Freedom Rider: MLK and Jackie Kennedy


by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

Forty years ago, countless Black living rooms featured wall paintings with Dr. Martin Luther King sandwiched between the two slain Kennedy brothers – as if the trio were martyrs of the same struggle. One wonders if the picture would have been so popular had the Kennedys’ true feelings about the Black leader been widely known. “Robert Kennedy believed that black people should be happy with the little the president had done and felt that the march [on Washinton] was a personal slap in the face.” From the grave – via a new book – Jackie Kennedy reveals JFK and RFK as no friends of the civil rights movement.


Freedom Rider: MLK and Jackie Kennedy

by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley

Not only did Robert Kennedy tape King’s personal conversations, but he revealed their contents to other people.”

It is all but impossible to escape news about the Kennedy family. If the media some how manage to let time pass without giving them attention, they will bring some to themselves. Caroline Kennedy has recently published a book, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, which is comprised of conversations her mother had with court scribe Arthur Schlesinger.

The then recently widowed first lady never passed up an opportunity to deify her late husband. She coined the bizarre term Camelot to describe her husband’s overrated administration, and in doing so pulled off one of the greatest public relations coups in history. The man who began the horrible escalation of the Vietnam War, who attempted to kill Fidel Castro and overthrow the Cuban government is admired out of proportion and in direct contradiction to what he did while in office.

The falsely burnished image is the least of the Kennedy brothers’ political sins. Attorney General Robert Kennedy permitted FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to monitor Martin Luther King’s activities, including taping his phone conversations and paying informers to give information about him.

He told me of a tape that the FBI had of Martin Luther King when he was here for the freedom march. And he said this with no bitterness or anything, how he was calling up all these girls and arranging for a party of men and women, I mean, sort of an orgy in the hotel, and everything…."

The president called members of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee 'sons of bitches' who were 'invested in violence.'”

It is difficult to know where to begin in commenting upon that statement. It is easiest to snicker about the orgies John Kennedy was alleged to have had, but that is hardly the most important issue. Not only did Robert Kennedy tape King’s personal conversations, but he revealed their contents to other people. He obviously revealed the contents to his brother, and perhaps to other people as well.

Caroline Kennedy puts the onus for her mother’s comments on Hoover. “Obviously J. Edgar Hoover had passed on something that Martin Luther King said about my father's funeral, to Uncle Bobby and to Mommy. And obviously, she was upset about that.” She doesn’t mention that her Uncle Bobby didn’t need to have his arm twisted in order to carry out Hoover’s dirty work or that the president called members of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee “sons of bitches” who were “invested in violence.”

If we are going to discuss the history of the Kennedy family with King or with the wider civil rights movement, facts, not myth and fantasy, should be the order of the day. The march on Washington, as originally conceived, was a far cry from what eventually took place. It was part of a larger, grassroots movement that unapologetically asserted that black Americans should have full citizenship rights.

RFK: ‘If the country knew what we know about King's goings-on, he'd be finished.’”

The Kennedys initially opposed the march, for self-interested and dubious reasons. They claimed they didn’t want to raise the ire of southern Dixiecrats, or feared it might become violent, any excuse would do to keep black people quiet and compliant. Robert Kennedy believed that black people should be happy with the little the president had done and felt that the march was a personal slap in the face. According to diplomat Marietta Tree, Robert Kennedy had this to say on the eve of the march. “So you're down here for that old black fairy's anti-Kennedy demonstration?” Not content to heap insult upon march organizer Bayard Rustin, Kennedy added, “He's not a serious person. If the country knew what we know about King's goings-on, he'd be finished.”

The administration allowed the march to take place, but only on the condition that speakers – and even their words – be carefully chosen. John Lewis of SNCC, now a congressman, was forced to censor his speech in order to be allowed at the podium.

The only heroes of the civil rights movement are the people who fought the good fight for themselves. Their names are largely unknown, but they made presidents and other politicians take notice. They forced the issue and are the most responsible for their success in turning the tide of American history.

The revelations from this new book are important, but not for purposes of gossip and conjecture. They are important because they remind us that it is rare for the powerful to be responsible for great changes. Change takes place in spite of them and the interests that they represent.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)


Has anyone ever?

Has anyone in history ever had the nerves to ask a white person on television why white people hate Black people so much?For,if you believe in evolution and that the first man and woman originated from Africa,,,,;Then,it stands to reason that Africans who had lost their pigmentation went back to Africa to enslave and kill their ancestors.....And,all this nonsense was taking place under God's watch......I say to hell with him and all his damn angels.......The day that the majority realizes that we are responsible for fixing ourselves and that no god is ever going to do it for us,that's the day we'll start seeing a change.......By the way,Obama and Holder sat by like two jerks while an innocent man went to his death last night.


Whoa, whoa whoa. Margaret I think so highly of you. But I have read almost every book ever written about Bobby Kennedy and you are grossly mischaracterizing him. Just like anyone who happens across Jackie's comment about MLK and judges MLK's whole life based on that would be grossly mischaracterizing him. 

