As word spread across the internet of the death of Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), headlines began appearing laced with the same accolades that had been heaped on him in life: “freedom fighter,” “icon,” and “giant,” to name a few. Nearly every obit mentioned that he had gotten his head bashed in a time or two during the Civil Rights Movement (or as I prefer to call it “the Civil Wrongs Movement“). The coverage was basically more of the same journalistic mad-lib that reporters fill in every time they write about Lewis.
No article I have yet encountered mentioned Lewis’s penchant for lying. During his more than thirty years in Congress, Lewis made more than a few questionable statements that suggested a casual relationship with the truth, a trait not unusual among politicians. What made Lewis special was that he escaped the media’s critical eye. The “fact-checkers” who are always hot on Republicans’ heels left Lewis alone — and not because he was more truthful.
While reminiscing about all of John Lewis’s spectacular fibs I stumbled upon one that had slipped my mind. How could I have forgotten about the time in 2016 when he claimed to have met a young Bill and Hillary Clinton during the height of the Civil Rights Movement? Lewis’s remarks came during the 2016 primary season when Hillary was fending off the insurgent Bernie Sanders, who had actually been a part of the movement. Sanders was at the 1963 March on Washington which should surprise no one. As a young communist, Sanders wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I never saw him. I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed [the] voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.
Sanders was in fact a local organizer for SNCC, the organization that Lewis headed. It’s possible that Lewis, as national chairman of the organization, just didn’t meet or doesn’t remember meeting a young activist working on the local level — but it’s also irrelevant. What matters is that Sanders had participated in the movement and Lewis knew this when he made his remarks in 2016. Similarly, he knew that Bill and Hillary had been AWOL.
It’s literally inconceivable that Lewis could have met the Clintons because they didn’t even meet each other until 1971 when they were law students at Yale. Or did Lewis mean that he met them separately? That seems like a stretch but even that generous interpretation is belied by Lewis’s own scribblings.
In a book titled “Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton, from Hope to Harlem,” Congressman Lewis recounts his history with the man. He states very clearly that he first heard of the future president when Clinton was an up-and-coming young lawyer in Arkansas in the early 1970s. Lewis also says that he first met him only in 1991 when then-Gov. Clinton sought his endorsement.
So no, Lewis did not see Bill Clinton at a lunch counter sit-in or at Edmund Pettus bridge because Bill wasn’t there. Bill was smoking grass and chasing college co-eds.
Hillary is a different story. It’s actually possible, however unlikely, that Hillary Clinton once crossed paths with Martin Luther King. She claimed in 2007 that a youth minister from her childhood church organized a trip to Chicago to see him speak and that she attended. Hillary pegs the date at 1963 though other sources, including her biographer, point to other years — as early as 1961 and as late as 1964. The Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs is quite sure that none of the dates provided by anyone matches the historical record, though he stops short of saying that it didn’t happen.
But really, who cares if Hillary saw MLK speak? It’s probably a fable but even if it were actually true there’s little evidence that she supported any part of his agenda. She was a Goldwater Girl and Barry Goldwater thankfully voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If Hillary had been a supporter the Civil Rights Movement she would not have supported a constitutional conservative like Goldwater.
So why all the lies? What is it about the so-called Civil Rights Movement that induces spastic fibbing? Like rear-echelon veterans telling barstool war stories, people who lived through the era have an annoying habit of recounting tales of “being there.” Otherwise sane and respectable people who spent the 1960s listening to Frankie Valli records and going to matinee monster flicks succumb to mass psychosis and start spinning yarns about how they’d marched with Martin or barely missed being killed by the Klan for the offense of registering black voters. Just don’t ask for proof because they have none.
And why shouldn’t people lie? The movement itself was borne of lies — about its sponsorship, its leadership, its true aims, and its tactics — and it has birthed a healthy litter of more lies since then. Even its name is a lie.
Lying about this movement is truly a bipartisan affair. Republican Mitt Romney went as far as to claim that his own father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, had “march[ed] with Martin Luther King.” He saw it with his own eyes!
Mitt must have been hallucinating because his father never marched with King. It appears that the elder Romney supported much of King’s insidious agenda — or at least the portion that King allowed the public to see — and marched in some kind of NAACP-sponsored “civil rights” march in Grosse Pointe, Mich. But King wasn’t there. Romney later backed off the claim. “He was speaking figuratively, not literally,” said a spokesman for the Romney campaign. How Mitt could have seen his father “figuratively” marching with a flesh and blood human being is a mystery.
Martin Luther King’s niece, the conservative pro-life activist Dr. Alveda King, also claims that her Uncle Martin was a passionate advocate for the unborn. As much as I support her cause, she is either deluded or lying about this. Far from being a pro-life stalwart, MLK was a recipient of the Margret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood.
Alveda King explains away this rather significant fact by claiming (falsely) that Planned Parenthood was at the time only an advocate of “natural family planning.” Alveda King explains: “So Martin Luther King, believing that he was adding his voice to a helpful cause, accepted the award. He was assassinated in ’68; all during that time, abortion was illegal in every state in America.”
Nope. California and Colorado legalized abortion in 1967, and her uncle didn’t lift a finger to stop it. King, like every other carousing tomcat I have ever known, supported “a woman’s right to choose” — to kill babies.
And the list of people who lie about this movement goes on and on. In the days after King’s assassination a relatively unknown seminary drop-out named “Reverend” Jesse Jackson positioned himself to be MLK’s rightful heir. He even wore a shirt allegedly stained with MLK’s blood in order to prove that he had been by King’s side that fateful day in Memphis. Jackson paraded around for some time afterward wearing that shirt and looking for media flashbulbs.
It’s true that Jackson belonged to King’s organization. It’s also true that he was at the Lorraine Motel though some of King’s closest confidants dispute that he was close enough to have gotten King’s blood on himself.
Reverend Hosea Williams, a member of King’s outfit, remembers seeing Jackson on national television the next day. “Before we knew it, he was on the ‘Today’ show. I thought it was horrible,” Williams said. “Why would he keep a bloody shirt on all night? The blood did not come from the body of Dr. [sic] King.”
It’s hard to say whose blood was on the shirt but we do know one thing for sure: That garment was Jackson’s ticket to the top of the “civil rights” community, which he personally transformed into a for-profit business venture.
As Chicago Tribune reporter Celeste Garrett wrote in 2001:
The incident drove a wedge between Jackson and many other members of the civil rights movement, including King aides Hosea Williams and [Ralph] Abernathy and even King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who saw his actions as an opportunistic way to raise his own profile.
Gee, ya think?
Jackson was not even one of MLK’s key lieutenants, much less his right-hand man. That job went to Ralph Abernathy. In the years that followed, Jackson would shove Abernathy from the limelight and profit greatly in his role as media-designated spokesman for black America.
Many Americans who lived through that time, if they were honest, would admit that they really didn’t care about the movement and probably thought King was an agitator. In my opinion, they were right — he was an agitator. But in the ensuing years the social pressure to revere MLK has become so intense that no one will admit ever having been indifferent to his movement much less having opposed it.
And so people lie — flagrantly, unceasingly, and shamelessly. For my part, I am sick to death of all the lying. The truth will set us free.