95ab616d7ed3755e887c0c8abd77dfdd0fef68b0 Reagan's breathtaking press conference at the end of the MLK day | News Everywhere

Reagan's breathtaking press conference at the end of the MLK day

“When a Hollywood performer, undistinguished even as an actor, can become a war hawk running for president, only the irrationalities induced by war psychosis can account for such a melancholic turn.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., November 1967.

As the nation prepares to commemorate Martin Luther King jr. Day on the heels of the President that of Joe Biden suffrage speech and the GOP the pearl clutch that followed it, it is worth remembering this revered republican deity Ronald Reagan opposed King’s Day until the day he signed it and did not hide the truth of it during a press conference the day the law was passed.

Then-President Reagan held a press conference on October 19, 1983, the day the U.S. Senate passed legislation creating a federal King’s Day veto. margin from 78-22. At this press conference, Reagan answered several questions about Dr. King, the answers to which failed to shower the Gipper with glory.

Then ABC News White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson asked Reagan about the then senator jesse helms‘ defame of Dr. King as a communist sympathizer.

“Do you agree?” Donaldson asked.

“Well, we’ll find out in about 35 years, won’t we?” Reagan responded, adding that “I don’t blame Senator Helms’ sincerity for wanting the files opened. I think it’s driven by the feeling that if we’re going to have a national holiday named for any American, when it’s only been named for an American in all of our history thus far, that he thinks we should know everything we should know about an individual.

“And I say I don’t blame his sincerity in that, but I also recognize that there is no way to open these files,” Reagan added. “Because an agreement has been reached between the family and the government regarding these files. And we’re not going to walk away from that or set a precedent for breaking deals like this.

Not content with simply defending Helms, Reagan then made it clear that he was only reluctantly willing to sign the law. When Donaldson asked Reagan if he thought King’s vacation should be canceled if Helms’ smears were confirmed decades from now, Reagan revealed that he still preferred that Dr. King not receive a federal vacation.

While I would have preferred a day of recognition for his accomplishments and what he meant in a stormy time in our history here, I would have preferred a day of recognition similar to Lincoln’s birthday, which is technically not a national holiday, but it is certainly a day revered by many people in our country, and has been. I would have preferred that.

But since they seem determined to make it a national holiday, I believe the symbolism of this day is important enough for me to sign it, I will sign this law when it hits my desk.

“They seem determined to make it a national holiday.”

Regardless of who, exactly, the “they” references to Reagan are, the fact is that the bill passed both houses of Congress with rock-solid majorities. If anyone was “leaning” it was Reagan, by the express will of Congress.

Later in that same press conference, the NBC News White House correspondent Andrea Mitchell followed the King’s Holiday, pressing Reagan on another of his many honor objections, and asked a very uncomfortable follow-up question.

“Mr. President, you said in the past, a year and a half ago, following Sam, that you had real reservations about spending another national holiday,” Mitchell said. , to quote you, you said, ‘We may not be able to afford all those vacations we would have with people who are also revered figures in the history of many of the groups that make up our population. .’ So I wonder, why have you changed your mind now about Dr. King’s vacation, and why are you willing to sign this legislation? »

“Because I think it became so symbolic of what was a very real crisis in our history, and a discrimination that was quite foreign to what is normal with us, and the part he played in that” , Reagan said. “I think the symbolism is worthy of it.”

“I’d like to continue, then,” Mitchell said. “Can you explain to us why you have decided to spend the coming weekend in Augusta at a very exclusive golf club that we understand has no black members?”

Reagan pushed his way through his uncomfortable response.

“I don’t know anything about membership, but I know there’s nothing in the bylaws of this club that advocates any kind of discrimination,” Reagan said. “I saw in a recent tournament there, a national tournament, I saw black people playing in that tournament on that course. I was invited as a guest to come down and play a round of golf on the Augusta Golf Course and like I said, I think I’ve covered everything I know about it.

Reagan has, in effect, to pass this weekend in Augusta, and in another strangely resonant piece of history, ended up trying to talk to a gunman who took hostages at the club. The man was angry by layoffs at US Steel, and later said he had no intention of killing Reagan, but “I just wanted to talk to him. I was protesting against our government giving our jobs to foreigners.

For those tempted to swallow Reagan’s lip service to King’s Day, returned after receiving a bill he couldn’t have prevented from becoming law, and signing it above his own explicit reservations, consider the letter he sent a few weeks before this press conference. .

Former Governor Meldrim Thomson Jr. (R-NH) shipped Reagan a letter begging him to veto King’s Day, calling Dr. King “a man of immoral character” and repeating Senator Helms’ accusation of communism.

Reagan’s response was to agree with Thomson and hope that Congress would change its mind:

On the occasion of the national holiday you mentioned, I have the reservations you have, but here too many people’s perception is based on image, not reality. Indeed, for them, perception is reality. We hope that some modifications could still take place in Congress.

This has been October 3, less than a month before Reagan signed the law.

Some in the media began trying to rehabilitate Reagan’s reputation early on. Brit Hume, then a reporter for ABC News, ignored Reagan’s continued opposition to the law in her report on the bill’s passage, saying “Senator Helms’ friend and ally Ronald Reagan apparently doesn’t think not that he’s right. Reversing his earlier opposition, the president plans to sign the bill into law.

But some knew better. ABC’s Sam Donaldson threw tons of shade when he reported on the bill’s signing, saying: ‘The White House held an impressive ceremony today. The President and Dr King’s widow walking together to the Rose Garden in a bid to spruce up Mr Reagan’s tattered civil rights image.

“The President signed the bill he had so staunchly opposed, making Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a national holiday. Reagan delivered addresses to some 200 guests who, while not calling all made Dr. King a great American, were designed to honor him,” Donaldson said.

When Reagan signed the law, he gave a speech that some observers of the time saw as walking the line between conservative civil rights opponents and Dr. King supporters.

But privately, Reagan’s racist attitudes would only become clear to the public after his death when a racist telephone conversation between then-Reagan Governor of California and then-President Richard Nixon from 1971 was unearthed and published in 2019.

The call took place in October 1971, during which Reagan and Nixon discussed the United Nations delegation from the United Republic of Tanzania following a vote on a resolution to bring China into the world body.

“Last night, I’m telling you, to watch this thing on TV like I did,” Reagan said in the brief recording.

“Yeah,” Nixon agreed.

“To see these, these monkeys from these African countries – damn it, they’re still uncomfortable with shoes on!” Reagan continued, to hearty laughter from Nixon.

Watch the clips above, via the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The titles are mine.

This is an opinion piece. The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.