RFK started out a different man than he became and his evolution was thanks in large part to his experience with the civil rights movement. He evolved a huge amount from the beginning of his career to the end. The essence of RFK's being by the end was this: He could not bear poverty and opposed it with every ounce of his being. Including and especially the Black community due its added horror of racism.

RFK (and of course his brother) started out with a point of view filtered through white privilege. They learned a lot as they went along, especially RFK. He never became a Zapatista or its equivalent bc of that privileged upbringing but he fought for and meant to fight for the poor more than any white man in a position of that much power had before. And no way in hell did he do Hoover's dirty work. They HATED each other. Hoover and Johnson banded together in their opposition to the Kennedys.

As for JFK, i really recommend the book "JFK and the Unspeakable - why he died and why it matters." It reveals that JFK, along with his (and RFK's) early sins of allowing attempts on Castro's life, also began overtures of partnership with both Kruschev and Castro and defying the military idustrial complex's desires to spread war and profiteering from war.

They were NOT angelic by any means. Not saints. And as far as civil rights goes, no one deserves more credit than each individual citizen of the Black community who risked everything to fight for their rights. But please learn more before smearing two men who did try sincerely to do better, and were assassinated for it.

RFK and MLK are 2 of my biggest heroes. This post was like a kick to the gut as it came from another person I greatly respect.  

As for Jackie, i know much less about her but clearly she had issues.


While I am not one who subscibes to the "great White men in History" thesis, if I had to take a vote, I would have to say that Presidents Harry S. Truman and Lyndon Johnson probably did a lot more to advance the human rights of Black people in America than did the two Kennedys combined. Truman decided that a world war which ended and left racism intact and unchanged, especially in the miltary was personally offensive. President Johnson knowingly signed Civil Rights legislation which would undo his party's chances in the South and elsewhere for at least two generations.

All of these men were products of their cultures and of the times in which they lived. In America, it has long been accepted and expected that Blacks will sacrifice their well being for the good of others and expect little or nothing in return. LBJ, whatever his personal limitations and failings, and they were many, was one of the rare White individuals who, given the chance to opt out and maintain the status quo, instead chose to do the right and the courageous thing.

Given the same choice, under similar circumstances, with similar risks involved, I don't believe that either President Bill Clinton, or President Barack Obama would have done the same. Sometimes elected leadership has to actually lead, and to accept the risks which come with making unpopular decisions. The current crop of poll watching, concensus chasers who hold office are many things, but they are not leaders.

On Truman, LBJ, JFK, MLK & Civl Rights;

Yes Truman ordered the desegregation of the military - but this only helped Blacks become more dedicated to US militarism. And he also was the one who nuked Hiroshima & Nagasaki - even though it was NOT need militarily [IE: the Nuking of Japan was a more about geo-politics rather than military necessity]. And for what its worth, Truman [like his predecessor & so many other US Pres & hi-officials] was a hi-ranking Free-Mason [Note: The Highest ranking Southern Free-Mason at the end of the Civil-War was a 'Founding-Father' of the KKK].

LBJ was a real character- Its often said he got the civil-rights agenda done for JFK. But he's also the one who escalated Vietnam to mammoth proportions! And IMO he was up to his eyeballs in JFK's & MLK's assassinations! - I'm absolutely positive he used the Warren Commission to cover-up the truth concerning JFK's hit!    


Blacks have been "dedicated to U.S. militarism" forever. Military service has long been sold to black youth as "the only way out" of the hood, and long before that, as a way to "prove" to America that we love her/it in spite of it all, and that we will do anything for her/it in order to be "accepted" by the White majority.

Like I said, I don't do the "Great Men of Histroy" thing. From a Black perspective, there probably has never been any White Western leader who can be, or should be embraced as genuine friend of Black people, or as a true believer in our full humanity. Long ago, the West chose to define itself as anti-Black in a way that it did not define itself when it came to, for example, dealing with Asians or with Native Americans. (For those who wish to argure the point, I refer them to the Constitution, slave codes, Black codes, property deeds, and countless colonial documents in all of the major European languages which codified a racial pecking order in which Blacks were nearly always at the very bottom.) That poisonous, exclusive, racist, identity has cost countless millions of lives, and it is still pernicous in the current  society even with a bi-racial President.

Whatever the disagreements White Westerners may have with those cultures, at some level, there is an acknowledgement among most Westerners that these diverse cultures have some value. This concession has never been extended to Black cultures in the Americas, or anywhere else. With few exceptions, White leaders come to Blacks and their issues dragging this baggage along with them, and expecting Blacks to understand it, and to accept it, and to be happy that these so-called leaders have showed up at all.

I've got no use for much of the behavior of President Truman, LBJ, or the Kennedys when it came to their day to day dealings with racial minorities in this country and with people of color in the so-called Third World under the guise of prosecuting the Cold War. They were White leaders in a culture which believed in its superiority to all others, and they usually behaved accordingly. The existence of the so-called communist threat probably did more to spur racial 'progress' in the United States than any moral consderations did. The deeply entrenched racism in the West undermined its claims to moral superiority over the communist system, and it didn't sell in non-White countries, so changes, symbolic and otherwise were necessary.

