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Andrew Young Interviewee: Atlanta, Georgia, 1980 August 20 - 21 [Box 138, Item 23, Side 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Continuation of comments regarding the Vietnam Peace Movement, the Poor People's Campaign and Memphis, including events leading up to King's Assassination. Additional topics covered include Lyndon B. Johnson's attitude toward Martin Luther King, Jr. and the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech.
00:00 – Vietnam Peace Movement. Young continues talking about the conference in Geneva. Coming out of the Intercontinental Hotel with Martin Luther King, Jr., they recognized Senator J. William Fulbright. They waited until he left so that they would not be seen together. King thought it would be disastrous for Fulbright to be linked with his racial views. 01:30 – So much of the work of the Civil Rights Movement depended on the White House’s support, Dent wonders if they were concerned when it became clear that King’s stance on the war in Vietnam was alienating the White House. Young tells a story about the group encouraging King to tell his views on Vietnam to President Lyndon Johnson. Bernard Lee called the White House and got Johnson on the phone to talk to King. 04:10 – King saw his position as putting pressure on Johnson so that he could continue to be a restraining force. They never saw themselves as anti-Johnson. The White House did not see it this way. Harassment from J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I. increased. 05:50 – Someone close to Johnson told Young that Johnson had begun to blame King for causing his political troubles. Still, Young thinks they would probably have supported Johnson if he had run against Nixon. 07:55 – Dent remembers King turning the black community. Johnson was unable to discredit King. A polarization developed that created the atmosphere for King’s assassination. 10:23 – Things were strained at the time King received the Nobel Peace Prize. They were invited to Washington to meet the Attorney General about the arrests in the murders of the three Civil Rights workers that occurred while they were away. Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to meet with them because they did not want them at the White House. Humphrey left and came back in, saying the president wanted to see them. Johnson had not wanted to see King coming back from receiving the Nobel Prize, despite their help in getting him elected. 12:00 – Around this time, there were several high profile deaths within the Peace Movement, including Bob Spike, Bernard Fall, and Thomas Merton. All opposed the war in Vietnam. King was staying up late and wanting to talk. Young talked to Stan Levison and Coretta Scott King about King’s health. They were worried he would burn himself out physically. It had not occurred to them that King was about to be killed. There were ominous signs when they got to Memphis. 15:10 – Memphis and the Poor People’s Campaign. In late 1967, SCLC wanted to bring Washington’s attention to the “economic question,” including food stamps and job programs, etc. Marian Wright Edelman wanted to meet with King with a group from Mississippi. Farm subsidies had put them out of work. It seemed to be a design to drive black people out of the South. 19:24 – They asked King could help them have a movement to get jobs. They decided this was not a black problem, but a problem for all poor people. They decided on a Poor People’s March on Washington D.C. including various ethnic communities from around the country. One hundred people from fifteen different groups would make fifteen hundred demonstrators and organizers. 21:30 – They met with leaders from across the country in early 1968. One of the groups from the South would come by mule and wagon. They toured the South in January talking about programs and the Poor People’s Campaign. They had just started touring the North. The group was made up of Young, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Bennett, and Bernard Lee. Bernard Lafayette did the advance work. It was a speaking and meeting tour. They left field staff in each location. 24:10 – While they were in Newark, they started getting calls from Jim Lawson in Memphis. He told King about the garbage workers strike [Memphis Sanitation Strike] that was going on, and that they were in need of an appearance from him. Young was against the idea. He saw it as taking on another movement. Their previous relationship with the Labor Movement had all been in the North where there were no right to work laws. In the South, there was no recognition of national labor relations law or a right to organize that was respected by the city. 26:20 – The strike was over the right to organize. King agreed to fly to Memphis to speak and to lead the march. First, King had had a meeting at the Summit Hotel in New York about a political action arm of the Civil Rights Movement with John Conyers, Dick Hatcher, Harry Belafonte, and Young. King suggested something like a “black ADA.” 28:40 – On Monday Morning, King left for Memphis. He had agreed with Lawson to fly down with Bernard Lee, lead the march, and then meet the rest of them in Washington D.C. They got word in the afternoon that the march had turned violent. A group called The Invaders who were evidently employed to disrupt the march. The police came in and beat up the marchers. Lawson, H. Ralph Jackson of the AME Church, and the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees led the march. [Recording ends 31:51, continues on Side 2.]
Young, Andrew, 1932-
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
Tulane University Digital Library
Amistad Research Center
Audiocassette, mono. 16-bit
Box 138, Item 23, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.