Marching with King
"My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."
--Mitt Romney, 1978 interview with Boston Herald.
Mitt Romney never marched through Detroit with Martin Luther King, as the Romney campaign now acknowledges. Nor is it true that the GOP candidate "saw" his father, a former governor of Michigan, join King on a civil rights march, as he has been claiming on the presidential campaign trail. (He now says that "saw" was a "figure of speech.") It is conceivable that George Romney marched with King at some point, but this is disputed.
Romney's correction of the record on the King story follows a number of other campaign missteps. Over the last few days, he has had to withdraw a claim that he received an official endorsement from the National Rifle Association while running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. He has previously claimed, incorrectly, that "every action" he took as governor of Massachusetts was "pro-life."
Mitt Romney was 16 years old in 1963 at the time that Martin Luther King organized a series of "Freedom Marches" through American cities, including Detroit. At the time, the Mormon Church, of which the Romneys were prominent members, still maintained an official ban on the full participation of African-Americans in religious rites, a ban that was not lifted until 1978. Nevertheless, the senior Romney sympathized with the Civil Rights movement and issued a proclamation in support of a civil rights march through Detroit in June attended by King.
According to researchers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University, George Romney declined to attend the first march on June 23, a Sunday, on the grounds that he would not take part in political activity on the Sabbath. Susan Englander, who is associate editor of the King papers, said that Romney participated in a different march six days later through the suburb of Grosse Pointe. She believes that it is unlikely that King was present on that occasion, as contemporaneous newspaper reports fail to mention him.
"I don't think they marched together," she said.
The Romney campaign yesterday circulated quotes from a former English teacher, Shirley Basore, 72, who said she saw King and Romney marching together through Grosse Pointe in June 1963. Basore told the Politico web site that she jumped up from her chair at a hairdresser's and joined the parade.
"They were hand in hand," she recalled, referring to Romney senior and King.
Romney was questioned intensively about the episode on Thursday on the campaign trail. He said he and his brother remembered their father speaking "about the fact that he did not do political events on Sunday but that he decided at the last minute that he was going to break that self-imposed rule and participate." However, he conceded that he "did not see it with my own eyes...I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."
The Romney campaign initially cited a 1967 book co-authored by Washington Post columnist David Broder which stated that Romney "marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb or Detroit." But the book did not provide a source for the event and Broder, 40 years later, could not recall where he got the information.
The Pinocchio Test
Until the matter is definitively resolved one way or the other, I am going to give the Romney campaign the benefit of the doubt on whether George Romney ever marched with King. But Mitt Romney has conceded that he never actually "saw" his father marching with the civil rights leader. Two Pinocchios for exaggeration.
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