The Who2 Blog

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the White House’s Awkward Embrace

Here’s a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., one said to be the last before he was killed:

I went looking for a video of President Barack Obama making a speech in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. — I guessed there would be such a thing out there in the ether, since this is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

My first stop was The White House, where there is an archive of photos and videos that are pretty sharp and up to date.

I couldn’t find a video of President Barack Obama making a speech for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Looking around, I finally found one featured on, and it’s right here.

Why would this speech be missing from the White House video archives, especially on a national holiday named for the Reverend King?

Maybe it’s because it’s not so much a tribute to Dr. King, as it is a political speech about “passing through a hard winter,” and about how Americans in the glorious, imagined past didn’t “give up on government,” and about how it just ain’t right to gripe so much, because “even if we don’t get everything, we’re gettin’ somethin’!”

Maybe it’s because the darn video is 27 minutes and change, and that’s asking a lot from the average internet user.

And maybe it’s because to feature President Obama paying tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. has been deemed too politically sensitive at this particular time.

It wouldn’t be the first time the White House distanced itself from King. I was reminded of that last week while looking through the archives at the JFK Digital Library.

The library marked the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s inauguration by opening a digital archive of more than 200,000 documents from the Kennedy administration.

Naturally, I wanted to see what they had about Martin Luther King, Jr. The library presents a special page, in fact, and it’s a handy guide to memos and notes, mostly from King to Kennedy.

Searching the archive further yields more of the same, until you get to the period after the Kennedy presidency. There are documents after Kennedy was killed because his brother, Robert Kennedy was still the U.S. Attorney General.

Many of the documents about Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. have to do with the wire-tapping and bugging of Dr. King by J. Edgar Hoover‘s F.B.I.

This article from The Atlantic (from several years ago) goes into great detail in the matter of the F.B.I.’s surveillance on Martin Luther King, Jr. The authors suggest that the reason the Kennedys didn’t embrace King and the civil rights movement was that Hoover and the F.B.I. kept saying King might be a tool of American communists.

Documents in the JFK Library seem to back up this notion. Take, for example, an interview with RFK’s Deputy Attorney General, Nicolas Katzenbach. He says Kennedy authorized the wiretaps, but not the bugging. And that Hoover’s Bureau kept pushing the King-to-commies connection, so the White House felt they had no choice but to keep King at arm’s length and let the FBI investigation continue.

Fighting the enemy somehow always outranks civil rights, ever notice that? As if it’s one or the other.

Katzenbach also says that after the Bureau found out in 1963 about King’s “sexual endeavors,” their focus shifted from King’s communist pals to King’s bedroom pals.

Oh, that J. Edgar Hoover, what a fellow!

Anyway, to wrap up — since by now you could have watched that entire Obama speech I said was too long — it doesn’t seem to be anything new that, after half a century, Martin Luther King, Jr. is both a National Hero and yet, still, some kind of a political hot potato.

Related Biographies

Share this: