"A Minority of Misguided Senators": MLK on the FilibusterBreaking News
tags: civil rights, filibuster, U.S. Senate, Martin Luther King Jr.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that if Republicans continue to block a voting rights bill, the chamber would vote on changes to filibuster rules. Then he set a deadline for the vote: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Every January, as the holiday approaches, politicians of every stripe start posting quotes from the famed civil rights leader to social media. A lot of the time, it’s the quote about King’s children being judged by the content of their character, taken from the “I Have a Dream” speech.
The quote-a-thon has gotten to the point where King’s daughter Bernice King has told people to “enact policies that reflect your birthday sentiments,” and at least a dozen times, she has urged them to learn another quote and/or stop taking that one out of context. So has King’s son Martin Luther King III.
And his children regularly respond when officials and lobbyists wrongly invoke his name while pushing their agendas in support of, say, a border wall, or concealed-carry gun permits, or their boss who might get impeached.
But the context in which King shared his views on the filibuster is the same one in which the Senate now finds itself: amid battles over voting rights legislation.
In July 1963, King was in Washington when he gave a few interviews about a potential civil rights act. President John F. Kennedy had pitched it a month earlier in a speech to the American people, saying he wanted to end racial segregation in public accommodations and to strengthen voting rights.
One interview was with “Press Conference U.S.A.,” a government-funded television show distributed internationally. By law, each broadcast could not air domestically until 12 years after it was recorded, according to C-SPAN. King was questioned for 30 minutes by a panel.
Toward the end, William Workman of the State, a Columbia, S.C., newspaper, brought up Kennedy’s civil rights bill. Would King, he asked, be amenable to bringing Kennedy’s proposals to a national referendum?
“Well, this would certainly be all right with me, because I think the vast majority of people in the United States would vote favorably for such a bill,” he said.
King then moved from the journalist’s hypothetical to the real world, continuing: “I think the tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting. They won’t let the majority senators vote. And certainly they wouldn’t want the majority of people to vote, because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people. In fact, they represent, in their own states, a very small minority.”
It was that way “all throughout the South,” he said.
So: not a filibuster fan.
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