JFK and the Blue Bomb

During the 1960 presidential election, both Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy sought ways to persuade all Americans to vote for them. In a nation intensely divided over race, this often involved delicate negotiations as the two candidates lobbied for the support of black voters, while attempting to maintain support from white voters.

One of the most significant moments where Kennedy faced this challenge occurred towards the end of the campaign. In October 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for the first time after participating in a sit-in with a group of students in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s arrest was compounded after he was ordered to serve four months at a hard labor prison for a previous minor traffic offense.

Although it was politically risky, John F. Kennedy called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta, who was six months pregnant at the time, to express his sympathy and concern over King’s imprisonment. Shortly thereafter, Robert Kennedy called the judge who ordered King’s release the next day.

Fearing that news of the phone calls could cost white votes in the South, some Kennedy staffers quickly produced a pamphlet on blue paper (which they called “the blue bomb”) to boost support among African American voters. The pamphlet highlighted Kennedy’s phone call to Mrs. King and capitalized on Republican opponent Richard Nixon’s silence on the matter. Approximately two million copies were distributed in the week before the election, mostly through African American churches.

Some people have claimed that the phone call and “the blue bomb” were key factors in Kennedy’s narrow victory in the election. Post-election analysis reveals a noticeable increase in the percentage of African Americans voting Democratic.

Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, King’s father Martin Luther King Sr., King’s wife Coretta, and two pastors associated with King, Reverend Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Gardner Taylor in the “Blue Bomb” pamphlet. JFKWHSFHW-002-012

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March 7th 1965: Bloody Sunday in Selma

On this day in 1965, a civil rights march took place from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama; it became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. At this stage, the Civil Rights Movement had been in motion for over a decade and already achieved legislative success with the Civil Rights Act. However the focus of the movement now became making the promise of equal franchise guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment a reality. While African-Americans exercised the right to vote in the years after the amendment’s passage in 1870, discriminatory measures like literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses were soon implemented across the country to deprive them of the vote. Thus in 1965 civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. made voter registration the core of their efforts, centering the campaign on the particularly discriminatory Selma, AL. On March 7th - 'Bloody Sunday’ - as the six hundred unarmed marchers were crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were descended upon by state troopers who viciously beat the protestors. The violence encountered by these peaceful marchers, which was captured on television and broadcast around the world, led to national outcry and caused President Johnson to publicly call for the passage of his administration’s proposed voting rights bill. After securing the support of federal troops, another march was held on March 21st, and with the protection of soldiers the marchers managed to arrive in Montgomery after three days. The marchers were met in Montgomery - the epicentre of the movement and the site of the 1954 bus boycott - by 50,000 supporters, who were addressed by King. Their efforts were rewarded when, in August of that year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that ensured all Americans could vote. This was one of the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Selma to Montgomery march is commemorated as one of the most important moments of the struggle.

“We are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now…not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom
- King’s 'Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March’ - 25th March, 1965

50 years ago today

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr. | Letter from Birmingham Jail 

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It turns out that the real life Samuel L Jackson is just as bad a** as all the characters he plays.

In 1969, actor Samuel L Jackson was expelled from historically black Morehouse College for locking board members in a building for two days in protest of the school’s curriculum and governance. Included in this group of people who were held hostage was Martin Luther King Jr.’s very own father, Martin Luther King Sr.

In 1966, during the height of the civil rights movement, Jackson enrolled at the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Kings body was brought to Atlanta to lie in state at Spelman College, the historically black woman’s school adjacent to Morehouse. Jackson attended King’s funeral as one of the ushers and then flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest march that radicalized him and changed the way he thought. “I was angry about the assassination, but I wasn’t shocked by it. I knew that change was going to take something different – not sit-ins, not peaceful coexistence,” he stated in an interview with Parade about his reactions to King’s death.

In 1969, as mentioned before, he and a group of radical Morehouse students held the college’s board of trustees hostage, demanding that changes be made in the curriculum of the school and stating that they wanted more blacks on the governing board of the institution. Morehouse eventually gave in and agreed to change but Jackson was expelled for his actions.

That summer he became connected with people in the Black Power movement including Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown and others.

“I was in that radical faction,” Jackson told Parade. “We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle. ‘All of a sudden,’ he said proudly, ‘I felt I had a voice. I was somebody. I could make a difference. ‘But then one day,’ he added quietly, ‘my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.’”

Jackson stayed in LA working in social services for two years and then applied to Morehouse and returning in January of 1971 as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds,” he toldParade.

While doing a student rehearsal for a play, Jackson met LaTanya Richardson, a drama major at Spelman “and boom! I knew she was the person for me. From then on, we were always together, and we’ve stayed that way,” he stated in  Parade‘s interview. The couple got married in 1980 and the rest is history.[X]

14 MLK Quotes You’ll Never Learn in School

1. “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”Letter to Coretta Scott, July 18, 1952.

2. “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” – Speech to the Negro American Labor Council, 1961.

3. “We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.”- Report to SCLC Staff, May 1967.

4. “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” –Speech to SCLC Board, March 30, 1967.

5. “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income… The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” –Where do We Go from Here? 1967.

6. “[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” – Speech to his staff, 1966.

7. “If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to hell.Speech at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in support of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike on March 18th, 1968, two weeks before he was assassinated.

8. “I have always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation” -1960

9. “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race.Why We Can’t Wait

10. “But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” -The Other America, 1968

11. “Again we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that Capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard word and sacrifice. The fact is that Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor – both black and white, both here and abroad. -The Three Evils of Society, 1967

12. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.Beyond Vietnam, 1967

13. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans…These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.Where Do We Go From Here? 1967

14. “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1967

Via Spirituality for Justice

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December 1st 1955: Rosa Parks on the bus

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress from Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. A member of the NAACP, Parks was returning home from a long day at work when the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat on the full bus for a white man. No stranger to civil rights activism, she was subsequently arrested for civil disobedience in defying the state’s Jim Crow racial segregation laws. Through this act of defiance, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, during which time African-Americans - under the leadership of a young, charismatic reverend called Martin Luther King Jr. - refused to use the city buses, arguing that they should be integrated per the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The boycott was successful in forcing Montgomery to end its discriminatory segregation laws, and marked the beginning of the main phase of what is now known as the Civil Rights Movement. From Montgomery, African-Americans across the United States went on to lead sit-ins, freedom rides, and political marches, in an attempt to bring an end to segregation laws which had oppressed their community for so long. These activists were all indebted to Rosa Parks - known as the ‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ - for her simple act of defiance, firmly asserting her humanity and her rights as an American citizen. As the movement grew, Parks remained an influential symbol and leader of the movement, which ultimately brought an end to legal segregation and forced Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts. As for Parks herself, the affair of her arrest and the subsequent boycott caused her to lose her job and made her a victim of harassment and threats. She moved to Detriot and in 1965 began to work in the office of Congressman John Conyers. In 1999, Rosa Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her role in transforming American race relations, and upon her death in 2005 she lay in state at the U.S. Capitol. Today, 60 years on, we remember Rosa Parks’s personal bravery, the successes of the movement she inspired, and the steps yet to be taken as the struggle against systemic racism continues.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”

60 years ago today