for getting UP. Thank you for joining us.
We`ll be back next weekend Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Our guest will include New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson.
Coming up, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY" live from Washington, D.C. with guests
including Myrlie Evers Williams, Sybrina Fulton, Martin Luther King III and
many more. That`s MHP. She`s next.
We`ll see you next week here on UP.
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