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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

ANDREW KREIG : LEGACY OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING ENHANCED BY HISTORIC DISCOVERY

As the civil rights movement in America continues to evolve  

JUSTICE INTEGRITY PROJECT
By Andrew Kreig
01/19/2016

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is forever enhanced by discovery of a 24-minute recording of his first meeting with the national media, a 1962 speech that was the first-ever by a black in the history of the National Press Club.


To help celebrate King’s birthday Jan. 18, the club unveiled the recording last week in the nation’s capital along with dramatic commentary by other civil rights pioneers.

Among them was Simeon Booker, 97, an African-American reporter who arranged the speech as a member of the club in the still-segregated Washington, DC.

King’s speech and the panel’s context provide an inspiring perspective about the unjust and otherwise dire conditions they helped change. 


Booker was the club’s first active member and in 1952 became the first black reporter at the Washington Post. Sometimes at great risk to his safety, he went on to report iconic stories about the civil rights movement during his five-decade career writing for the JET and Ebony magazines.

Booker, whose stories for JET about the 1955 torture and lynching in Mississippi of 15-year-old Emmet Till outraged black communities nationally, took the lead in urging the press club's speakers committee to invite King. The club had never invited even such black luminaries as Thurgood Marshall, Ralph Bunche, Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson. Booker himself was just the second black press club member. Another joined briefly in the mid-1950s but never became active in the club’s activities.


Civil rights leaders Simeon Booker, Carol McCabe Booker and Judy Richardson at the National Press Club Jan. 12, 2016  (JIP Photo)

The club's program focused heavily on racial conditions at the time of King's speech and less so on the progress that King helped inspire. Neither did it dwell on King's horrid and still-suspicious assassination in 1968. The murder and its investigation have been the subject of lingering questions by his family, others in the civil rights community and many other researchers who still question whether the late convicted assassin James Earl Ray acted alone in shooting at King while he was on the balcony of a Memphis motel.

The murder prompted riots in cities across the nation and many setbacks in the civil rights-antiwar-labor alliance that King was helping lead at that time.




Those chapters of American history were just a few years removed from 1962 when, as described by the press club's panel, even the nation’s capital was so segregated that blacks (called “Negroes”) faced great difficulty even finding a place to eat downtown, much less renting a hotel room or obtaining a lecture audience before a racially mixed audience. Legal, medical, dentistry and other national professional bodies were still segregated at that time for the most part.

Last week, Gilbert Klein, a journalism professor at American University and former club president who helped arrange the Jan. 12 program about the 1962 King lecture, took the stage in the same club ballroom where King had spoken. Klein described how the 1962 invitation was so controversial that the club’s speaker committee chairman resigned in protest.

An audio recording was made of the speech and filed away in the Club’s Archives and later transferred to the Library of Congress. No television footage of the speech in its entirety exists. The Club's History and Heritage Committee recently retrieved the recording and found it is of significant historical value. Coming just days after Dr. King was released from jail in Albany, Ga., the civil rights leader outlined his vision for non-violent protest as the best way to achieve racial equality. The 1962 audiotape of 24 minutes was played below as part of the panel discussion.




Bloomberg journalist John Hughes described the discovery of King’s long-long audio recording and the creation of last week's program as the highlight of his year-long term that ended last week as the press club's volunteer president. "Martin Luther King's 1962 speech was one of the most important events to ever happen at the National Press Club," Hughes said. "I am honored this event at long last is getting proper recognition with such distinguished guests."

In a preview column, Hughes predicted that the evening's highlight would be King's own words:

I have been reviewing a transcript of King's speech in preparation for the program. I am struck by how many common King themes he struck, including his "dream" of civil rights. Keep in mind his most famous "I Have A Dream" speech was more than a year away.

But on July 19, 1962 at the National Press Club, King had this to say:

[King said]: "We are simply seeking to bring into full realization the American dream, a dream yet unfulfilled, a dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed, a dream of a land where men no longer argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character. The dream of a land where every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality."

These words will be on the memorial that will take up a permanent home at the Club. I have read these words -- now you have too. But on Tuesday night, we will hear them for the first time in King's own voice -- at the National Press Club -- in the same room where he delivered them 53 years ago.


Hughes with an image of King in the background photographed on July 19, 1962 overlooking panelists

They are, from left, Courtney Cox, a former organizer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, “SNCC;” Booker and his wife, Carol McCabe Booker; independent film maker and former SNCC organizer Judy Richardson; and John W. Franklin of the Smithsonian Institution’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Joining the panel also were King's friend and advisor Clarence B. Jones, speaking remotely about how he helped Dr. King draft the speech, and WUSA-TV news anchor Bruce Johnson, who described current problems by the media in recruiting racially diverse management suitable for coverage of African American and urban communities.


