(Jan. 20). As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here’s a largely forgotten story about how an almost random phone call, to King’s wife Coretta Scott King from John F. Kennedy, played a huge role in shifting national black voting habits from Republicans to Democrats.

Most people think the major shift occurred in 1964 as a result of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater voting against the Civil Rights Act over a constitutional objection to one of its provisions. And, yes, the reaction against Goldwater accelerated the trend and made it well-nigh irreversible. But, the Kennedy incident four years earlier got the ball rolling….

…. Entering 1960, Nixon had a longer and deeper record of supporting civil rights than Kennedy did, and he had a friendlier rapport with MLK himself. Black celebrities Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Zora Neale Hurston all were Republicans. And, while MLK remained neutral in the 1960 presidential race, his father had endorsed Nixon in mid-October.

Then, MLK was arrested for a peaceful demonstration in Atlanta and sent on trumped-up charges to a maximum security prison in rural Georgia. With good reason, his family feared he could be murdered there or perhaps spirited away and lynched.

Robinson pleaded with Nixon to make a public show of support for King. Nixon, who was trying to pry some of the states in the formerly “solid South” from Democratic hands, took it under advisement but refused to act in haste or to “grandstand” about the situation.

Kennedy, though, had a top aide named Harris Wofford, later a U.S. senator, who was friends with King. Wofford pushed and pushed for Kennedy to get involved, at first to no avail. …

[The rest of this is really a fascinating story, pulled from multiple sources. I’m just re-relaying it. It’s well worth a read. The full piece is here.]



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