The Scrapbook did not attend the 50th anniversary observance of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But like most Americans, we did tune in on television for a few minutes—and saw a couple of distressing things, and one very mysterious thing.
To begin with, there was a total absence of Republicans among the many activists, politicians, performers, and distinguished relatives who spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Which was odd, and unfortunate, since Martin Luther King made every effort during his lifetime to appear nonpartisan—and, of course, the man for whom the Lincoln Memorial is named was not a Democrat. Indeed, when the civil rights bills of 1957 and 1964 were enacted, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it was Democrats, not Republicans, in Congress who constituted the opposition. For some reason or other, this went unmentioned last week.
The absence of the GOP also deprived organizers of a salient moment. Beside the lectern on the memorial steps was a bell salvaged from the tower of a black Baptist church in Birmingham that was bombed in September 1963, a few weeks after the march. As everyone surely must know, four little girls attending Sunday school were killed in that bombing, and yet the first black woman in history to serve as secretary of state—who actually knew the four girls in childhood, and could have furnished a moving link to that tragic event—was not invited. Oprah Winfrey spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, as did the convicted child molester Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame; but not Condoleezza Rice.
And then there’s the mystery. Two presidents—Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter—spoke, as did two daughters of presidents: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and Linda Johnson Robb. There were no representatives of the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, or Bush families—which, of course, was the organizers’ prerogative. But The Scrapbook was surprised to see Lyndon Johnson’s older daughter, Linda Bird, and to see her chatting amiably with the members of Dr. King’s family.
For not too many years ago (1997), Dr. King’s two sons, Dexter and Martin III, visited their father’s assassin, James Earl Ray, in his Tennessee prison—and absolved him of guilt. Ray had “basically nothing to do with this assassination,” said Martin Luther King III. And Dexter King, according to the New York Times, “asserted that President Lyndon B. Johnson must have been part of a military and governmental conspiracy to kill Dr. King.”
“I am told that it was part and parcel Army intelligence, CIA, FBI,” Dexter King told the Times. “I think we knew it all along.”
To The Scrapbook’s knowledge, neither Dexter King nor Martin Luther King III has ever publicly acknowledged error on the subject, nor declared that they have changed their mind from their conviction that their father was murdered in 1968 by a government conspiracy masterminded by President Lyndon Johnson. In which case The Scrapbook would have been very interested to overhear the pleasantries exchanged last week between the King family and LBJ’s daughter on the Lincoln Memorial steps.