On July 16, 1964, King released a statement on the Republican presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater. Goldwater had run a campaign based on a new kind of conservatism that was staunchly against civil rights reform and implicitly pro-white. Goldwater concerned King, who felt the candidate legitimized and incited an uptick of white supremacist ideology in the Republican party.
“It was both unfortunate and disastrous that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater as its candidate for President of the United States,” King declared, warning of Goldwater’s “trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation.” His thoughts on Goldwater’s stance on race and civil rights are equally striking.
“The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism...On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.”
King had a longheld policy of not endorsing any political candidates, but the prospect of Goldwater as president was such a threat to “the health, morality, and survival of our nation” that he felt compelled to speak out.
In 1964, Malcolm X made similarly resonant comments about Goldwater, describing him as a candidate who, should he win, would “awaken the entire world” to the realities of racism.
With the rise of the so-called “alt-right” amongst his supporters and the appointment of people like Jeff Sessions to his administration, King’s feelings about Goldwater feel as though they could just as easily be applied to Trump today. Goldwater, of course, lost to LBJ in 1964, but Trump did not lose the election. King’s words are a chilling reminder that there is much work ahead.
Author: Zeba Blay