Friday, February 17, 2012

Nixon's Civil Rights 17: Nixon, King, and Jackie Robinson

For my write-up today on Nixon's Civil Rights, I will talk about Richard Nixon's relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson.

Essentially, Nixon's relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. was fairly all right, until King was arrested in Atlanta during a sit-in at a lunch counter. Nixon's opponent in the 1960 Presidential election, Democrat John F. Kennedy, called Coretta Scott King after that happened, and Robert Kennedy sought to persuade a local judge to release King. But Nixon did not make such a gesture, nor did he speak out publicly against King's jailing. One reason was probably that Nixon did not want to alienate southerners. But another reason was that, on the advice of President Dwight Eisenhower's Attorney General, William Rogers, Nixon concluded that it would be improper for him as a lawyer to pressure a judge to do something. Nixon's relationship with King basically ended after Nixon's inaction at King's arrest, and many African-Americans switched from Nixon to Kennedy, even though Kennedy's civil rights record was rather spotty. Kennedy, for example, voted to have jury trials for civil rights cases, which did not favor African-Americans in the South because the juries were often all-white and biased; and the man Kennedy chose as his running-mate, Lyndon Johnson, was the author of that jury trial amendment.

Nixon's relationship with baseball legend Jackie Robinson, however, was better. Not perfect, but better. Nixon was a sports enthusiast, and so he was caught up in the electricity surrounding Robinson's talent as a baseball player, among fans of different races. But Nixon remembered Robinson from before then, for he recalled Robinson's feats as a UCLA football player. Nixon told Robinson this at their first encounter in 1952, and an observer said that "While Robinson had undoubtedly met a lot of notables in his career, nevertheless I was sure there was one person he would never forget." Robinson had his reservations about Nixon, as when Nixon was reluctant to campaign in Harlem and refused to speak out when Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed. But Robinson still liked Nixon, and he did not care for Kennedy's attempts to appease southern segregationists. While Robinson did not support Nixon in every election that Nixon ran, the two maintained a relationship.

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