LBJ hated, wiretapped, threatened MLK. As Winston Churchill famously said, “history is written by the victors,” which means that truth is often the first casualty in the aftermath of the conflict.
By Roger Stone
Last week, “historian” Mark Updegrove, who doubles as a paid employee of the taxpayer financed Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, stretched the envelop in a POLITICO article in which he claimed that the new movie “Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay and starring Giovanni Ribisi, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, distorts the relationship between President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the civil rights leader. Ironically, Updegrove claims that the movie misrepresents historical truth when in fact it is Updegrove’s narrative that repeats the sanitized “history” of the poisoned relationship between LBJ and MLK.
Now former LBJ associate Joseph Califano has jumped into the fray claiming that the “Selma” movie doesn’t properly reflect the productive relationship between Johnson and King. While King and LBJ had a brief period in which their interests coincided, both Updegrove and Califano failed to even mention Dr. King’s pivotal opposition to the Vietnam War that would win the enmity of LBJ. Updegrove and Califano are both trying to truncate history with this omission.
To her credit, film Director Ava DeVernay has defended her film-and she should–she gets the enmity LBJ had for King exactly right. The Selma march was not LBJ’s idea as his lackeys claim and LBJ is patronizing King even as his administration was wire-tapping the civil rights leader, as well as bugging his hotel rooms and the FBI was sending King anonymous threatening letters. Kudos to Oprah Winfrey for having the courage to make this Oscar bound exercise in truth.
First it is important to recognize that Lyndon Baines Johnson was a life-long segregationist who resisted numerous attempts to eliminate the poll tax and literacy tests during his twenty-three year career in the House and Senate, and blocked every major and minor piece of meaningful civil rights legislation as the leader of the Southern block in the US Senate, and as its powerful Majority Leader. It was Lyndon Johnson who neutered the 1957 Civil Rights Act with a poison pill amendment which required violators of the Act be tried before state (all-white), not Federal juries. Many contemporary liberals such as Joseph Rauh, the president of Americans for Democratic Action, and A. Philip Randolph, a vice president of the AFL-CIO, called the bill worthless, and “worse than no bill at all.”As Vice President, Lyndon Johnson orchestrated southern congressional opposition to JFK’s civil rights agenda and repeatedly warned JFK to go slow on the civil rights, voting rights, and open housing legislation that Kennedy had promised in his 1960 campaign. LBJ, you see, was reserving these initiatives for himself, as he repeatedly cautioned President Kennedy to wait “until the time is right.” On Capitol Hill, Johnson simultaneously lobbied his “establishment” friends to stall that same legislation.
Johnson would do an about-face on civil rights immediately upon becoming president, now that the “time was right.” He did so to begin the creation of a grand legacy for himself through the passage of the same legislation that he had previously impeded, and to fend-off a challenge from Robert F. Kennedy at the 1964 Democratic convention His maneuvering also gave himself currency in the left wing of his party so that he could escalate the Vietnam War unimpeded, having won their support. He had also promised his longtime supporters in the defense contracting business, as well as the Pentagon, that after he was reelected “you’ll get your war.” LBJ would quickly repeal executive orders by JFK to begin the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam that would have been completed by 1965; instead, by that year, hundreds of thousands of young draftees were sent to Americanize their civil war. Additionally, Lady Bird Johnson’s “blind trust” was heavy in defense stocks and the Johnson’s made millions from US-Vietnam War contracts with Brown and Root, Halliburton and Bell Helicopter. Johnson’s complete turnabout on civil rights was also timed to silence those on the left who were suspicious about the fact that their hero, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down in Lyndon Johnson’s Dallas. Those who have read the New York Times best selling book, “The Man Who Killed Kennedy – The Case against LBJ” (by Roger Stone),”LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination” or “LBJ: From Mastermind to The Colossus” (by Phillip F. Nelson) are familiar with the compelling case that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the lynch-pin of a plot to assassinate President John Kennedy.
While Updegrove points out that King can’t resist telling Johnson that “if Negros had been registered to vote in the southern states that voted for Goldwater, LBJ would have carried every state in 1964,” somehow Updegrove fails to tell us that Johnson would boast that “I’ll have those niggers voting Democratic for 200 years” in his banter with a group of southern governors. Johnson’s embrace of civil rights is based on no moral principle; even when LBJ does the right thing, he did it for self-interest, as part of his plan to create a grand legacy for himself. In fact, LBJ did none of the arm-twisting for the 1964 Civil Rights Act himself, leaving that to Vice President Hubert Humphrey to round up the votes. Neither Johnson nor Humphrey could deliver all Democrats and the 1964 Civil Rights Act only passed with the support of Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen and 27 Senate Republicans. LBJ did strip the voting rights section out of the 1964 bill, saving it for still another bill in 1965 so it would add another “bullet” for his legacy.
