I learned from the TV, radio, and during a subsequent telephone conversation with Rev. Bernard Lee, a [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] staff member who was then in Memphis, that Dr. King was dead. My reaction was anger and shock.
I immediately thought, “They finally got him." I also reflected on the irony that I had been opposed to Dr. King going to Memphis in the first place. My opposition was not based on any political difference or opposition to the importance of [Dr. King's public support] for the garbage workers' strike in Memphis. In a meeting with other members of Dr. King’s “kitchen cabinet," I reminded everyone, especially Dr. King, that I had arranged ... for him to meet with potential donors in New York City.... Consequently, I wanted Dr. King to postpone his trip to Memphis.
The other memory I have is that I was the liaison point person who arranged for and accompanied [former first lady] Jacqueline Kennedy to the home of Coretta Scott King to personally express her condolences. I observed the two widowed women embrace in the living room of Dr. King’s home prior to his funeral ...
Has King—the man or the message—informed decisions in your career or personal life?
I met Dr. King for the first time in February of 1960 when he came to visit my home in Altadena, Calif., at the urging of Judge Hubert T. Delaney in [New York City], his chief defense lawyer in a pending criminal tax indictment of Dr. King by the state of Alabama. I was a 29-year-old Korean War veteran at the time, only seven months out of law school.
Judge Delaney [then] asked me to travel to Montgomery, Ala., to serve as his clerk in coordinating Dr. King’s defense with three other lawyers. I declined to do this, in spite of Dr. King’s personal appeal to me during his visit to my home ...
At Dr. King’s invitation, I attended a Sunday church service following his Friday evening visit to my home. He was the guest preacher at a church in the predominantly Negro community of Baldwin Hills ...
I had never, in person, seen or heard Dr. King preach before.... He [referred to me] in his sermon as a “Negro professional [who had refused] to aid and assist our brothers and sisters struggling for freedom in the South."
I [reversed] my earlier decision not to go to Montgomery.
Is there a song that for you evokes Dr. King’s legacy, or the civil-rights movement?
Blowin' in the Wind by Peter, Paul and Mary, and by Bob Dylan
We Shall Overcome
Is Dr. King’s message relevant to any contemporary civil-rights or equality issues?
Dr. King’s consistent message and commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution and encouraging the pursuit of personal and educational excellence is relevant to all contemporary civil rights and equality issues.
Interview conducted by Christopher Snow Hopkins.