Tag Archives: MLK Jr.

Happy 93rd birthday, RFK

Robert F. Kennedy would have turned 93 today.

The late U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator from New York died 50 years ago at the hands of an assassin who shot him in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen after Bobby Kennedy had just won the California Democratic Party presidential primary.

He was 42 years of age when he died.

I have grieved ever since over that loss.

RFK was my first political hero, although I don’t like using the h-word when talking about politicians. They aren’t heroic figures any more than athletes are heroes.

I did admire him greatly.

But to think on this day that a young, ambitious politician died at an age that is younger than the younger of my two sons fills me with an odd sense of my own mortality.

We need a politician like RFK among us today. We are a nation divided by race, by social status, by partisan politics. Bobby Kennedy sought to elevate us above the divisions that ravaged the nation when he sought the presidency in 1968, that most turbulent of years.

It was Bobby who climbed aboard that flatbed truck in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968 and informed the crowd of mostly black supporters that “Martin Luther King was shot and killed.” The crowd gasped in horror. RFK then went on to call for “love” and “compassion for one another.”

As other major U.S. cities erupted in violence that night, Indianapolis remained calm.

I don’t know whether Robert Francis Kennedy would have attained the highest office in America had death not taken him that night. My heart tells me there was a path to the Democratic nomination and to election. But … that must remain for others’ speculation.

The nation lost a champion for humanity five decades ago.

Today, though, I want to salute the fellow who entered this world 93 years ago today and embarked on a too-brief journey in a quest to heal the wounds that harmed us.

Happy birthday, Bobby. Many millions of us still miss you.

Election Day deserves to be a national holiday

We’re going to vote in a few days for all the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the U.S. Senate. Each state will have elections, too, to select governors, assorted statewide officeholders, on down to the legislative and county level.

I’ve kicked this idea around in my noggin, but I now believe we need to make Election Day a national holiday. Give our citizens the day off from work. Allow them to spend the day doing whatever they do on their days off, but also allow them to perform our society’s most essential form of political expression.

I don’t believe we need to move Election Day; it should remain on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. I don’t want it moved to the first Monday, creating yet another three-day weekend for citizens to spend out of town and enticing them to stay away on Monday, when they should be voting.

Keeping it on Tuesday sandwiches Election Day between two working/school days. It helps ensure citizens are at home for this big event.

We bemoan the lack of voter turnout. Americans who don’t vote can’t get away for a number of reasons. Their jobs comprise part of the rationale for non-voting American citizens. “My job keeps me from going to the polls,” they might say. A national holiday fixes that problem. Hey, we have declared national holidays to honor our presidents, Christopher Columbus, our veterans, those who have died in battle, the creation of our nation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., working men and women. These all are noble causes and worthy of honor.

Why isn’t the election of our national, state and local leaders worthy as well?

I believe it is. We should set that day aside every two years — for the midterm and for the presidential elections — to give Americans plenty of time during the day to perform this simple, but essential task of citizenship.

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

MLK Jr. changed so much in so little time

Martin Luther King Jr. walked this Earth for only 39 years.

Then it ended. It was 50 years ago. A single rifle shot struck down the great man.

We are going to see a lot of tributes to Dr. King in the next day or two … or maybe beyond as the nation reignites its grief over this monumental loss.

I’ll watch them and wonder: How in the name of soaring rhetoric does someone so young speak with such wisdom? Dr. King did that. He spoke to all Americans on behalf of “my people.” He told us about that dream he had, of how “little black children” would one day walk with “little white children,” how his own children would be judged only by the “content of their character.”

Do you remember the August 1963 speech, his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered to hundreds of thousands of people on the Washington, D.C. Mall? He was less than five years away from his own death. He also was just 34 years of age when he stirred our souls.

He led a non-violent movement. He preached “civil disobedience” in the strictest definition of the term. Those who marched with him paid heavy prices in blood, sadly. Dr. King himself spent time in jail, where he penned even more words of wisdom that will live for the ages.

I want to add a disturbing note to this tribute to Dr. King, and it has next to nothing to do with the great man himself.

It is that the individual who changed history with a rifle shot at that Memphis, Tenn., motel balcony was just another in a big crowd of losers. James Earl Ray would die in prison. The hateful, spiteful individual sought notoriety. Damn, he got it!

The 50-year commemorations no doubt are going to wonder: What if Martin Luther King Jr. had lived? Would we be a different nation today? I am not smart or prescient enough to know with certainty, but I believe Dr. King could have shaped the national discussion toward achieving “a more perfect Union.”

The ultimate tragedy — beyond the obvious grief that came to one man’s family and the nation he sought to inspire — is that we cannot know the path we would have taken had Dr. King been allowed more than just 39 years.

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

Now, a good word for Teleprompters

I stand before you in defense of Teleprompters.

They are a commonly used device. Politicians use them all the time. They’ve been in use for decades. Speechwriters prepare the text that pols deliver and put them on these devices. Then the pol reads the remarks from a screen at eye level, which is meant to give the audience the illusion of extemporaneous speech.

It ain’t.

Donald J. Trump is going to read a speech tonight. He’ll talk about his strategy in Afghanistan and perhaps reveal how he intends to fight the 16-year-long Afghan War. I’ve heard the president’s critics say all day about how he’s going to read a speech written by someone else. These critics intend to diminish the words the president will say.

C’mon, folks.

We heard much of the same sort of criticism leveled at Barack Obama when he was president. His critics would demean his statements that he would read from a Teleprompter. “He gives a good speech,” they say, “but he doesn’t mean it. He’s speaking someone else’s words.”

