FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Coretta Scott King a Communist? There’s a History Here

by CHRIS KROMM

The Washington Post’s newly hired and fired blogger Ben Domenech, a paleo-conservative brought on to “balance” the paper’s “liberal” image, is being hammered on many fronts. He was given the boot on allegations of plagiarism. But the only charge he’s addressed — and apologized for — is his bizarre claim the recently deceased Coretta Scott King was a “communist.” Here’s Domenech’s equivocating apology yesterday:

“Some people have taken issue with an old two-line comment of mine on RedState.com where I referred to Coretta Scott King as a Communist on the day after her funeral. Coretta Scott King was many things, and her most significant contribution was the unflagging support of her husband in his own noble work to bring equality to all Americans.

“She was also a liberal activist on a number of issues, including same-sex marriage and abortion. The thread where my comment appeared discussed President Bush’s attendance at Mrs. King’s funeral, which was criticized by some for its political nature. My comment questioned the president’s decision to attend the funeral after he had phoned in a message to the March for Life, the largest pro-life rally and a significant annual event. Mrs. King participated in many different political causes, some of which involved associations with questionable people, but referring to her as a Communist was a mistake, hyperbole in the context of a larger debate about President Bush’s political priorities. Mea Culpa.”

No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either why being upset that Bush isn’t sufficiently “pro-life” is any reason to have a Joe McCarthy moment.

But there’s a history here, one which the WaPo and both sides of the bloggerati missed. Communist hysteria like Domenech’s outburst was one of the critical tools — some historians say the most important — that the Southern power structure and their national allies used to discredit the civil rights struggle and maintain white supremacy.

Days after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech at the August 1963 March on Washington, Herbert Hoover’s FBI went into overdrive to find a way to discredit King, who he saw as a “demagogic.”

Realizing that King and the movement were gaining the moral high ground, the FBI desperately turned to two lines of attack to bring King down: exposing him as a philanderer and, most importantly, a communist. After learning that “200 communists” attended the 1963 march — out of 250,000 total — the FBI singled out King in this dispatch:

He stands head and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negroes. We must mark him now . . . as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of Communism the Negro and national security.

It was then that Hoover approved his infamous COMINFIL-COINTELPRO program, which called for intensifying efforts to uncover “Communist influence on the Negro,” which included wiretapping and harassment of King and others active in the movement.

The “red menace” and Cold War politics were used at all levels to discredit every measure of racial progress in the South. It was the pretext for Kentucky authorities to charge Carl Braden and recently-deceased Anne Braden with sedition in 1954 for merely selling their house to an African-American couple in segregated Louisville.

The idea that King and the movement had Moscow on speed-dial is, of course, total bunk and laughable to any informed observer (I don’t include Domenech in this category). There were surely members of the left, including communists, who were deeply involved in civil rights, including King’s close friend Stanley Levinson.

But most weren’t communists intent on helping the Soviets: for example, the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee that trained Rosa Parks and other civil rights figures — and which the right wing still uses as “proof” of King’s nefarious red ties — was led by home-grown Christian socialists and pacifists. The Kings themselves were never members of any group.

That leads to another key part of this story that most bloggers are missing. If Martin and Coretta King “associated” with communists, it was for the simple reason that leftists were often the first and most dedicated defenders of civil rights. For example, the communist International Defense League was the first group to step forward to defend the “Scottsboro Boys,” the nine black teens sentenced to death in trumped-up charges of raping a white woman (even the NAACP wouldn’t take the case).

African Americans in the South did occasionally turn to white socialists and communists for support because liberal and “tolerant” whites often flaked out (read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” directed at the white liberal clergy). Those further to the left were much more reliable and hard-working allies.

On the other side, civil rights leaders also saw that those who red-baited and whipped up communist hysteria were also those who most bitterly defended white racist rule. When the Red Scare right-wingers forced people to take sides, which do you think was more appealing to African-Americans in the South?

So let’s be clear: Domenech’s comment is more than unhinged howling (although it is that). It’s part of the right’s larger preoccupation with reliving the Cold War, and a larger agenda to resuscitate McCarthyism and validate the Red Scare.

There are two goals at work here. One is to justify today’s crack-down on dissent, from illegal wire-tapping and surveillance of peace groups, to the harassment of “tenured radicals” the right fears are out to brainwash our impressionable youth.

But just as dangerously, it’s also an attempt to re-write our entire history — to cast at victims those who stood for racism, white rule and persecution (McCarthy suffered from a “witch-hunt,” says Ann Coulter), and to portray those who stood most nobly for justice and freedom as diabolically un-American.

In other words, to change the very definition of progress in our country.

We need more than a good movie by George Clooney to win this battle.

CHRIS KROMM is Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies,

 

 

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail