How Martin Luther King Jr.’s Imprisonment Modified American Politics Eternally
The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election
By Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick
The African-American wrestle for freedom and civil rights is replete with dramatic and harrowing tales, many involving intimidation and threats of violence from white supremacist defenders of the established order. Probably the most consequential of those tales is the topic of “9 Days,” a compelling narrative written by the father-and-son crew of Stephen and Paul Kendrick, co-authors of two earlier books on race, legislation and politics.
The story begins in mid-October 1960 with Martin Luther King Jr.’s incarceration (his first) in a Georgia jail cell and ends three weeks later with John F. Kennedy’s slim victory over Richard M. Nixon in essentially the most aggressive presidential election of the twentieth century. Kennedy’s razor-thin triumph relied on a number of components starting from his youthful attraction to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s means to pad the Democratic vote in Chicago. However, because the Kendricks ably display, one essential consider Kennedy’s electoral success was the late surge of Black voters into the Democratic column. In all chance, this surge represented the distinction between victory and defeat in a minimum of 5 swing states, together with Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey, making certain Kennedy’s snug margin (303 to 219) within the Electoral Faculty.
This last-minute shift was precipitated by two impulsive telephone calls: one from John Kennedy to Coretta Scott King, expressing his concern for her jailed husband’s security; the second from the candidate’s youthful brother Robert to Oscar Mitchell, the Georgia choose overseeing King’s incarceration. Arrested on two minor prices — taking part in a student-led sit-in at Wealthy’s division retailer in Atlanta and driving with an Alabama license after altering his residency to Georgia — King was considered in grave hazard after a manacled, late-night switch from an Atlanta jail to a distant rural facility in Klan-infested DeKalb County, and shortly thereafter to the state’s infamous maximum-security jail in Reidsville.
Coretta King, panic-stricken that her husband may be murdered and even lynched, contacted Harris Wofford, a buddy and longtime civil rights advocate engaged on Kennedy’s marketing campaign. Together with Kennedy’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver and the Black journalist Louis Martin, Wofford was a part of a marketing campaign initiative charged with increasing the Black vote for Kennedy by offsetting the senator’s mediocre document on civil rights — one way or the other with out alienating the white South.
On Oct. 26, after consulting with Wofford, Shriver persuaded Kennedy to name Mrs. King. The dialog was temporary, however the message was highly effective: “I do know this should be very arduous for you. I perceive you expect a child, and I simply wished you to know that I used to be enthusiastic about you and Dr. King. If there’s something I can do to assist, please be at liberty to name on me.” When Bobby, Jack’s marketing campaign supervisor, discovered what had occurred, he was livid, fearing this was a liberal stunt that may destroy his brother’s probability of successful the South. However after cooling down and realizing that the die was solid, he referred to as Decide Mitchell to plead for King’s launch on bail.
Mitchell agreed, King was quickly launched and on the final Sunday earlier than the election, the Kennedy marketing campaign blanketed the nation’s Black church buildings with a flier later referred to as the Blue Bomb. The selection was clear, the brilliant blue flier insisted: “‘No Remark’ Nixon Versus a Candidate With a Coronary heart, Senator Kennedy.” With Black ministers main the way in which, Kennedy received an estimated 68 % of the Black vote on Election Day, 7 % greater than Adlai Stevenson’s displaying in 1956.
No temporary overview can do full justice to the Kendricks’ masterly and infrequently riveting account of King’s ordeal and the 1960 “October Shock” which will have altered the course of recent American political historical past. Suffice it to say that any reader who navigates the various twists and turns and surprises on this advanced story will come away recognizing the facility of historic contingency.
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