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    Follow the Stories | Washington, DC (2011)

    MLK's Take on Richard Nixon

    • Guest and items
      Phyllis with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter
      At the Washington, D.C., ROADSHOW event in August 2010, Phyllis, a guest from Chevy Chase, Maryland, brought in a signed letter by Martin Luther King, Jr. dated 1958 that she had purchased at the estate sale of Nixon biographer Earl Mazo. At Mazo's request, King was writing to share his impressions of then-Vice President Richard Nixon, which seem favorable on balance until King's cautionary conclusion: "if Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America."

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • Header and the first paragraph
      Earl Mazo, Nixon biographer
      Mazo's biography of Nixon, "Richard Nixon: A Political and Personal Portrait," was released in 1959 to rave reviews. The New York Times called it "far and away the best Nixon study to date — the most detailed and most penetrating."

      Of course this was all well before any of the major events that we think of as defining Nixon's political career today. After 1959, Nixon would go on to the White House, where controversial issues like Vietnam, the Cold War, Chinese diplomacy, civil rights, and Watergate, would provide ample content for countless other biographies and books, two memoirs by Nixon himself, and even a few popular Hollywood films, including Frost Nixon and Dick.

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • Third Paragraph of Letter
      King: "First, I must admit that I was strongly opposed to Vice President Nixon"
      King's initial distaste for Nixon was partly based on Nixon's bitter race for a California Senate seat in 1950 against Representative Helen Gahagen Douglas, a former actress. During the campaign, Nixon hinted that Douglas was a communist-sympathizer, citing her Hollywood connections, her Jewish husband, and her votes in Congress, which he printed out on pink sheets and distributed to voters — dubbing Douglas "the pink lady."

      Nixon went on to win the election, but Douglas may have had the last laugh with the nickname that she coined for Nixon in return, "Tricky Dick" — a name that remained with Nixon throughout his political career and which he earned many times over.

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • I also feel ...
      King: "Nixon would have done more to meet the present crisis in race relations than President Eisenhower ..."
      Although Eisenhower helped make several advances in the civil rights movement during his presidency, he was widely criticized for not taking a more pro-active rather than reactive stance. Perhaps the most salient example of this was in 1957, during the "Little Rock Nine" incident. In September of 1957, the state of Arkansas refused to comply with a federal court order to integrate their schools, and when nine black children tried to enter Little Rock Central School, they were met by an angry crowd. Eisenhower reacted by sending federal troops to escort the children into the school, but violence erupted and many were disappointed that Eisenhower didn't travel down to Arkansas in order to escort the children himself.

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • Last sentence of the Letter
      King: "You never get the impression that he is the same man who ... made a tear jerking speech on television ..."
      King was referring to Nixon's famous "Checkers Speech." As a vice presidential candidate in 1952, Nixon was accused of accepting money from political backers. In a televised address to the nation, Nixon refuted the claims, but he did admit to accepting one personal gift — a cocker spaniel for his children, named Checkers. "Regardless of what they say about it," Nixon insisted, "we're going to keep it."

      Nixon received an outpouring of support from the 60 million Americans who watched the speech and, went on to win the election with Eisenhower. Looking back, however, some see the "Checkers Speech" as presaging other, less-than-sincere speeches to come.

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • Concluding line
      King: "And so I would conclude by saying that if Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America."
      With the "Checkers Speech" as a lingering thought before his closing line, King's review comes to an ominous conclusion.

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

    • Martin Luther King Signature
      After the letter...
      Summarizing King's remarks in his book, Mazo wrote that King "strongly opposed" Nixon at first but came to see him as "a superb diplomat."

      Nevertheless, by 1960 Nixon had let him down. In October of 1960, King was jailed in Georgia during a sit-in demonstration seeking to integrate lunch counters. He received a call of support from presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, but Nixon, then locked in an extremely close race with Kennedy, never called.

      Nixon "had been supposedly close to me," King wrote in his autobiography, "he would call me frequently about things, seeking my advice. And yet, when this moment came, it was like he had never heard of me. So this is why I really considered him a moral coward and one who was really unwilling to take a courageous step and take a risk. ... It indicated the direction that this man would take, if he became president."

      Read the full Martin Luther King, Jr. letter »

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