Clarence B. Jones

The remainder of this column excerpts comments from the panelists and moderator Joe Madison, the Sirius/XM host of The Joe Madison Show and a perennially top-ranked broadcaster in terms of audience reach. (All current photos for this column, aside from that of Klein from the American University site, are by the Justice Integrity Project, which freely grants permission for others to use.) An extensive appendix provides links to others’ reports on the program (including reports by Julia Haskins of the press club for its website and Charles Robinson of Ebony and Maryland Public Radio.

Appended also is an in-depth Washington Post magazine column by Wil Hapgood in 2007 profiling Booker's remarkable career. Included also are several other columns, including retrospectives on King's 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech and former FBI agent and whistleblowing author William W. Turner's death this month. Excerpts are included also of retirement honors for the press club's Richard McClary, who worked at the club for 49 years.


Joe Madison
Moderator Joe Madison, shown at left and known widely to audiences as "The Black Eagle" during his long career, initiated the discussion by describing more of Booker's career.

Booker drew appreciative audience laughs when he deferred to his wife several times to amplify on the specifics of his career.

Booker had begun his newspaper career with the black press in Cleveland but won a prestigious Nieman fellowship to Harvard University in 1952 and a job offer from Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham after completion.


After two years at the Post Booker returned to the black press as a Washington, DC-based national correspondent for JET and Ebony, where he reported on some of the nation's most important and hazardous civil rights stories.

One of those was the boycott in Alabama that King helped organize to halt segregation on bus lines in the state's capital of Montgomery.


Segregated bus in Birmingham, Alabama

King, then a young baptist minister who also held a doctorate, helped train the community with non-violent protests in the spirit of India's Mahatma Gandhi.

Just before King's scheduled speech in 1962 at the press club, he was fined for protesting segregation in Albany, GA. He refused to pay the $178 fine and received a 45-day jail sentence that would have foreclosed his talk except that an anonymous donor paid the fine.

Panelist Courtland Cox, a Mississippi organizer during the Civil Rights movement and now SNCC Legacy Board president, described the goals of the speech, as did King's friend Clarence Jones. 

Jones, affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he encouraged King to challenge the audience of journalists: “I wanted him to say as part of the speech, ‘Why has it taken so long for a Negro to speak at the Press Club?’”

Jones recalled this response from his friend: "Dr. King said, “No, that would be off the issue” of larger problems of race relations in America.


Courtland Cox
Cox, shown at right, described problems this way: “It wasn’t just the Press Club. It was the whole environment. It was the whole society for the black community, and for Simeon to take that stand took a whole lot of courage.” 

Judy Richardson, a former SNCC staff member and documentary film maker who worked on the Public Broadcasting Service series “Eyes on the Prize,” recalled, “Dr. King [had] this incredible intelligence but he was also a charismatic leader.”


Panelist John Franklin, senior manager in the Office of External Affairs at the African American history museum, said the speech's presentation doubtless surprised and impressed the audience. “They probably expected a preacher, but not a scholar, and....they were probably surprised at the presentation, the decorum, at his civility.”

Reflecting on current media issues, WUSA-TV anchor Bruce Johnson described many community-oriented efforts and lingering problems in news management. “You have to work at diversity, and that’s what Dr. King was saying,” Johnson said. “You’re changing the mindset, you’re changing the culture.”



Andrew Kreig


Andrew Kreig, Esq.
Andrew Kreig is Justice Integrity Project Executive Director and co-founder with over two decades experience as an attorney and non-profit executive in Washington, DC. An author and longtime investigative reporter, his primary focus since 2008 has been exploring allegations of official corruption and other misconduct in federal agencies. He has been a consultant and volunteer leader in advising several non-profit groups fostering cutting-edge applications within the communications industries.
  
As president and CEO of the Wireless Communications Association International (WCAI) from 1996 until 2008, Kreig led its worldwide advocacy that helped create the broadband wireless industry. Previously, he was WCAI vice president and general counsel, an associate at Latham & Watkins, law clerk to a federal judge, author of the book Spiked about the newspaper business and a longtime reporter for the Hartford Courant.

Listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World from the mid-1990s and currently, he holds law degrees from the University of Chicago School of Law and from Yale Law School. Reared in New York City, his undergraduate degree in history is from Cornell University, where he was a student newspaper editor, rowing team member, and Golden Gloves boxer.


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