Every single president dating back to, oh, Dwight Eisenhower have read speeches from Teleprompters; Ike was the first president to use the device to deliver a State of the Union speech. Some are more graceful using the device than others. Donald Trump clearly needs practice using the Teleprompter. When you watch him stand in front of the Teleprompter, you end up anticipating when he’s going to launch into one of those nonsensical, unscripted riffs.

His reading of the text often sounds painful; some folks have described his Teleprompter performances as sounding as if he is being held hostage.

Have you ever watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? Of course you have. Dr. King started reading the prepared text; I believe he had a Teleprompter. His prepared remarks were fine. Then he veered into the ad-lib portion that has become legendary. “I have a dream,” he would repeat. He tossed out the prepared remarks and finished with “Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!”

So, let’s stop obsessing over whether the president uses a Teleprompter. Of course he does! As he should.

MLK Jr.’s greatest speech still resonates

I thought I’d share this video shot in August 1963.

You see, today Americans are celebrating the birth of the man who gave this speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke of his “dream” of equality and a day when a “man’s character” mattered more than the “color of his skin.”

Dr. King would die a violent death less than five years later. Today, though, we mark his birth and we salute the man who led a movement to bring equal rights for all Americans. He fought peacefully for civil rights and for voting rights.

I should add that somewhere on the podium where Dr. King delivered the speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a young man named John Lewis.

This young man would go on to become a member of Congress. On that day, he was the youngest among King’s closest lieutenants to stand with him that sweltering day in the nation’s capital. Rep. Lewis has been in the news of late, as Donald J. Trump said he was “all talk … no action.” Well, the president-elect is quite wrong about that.

I also want to point out that the highlight of this stirring speech wasn’t written. Dr. King improvised the “I have a dream … ” riff that has become a legendary chapter in the annals of American oratory.

Enjoy … and happy birthday, Dr. King.

Donald Trump: master of impeccable timing

I’ll admit that the irony of this got past me initially.

Then I read a piece from the Los Angeles Times: Donald Trump’s idiotic tweet about U.S. Rep./civil rights legend John Lewis is rife with irony because of its timing.

We’re entering the weekend in which we’re going to celebrate the birth of the great Martin Luther King Jr. — with whom Rep. Lewis marched during the height of the civil rights movement. Trump took the opportunity on this, of all weekends, to ridicule John Lewis as an “all talk, no action” kind of guy.


Lewis, in remarks to be broadcast Sunday, said he doesn’t consider Trump to be a “legitimate president.” He is deeply concerned about alleged Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. I share his concern, but I do not consider Trump’s presidency to be illegitimate.

Still, Trump’s moronic response illustrates the utter tone deafness of the president-elect — who built his political career by perpetuating the myth that sought to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency by alleging he was born in a foreign land and, thus, was unable to serve as the nation’s first African-American president.

As the LA Times’ Cathleen Decker writes: “John Lewis is an icon of the civil rights movement who is fearless in the pursuit of justice and equality,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, the California Democrat. “He deserves better than this.”

Rep. Lewis still stands tall

Petulant POTUS-elect fires back at iconic lawmaker

I’ve already declared that I believe U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s declaration that Donald Trump is “not a legitimate president” went too far, that Trump is — in my view — legitimate.

So … what does Trump do? He responds to Lewis — perhaps the most legendary member of Congress — with a couple of tweets.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to……mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!” Trump wrote in two tweets Saturday morning.

I want to repeat the ending: “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Good ever-lovin’ grief, man!

Given that the president-elect seems to know nothing about our history and the role that many brave men and women played in shaping it, I feel compelled to remind everyone that of all of Trump’s critics, John Lewis has more than earned his right to speak out.


He stood with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He marched with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. He faced down racists, was beaten to within an inch of his life — on more than one occasion — while speaking out for the cause of equality for all Americans. He participated in boycotts, protests, marches, demonstrations.

For the president-elect — a man with zero public service experience — to denigrate a critic as renowned and beloved as Rep. Lewis is to yet again demonstrate his utter and absolute ignorance of an iconic figure’s stature.

Getting ready for a pile of negativity


I am steeling myself for what I know is coming.

The election of the next president of the United States is going to be an ugly, nasty affair.

It’s a function, I suppose, of anger among the electorate. I am having difficulty processing the reasons why folks are so angry.

My larger sense, though, is that the negativity will be fueled by quality of the two major-party nominees.

Republican Donald J. Trump will be nominated first. This coming week in Cleveland, delegates will gather to send this fellow off to do battle with the Democratic nominee.

Hillary Rodham Clinton will receive the Democrats’ nomination.

Both of these individuals will pack a large load of negative baggage onto the campaign trail. Trump’s unfavorable rating is the 70 percent range; Clinton’s is in the high 50s, low 60s.

So, with little to commend these folks’ positive attributes, they and their campaigns are likely to resort to extreme negativity to tell us all why the other candidate is so repugnant.

I came of age in the late 1960s. I remember a time when the nation was torn to shreds by political unrest. The Vietnam War was going badly. My first political hero, Robert F. Kennedy, was gunned down while he campaigned for the presidency … two months after an assassin killed Martin Luther King Jr. The year was 1968 and it will go down as the most tumultuous year of the final half of the 20th century.

RFK used to consider politics to be a “noble profession” and I bought into it. My belief in its nobility, though, has taken plenty of hits over the years. Money has corrupted the system. We keep seeing the same faces and hearing the same voices every four years.

And that brings us to this campaign.

Are the major-party candidates driven by their grand vision? Will they offer us chapter-and-verse dissertations on why they represent the very best of Americans?

I am not holding my breath.

If my fears prove to be true — that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will drive voters to stay home rather than having their voices heard at the ballot box — then we can lay a good chunk of the blame at the negativity we will have heard.

Let’s all get ready for what we know is coming.