Over at the website for Up with Steve Kornacki, MSNBC put up a number of videos featuring Martin Luther King Jr. The following video with him on Meet the Press is amazing. In many ways, this bit of television is exactly what we would see today. King gets a number of probing and even offensive questions. We never see that from the press when they interview powerful people, but it is still quite common when anyone who questions the status quo is interviewed. What’s impressive is how calm and well spoken King is. When Lawrence E. Spivak asks, “Former president Truman is an old friend of the negro, I believe. Isn’t this an indication that the sit-in strikes are doing the negro race more harm than good?” My natural reaction would be to pull out a baseball bat and see just how many teeth I could knock out with one swing. But King—almost 20 years years younger than I am now am—is much more controlled and brilliantly responds, “Following his past record, it seems to me that Mr. Truman wouldn’t have faced such a situation because there wouldn’t have been a segregated store in the beginning if he were running it.” Watch, please:
In the second clip, you can better see what whites hated about King. And here I’m not talking about just the explicitly racist whites. This is what is generally forgotten with King the Legend that exists in the modern mind. Here is a man that is not going to bought off. He continues to push his cause. Listening to conservatives, King would be totally happy today because the government isn’t explicitly targeting blacks. Of course, that’s ridiculous. After all, what are these new voter ID laws but poll taxes by another name? Even still, King was not exclusively or even primarily interested in government racism. And as I’ve argued, all this discussion of racism being over and racism against whites being the real problem is the Son of the Bride of Jim Crow.
In the following segment, May Craig gets to go after King with what I think of as schoolgirl arguments, “It’s always wrong to break the law!” Such arguments are hard to counter, given that the person making them understands ethics about as well as a child. But King does a good job. But the best is saved for last. Frank Van Der Linden comes to the rescue of bigots everywhere by asking if King isn’t disqualified to talk about anything given that he’s a known Marxist. Then he follows up with his fears of miscegenation. Can’t have them negroes marrying our white women! It is a thing to behold:
In the third segment, King gets to address the miscegenation argument. He answers the question well, but it is clear that he thinks the whole issue is nonsense. But it must have been embarrassing for Van Der Linden, who only died back in 2011, to watch himself forever immortalized as the bigot he most certainly was.
Most of the this segment involves Spivak arguing that King and his movement should just be dong things differently. “Wouldn’t you be on stronger ground…” he says repeatedly. But notice what nonsense this is. This is the kind of apologetics that we get on the surveillance issue with Jeffrey Toobin. Sure, we agree with you, but couldn’t you just do less? It ends with another question from the clearest racist on the panel, Van Der Linden. He asks King how many white people are members of his church. Somehow, in Van Der Linden’s mind, it is King’s responsibility to force whites to join his congregation. Maybe I’m wrong to call Van Der Linden a racist, although I certain think he was. But he provided King with his best answers as he did with this question. Check it out:
I think that this interview does a better job of demonstrating who King was than any speech. You can see most clearly his incredible intelligence, knowledge, and resolve. It is a tough interview—one that few modern politicians would be able to withstand. And King is triumphant at every moment and generally. It is a beautiful thing to see and a testament to his greatness.
There is one humorous moment in the interview. May Craig asks if King has heard of Harlem restaurants that refuse to serve whites. Although I have little doubt that this is racist disinformation, King easily bats the issue aside. He says that of course it would be an injustice. As of course it would. But I have little doubt there was no fact beneath the question.