Posted by Curt on 19 September, 2023 at 9:20 am. 2 comments already!

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by Elizabeth Vaughn

In the third volume of his widely acclaimed series, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate,” historian Robert Caro chronicled LBJ’s rapid rise to power in the U.S. Senate during the 1950s. Since no history of Johnson would be complete without a thorough account of the civil rights movement and the Southern Democrats’ extraordinary efforts to suppress it, Caro examines those events in painstaking detail.

What emerges is a striking pattern of similarities between the Democrats’ treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and members of the movement he founded, and the tactics Democrats are using today against former President Donald Trump and members of his MAGA movement.

Caro focuses on the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott which began in late 1955 and ended with a stunning Supreme Court victory for King’s then-nascent movement in November 1956.

In a unanimous May 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. This ruling spawned the rise of the White Citizens’ Council, a network of white supremacist groups that vehemently opposed the integration of students in public schools.

Caro noted that bus boycotts had been tried many times in southern cities and had always ended in defeat. Democrats naturally assumed this one would fail as well. But times were changing. Coming on the heels of the Emmett Till lynching in August 1955, the national press was starting to pay attention to the despicable treatment of blacks in the South.

Shortly after the boycott began, Montgomery Mayor William Armistead “Tacky” Gayle, Jr., a Democrat, organized a WCC rally in the city’s coliseum. Over ten thousand people showed up to hear Sen. James O. Eastland (D-MI) speak at “the largest pro-segregation rally in history.”

According to Caro, Eastland told the group: “In every stage of the bus boycott, we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, incredibly stinking n******. African flesh-eaters. When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives. All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of dead n******.”

(It should be noted that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden bragged about working with Eastland and other Democratic segregationists in a June 2019 campaign speech.)

It was not unusual to hear vile statements like this from Southern Democrats at that time. Eastman’s disgusting words were representative of the sentiments that many politicians felt were not only perfectly justified, but worth fighting for.

Just as Democrats in Washington today are weaponizing government agencies against Trump, Montgomery officials weaponized the law against King and his followers. They urged businessmen to fire black employees who participated in the boycott. Police arrested participants for “loitering” as they waited in carpool parking lots for rides to work. They issued “so many traffic tickets” to carpool drivers that “the drivers faced the loss of their licenses and insurance.”

Moreover, an all-white grand jury prepared 115 indictments under an obscure anti-boycott ordinance. Before serving the indictments, city officials tried to intimidate one of the boycott’s leaders, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, into giving up the fight. When he rightly refused, the indictments were served.

Caro writes that city officials requested (and received) an “injunction banning the carpool as an unlicensed transportation system.”

King’s enemies even targeted his home during this period. His house was bombed twice – once while his wife and baby were inside. On another occasion, shots were fired at the home.

King was arrested by local law enforcement on bogus charges several times during the boycott. But these arrests – and the mugshots that followed – only served to lift King and the movement he had founded to national attention. Although it didn’t happen overnight, it was the exposure of the Democrats’ cruel and inhumane treatment of southern blacks that ultimately led to the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation the following decade.

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