After King’s assassination, the King family, suspecting a cover-up, could not get federal cooperation in determining who actually killed Dr. King. They brought a successful wrongful death civil suit against a Memphis police officer in which they convinced the court that the murder of Dr. King was orchestrated by several federal intelligence agencies including the CIA and was covered-up by the FBI. King family lawyers called sixty-eight witnesses and convinced the jury that the plot included the CIA, Army Intelligence, FBI, and the Memphis police. The jury at that trial determined that “others including government agencies were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant.” This is of course during the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, said publicly that a conspiracy that included the Mafia, local, state and federal agencies were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband.” Their son, Dexter Scott King, who headed the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta, as reported by the New York Times, on June 20, 1997 publicly blamed Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, Army Intelligence and the FBI for the murder of his father.Indeed, LBJ’s Attorney General Ramsey Clark helped convict James Earl Ray before he was tried, by announcing that he was guilty in King’s death, despite a preponderance of evidence Ray was not the killer.
That King would be murdered by the government, while Johnson was the head of State is not surprising. It was under the administration of President Lyndon Johnson that the FBI heavily wiretapped Dr. King and the FBI sent an anonymous letter to King threatening to expose his sexual infidelity and taste for white women unless he committed suicide. That bugging started just six weeks before JFK’s assassination, when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — who then needed Hoover’s help to cover his brother’s sexual indiscretions from exposure by the then-unfolding Senate investigations that had just yielded Bobby Baker’s forced resignation and put his association with Lyndon Johnson under public scrutiny — approved the FBI wiretap of King. Baker , LBJ’s right hand man told POLITICO in 2013 that he had set up the sexual liaison between JFK and Ellen Rometsch suspected of being a East German spy and ultimately hustled out of the country. At that point, the Kennedys believed that one of King’s closest advisers had been a long-time member of the American Communist Party, and that he had misled them with his promises to cut his ties with that person, an advisor named Stanley Levinson. After JFK’s assassination, RFK became ineffectual in his position, cut off from above by Johnson and from below by Hoover, both of whom liked to play the recordings of King’s sexual trysts for their own amusement or at cocktail parties for others as well. LBJ played them for long time crony long-time Texas pal of Johnson’s, then Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes.
In his strange effort to recast the enmity that LBJ held for King, Updegrove is quick to quote King assistant Andrew Young as claiming that LBJ needed the Selma march as an impetus for the 1965 Civil Rights Act. Updegrove then tries to tell us that the movie “Selma” obscures a warm and productive relationship between Johnson and King. Airbrushed out of Updegrove’s narrative is King’s speech of April 4 1967 in which King came out strongly against the Vietnam War, causing Johnson to fly into a Texas-sized rage calling King “that nigger preacher,” according to the same Andrew Young.
With his opposition to the war, King became a moral force who challenged the political establishment and the administration of Lyndon Johnson. Shortly before his death, Hoover’s FBI would overhear King on a wiretap telling a close associate that “Bobby Kennedy is my main man” and disclosing his intention to endorse Kennedy in his fledgling bid to win the White House in 1968. One can imagine the speed with which J. Edgar Hoover would have made President Johnson aware of King’s comments. Three weeks later King would be dead. Nine weeks later Kennedy would be dead. The King family thinks LBJ did it.
Lyndon Johnson should be remembered not for the myths about his “greatness,” but for the damages he wrought, the most horrific being the conduct of the Vietnam war for his own pecuniary and political advantage. The myths that he created, now being perpetuated by his still-sycophantic assistants and the new director of the LBJ Library, are merely evidence that Johnson perfected the skills that Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, once asserted: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Roger Stone is a historian & legendary American Republican political consultant who has played a key role in the election of Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Stone also served as an assistant to Senator Bob Dole. Stone is the author of “The Man Who Killed Kennedy – the Case Against LBJ” (Skyhorse). Stone is also the author of Nixon’s Secrets, a broader look at the rise and fall and rise and fall and final comeback of Richard Milhouse Nixon.