 (I don't want to rehash the rights and wrongs of WWII and the so-called Cold War in this space. In my opinion both were more about power struggles than about some collossal clash between absolute good and absolute evil. Framing them as morality plays distorts the perspective of those who beleive it. For example: One has to ask why the mass firebombings of nearly defenseless Japanese cities which preceded the dropping of the two atomic weapons has largely escaped criticism, and why Dresden is remembered while the incineration of Tokyo is not) FDR's reputation as an ally of black people is overated, and Churchill's being an unrepentant imperialist and racist is vastly understated by most historians.   

IMO Why JFK & RFK Got Whacked- Had Nothing to Do w Civil Rights

First don't over-look the 'Deal w the Devil' that Old-man Joe Kennedy made w the mafia to get JFK elected. Of course Boss Daley was also a key player in JFK's election but Boss Daley & the Chi-Town Mafia had a long working relationship [Note: Jack Ruby came from Chicago & was once part of Al Capone's street-crew. It also seems Ruby once did some private-eye work for one Cali congressman named Tricky Dick Nixon]. JFK started out a Cold Warrior but the 'Bay of Pigs Fiasco' & the 'Cuban Missile Crisis' [IMO these 2 were linked - if there had been no Bay of Pigs there likely wouldn't have been a Cuban Missile Crisis] made him see the world a bit differently. We know that the Bay of Pigs fiasco set JFK at odds w the CIA [JFK sacked then CIA head Allen Dulles & his deputy Gen Cabell in the aftermath & promised to break the CIA into 1000 pieces- PS: It just so happens that Cabell's Bro was Dallas' Mayor on Nov 22nd 1963 & Allen Dulles was picked to sit on the Warren Commission]. The Bay of Pigs was actually a project JFK 'inherited' from Trick Dick Nixon w logistics worked out by CIA guys like E Howard Hunt using Zapata Oil Corp [owned by GHW Bush Sr] as a front.

 Then came the Cuban Missile crisis- when all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged JFK to 'Bombs Away' [they had a working {if insane} theory that the US could 'win' a nuke war w the USSR]. My theory is that the Cuban Missile Crisis put 'The Fear of God' into JFK [who was also a new daddy] & he knew he had to step back - way back from this maddness. So he started talking to guys like Kruschev, Castro, etc about 'Lets NOT EVER DO This AGAIN- which the CIA & the FBI's Gay Edgar Hoover likely found out about - & likely were not to pleased about. Then came Vietnam [another 'inheritance' from the previous Admin]. According to Oliver Stone, JFK decided to get out of Nam by the end of his 2nd term [which of course never happened]. And he supposedly actually ordered that a contingent of 1000 troops be with-drawn from Nam by the end of 1963 [which of course didn't happen either]. 

Then there's LBJ, Gay Edgar Hoover -&- RFK & the Mafia. Apparently JFK was seriously thinking about dropping LBJ [who according to E Howard Hunt had a 'maniacal ambition to be Pres'] from the 1964 ticket & also 'allowing' [forcing] ole FBI Czar Gay Edgar to go into retirement by 1965 on Gay Edgar's 65th birthday, which was the mandatory federal retirement age unless waived by the Pres &/or the AG [RFK]. BUT JFK didn't live to carry out any of those plans. JFK's AG RFK [theoretically Ole Gay Edgar's boss] made his rep by going after some key mafia-connected figures like the Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa [Note: Ole Gay Edgar 'acted' like the Mafia didn't even exist for most of his tenure] - which of course pissed off the Mafia- who after all helped get JFK elected by working w Boss Daley to steal votes in Cook County [plus their main man in Vegas & Hollywood- Frank Sinatra was hooking JFK up w a bunch of Starlet nookie]. Now Ole Gay Edgar actually taped some mafia bosses discussing killing both RFK & JFK, Yet apparently he failed to either inform JFK & RFK- nor did he haul these Mafiosos in for some serious questioning [sounds a 'hell of a lot' like gross criminal derelection of duty if not out-&-out Treason to me].  

And oh there's talk that JFK had ordered the coining of $millions worth of silver dollars [containing over 50% real silver] Outside of the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve's [which despite its name is controlled by Private Bankster Elites]! 

In other words JFK [& RFK too] pissed off quite a few very powerful forces- Simultaneously- which all came to a Head in Dallas Nov 22nd 1963! RFK got whacked because he obviously did NOT get the Memo that NO Kennedy would be allowed to be US Pres again - EVER. Thus the reasons JFK & RFK got whacked had little if anything to due w them being 'civil right champions' & Yes RFK apparently approved Ole Gay Edgar's wire tapping of Rev Dr ML King- though it perhaps might be debatable just how far beyond this mandate Ole Gay Edgar went.

And again the main reason RFK got whacked was likely not so much due to his alleged anti-Vietnam stance & little to do w his alleged pro-civil rights stand- but because the forces that whacked JFK could NEVER risk letting RFK become Pres, which he would likely use the presidency to get some pay-back!