Ride partner wanted for king s Pierre

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They handcuffed him, shackled his legs, and hustled him out of the cell. It was 4 a. Hurried along, he asked repeatedly for an explanation, but the men said nothing.

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With a terrible foreboding, King soon found himself seated in the back of a police car rolling into the night; the only light came from the headlamps piercing the darkness. She was six months pregnant with their third child, and she had already had an emotional week.

But the band of youths, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, insisted. The SNCC was well-organized and impatient. The young activists urged King to come along—and go to jail with them—to draw attention to their campaign. King advised the students to hold off until after the presidential election now just weeks away; but the students saw an opportunity to force the candidates to address the issue of segregation.

If King were arrested with dozens of young protesters, then both contenders would have no choice Ride partner wanted for king s Pierre to speak out. By dawn, King discovered he had been granted a less evil fate as the squad car turned into the maximum security state prison in Reidsville. But his danger was far from over. If he were put to hard labor, as the judge had ordered, he would work side by side in a road gang with ruthless white criminals, many of them killers who had nothing to lose and everything to gain—national notoriety and prison respect—by murdering a black celebrity.

Some quiet, back-channel way had to be found to free the civil rights leader. Kennedy was motivated by his outrage, by his sympathy for the King family, and by bald political calculation. In a meeting with Kennedy just weeks earlier, King had urged the senator to take some dramatic action to prove to blacks that his commitment to their cause was genuine.

His moment had arrived. The senator had to walk a fine line: show decency to a black man without alienating the white community. During the presidential campaign, Kennedy raised suspicions in the black community by his blatant courtship of Southern white support. After the Democratic National Convention in July, he began shoring up his reputation among Southern leaders, meeting privately with them to allay fears that he would Ride partner wanted for king s Pierre an aggressive civil rights president. Kennedy promised Governor Vandiver that as president he would never use federal troops to force Georgia to desegregate its schools.

In return, Vandiver declared his preference for the senator and vowed to lead Georgia into the Kennedy column on Election Day. It would be of tremendous benefit to me. In the Nixon camp, strategists calculated the political consequences and concluded the best course of action was silence. Nixon held fast to his decision even after a visit from his staunch supporter baseball hero and civil rights activist Jackie Robinson. Because of their fervor for black rights, Wofford and Shriver were regarded as overly sentimental activists with impaired political judgment and were relegated to the periphery of the campaign.

But the two men exerted a subtle yet powerful influence on the campaign: They forced a sense of conscience upon the political realists. Wofford phoned Louis Martin, a successful black businessman and newspaper publisher who had deep political roots and was helping the campaign reach out to the black community.

Martin was concerned about King, and after commiserating, the two men batted around some ideas. Now came the hard part: getting this idea to Kennedy, who was campaigning in Chicago, and persuading him to act on it. After his private call to Governor Vandiver in the morning, the candidate had attended a breakfast with fifty businessmen. After several tries Wofford finally tracked down Sargent Shriver, who was also in Chicago but not with the Kennedy entourage out at the airport.

When Shriver got to the hotel suite he found Kennedy surrounded by aides, all rigidly opposed to the idea. King and her family must be going through, from a political point of view, all I can see is that it could backfire. Shriver hovered, waiting to make his case alone. Finally the aides began to disperse: Wordsmith Ted Sorensen left to work on a speech, and press secretary Pierre Salinger went out to speak with reporters. I want time alone with him. His mind was elsewhere. King that you believe what happened to her husband was wrong and that you will do what you can to see the situation rectified and that in general you stand behind him.

Kennedy was not paying attention. To engage him, Shriver appealed to his conscience. If you telephone Mrs. King, they will know you understand and will help. You will reach their hearts and give support to a pregnant woman who is afraid her husband will be killed. Although cool and detached, Kennedy was in a quiet way sympathetic to the suffering of others and had a reflexive dislike of unfairness. All at once, Shriver noticed a change of heart in his brother-in-law.

How do I get to her? When the phone rang that morning, Coretta listened as Sargent Shriver introduced himself and told her he was with Jack Kennedy in Chicago. After several seconds, she heard a voice familiar to her; she had just recently watched Kennedy give a smooth performance in the televised debates. I know this must be very hard for you. Just as he protected his Vandiver conversation, Jack Kennedy was in no hurry to reveal that he had chatted with Coretta. In the air, he nonchalantly mentioned it to Salinger who, recognizing a potential media firestorm, immediately relayed the news via the onboard radiophone to campaign manager Bobby Kennedy in Washington.

Bobby was apoplectic when he learned that Shriver, Wofford, and Louis Martin had conspired and put Jack up to the call. Now the campaign had to prepare to control the damage. Do you know that this election may be razor close and you have probably lost it for us?

About two hours later he stepped off a chartered plane at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport into the arms of his relieved wife and other supporters. Speaking to reporters at the airport, King said he was indebted to Kennedy for his role. King also took the opportunity to say that he had not heard from Vice President Richard Nixon and knew of no Republican efforts on his behalf. In a single day, the senator beat back years of skepticism about his commitment to racial justice. Debates raged over whether his call to Coretta was a calculated political act or a true expression of compassion.

Whatever the truth was, the act inspired a flood of raw emotion. The front of the Chicago Defender featured a photo of King holding his young son and rubbing cheeks with him while his wife, Coretta, kissed him on his other cheek and his daughter stood at his elbow peering up at him.

Above the photo was a large headline: REV. The New York Post sent a reporter into Harlem to gauge the reaction. Nixon, in his refusal to comment or take a stand on the civil rights issue that Rev. Kennedy suffered only minor fallout among Southern white voters.

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Despite voting restrictions that prevented Southern blacks from casting ballots in s that Ride partner wanted for king s Pierre population justified, their impact could be substantial. In Illinois, for instance, where he topped Nixon by 9, votes,blacks voted for Kennedy.

In Michigan, he won the votes of anotherblacks and carried the state by 67, votes. In South Carolina, he carried the state by 10, votes with 40, blacks casting ballots for him. In his book The Making of the Presidentcampaign historian Theodore White assessed the impact of the call to Coretta. Nationwide, Kennedy got onlymore votes than Nixon did out of a total 68, ballots cast. Kennedy tallied Altogether, blacks turned out for Kennedy in staggering s. A Gallup poll put the figure at 70 percent, and an IBM poll came up with 68 percent. InAdlai Stevenson got 60 percent.

Nixon was embittered by his narrow loss and the surprising black turnout for Kennedy. I had meant Herb [Klein, his press secretary] to say that I had no comment at this time. Nixon in fact had heard a drumbeat of voices within his campaign begging him to speak out immediately, but he remained silent. John Kennedy never explained his reason for placing the call to Coretta King. Was the candidate driven by politics or by goodwill?

Cynics see only a man of callous manipulation, and torchbearers for Kennedy see only his grace and humanity. As Martin Luther King Jr. And that ninety-second conversation laid massive expectations on the Kennedy presidency. at letters time. Ideas Books John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. By Steven Levingston. Be the first to see the new cover of TIME and get our most compelling stories delivered straight to your inbox. Please enter a valid address. Please attempt to up again. Up Now. An unexpected error has occurred with your up. Please try again later.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors. Related Stories. You have reached your limit of 4 free articles.

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Ride partner wanted for king s Pierre

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