Date: January 22, 2018 03:33AM
To put it bluntly, my grandfather considered the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to have been a disreputable individual, a dishonorable and dishonest man, and a Communist.
Of him, he wrote:
"The man who is generally recognized as the leader of the so-called civil rights movement today in America is a man who has lectured at a Communists training school, who has solicited funds through Communist sources, who hired a Communist as a top-level aide, who has affiliated with Communist fronts, who is often praised in the Communist press and who unquestionably parallels the Communist line. This same man advocates the breaking of the law and has been described by J. Edgar Hoover as 'the most notorious liar in the country.' . . .
"Would anyone deny that the President [Lyndon Johnson], the chief law enforcer in the United States, belies his position by playing gracious host to the late Martin L. King who has preached disobedience to laws which in his opinion are unjust?"
(Ezra Taft Benson, "It Can Happen Here," in An Enemy Hath Done This, Jerrold L. Newquist, comp. [Salt Lake City, Utah: Parliament Publishers, 1969], pp. 103, 310)
Reacting to President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of a national day of mourning two days after the murder of Rev. King, Ezra Taft Benson had nothing but opprobrium for the slain civil rights leader.
In a letter to Mormon hotelier J. Willard Marriott, he claimed that "Martin Luther King had been affiliated with at least the following officially recognized Communist fronts," three of which he then went on to list.
In the same letter, he coldly warned Marriott that "the Communists will use Mr. King's death for as much yardage as possible."
A year later, in another letter to Marriott, my grandfather continued his attack on the dead Black minister, writing that "the kindest thing that could be said about Martin Luther King is that he was an effective Communist tool. Personally, I think he was more than that."
(D. Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power" [Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1997], pp. 100, 113, 463, 471)
My grandfather also was convinced that Dr. King's assassination was carried out by Communists themselves, in an effort to trigger civil war in America.
In his book, "An Enemy Hath Done This," he quoted from an article by Susan L. M. Huck, originally published in the John Birch magazine, "American Opinion":
"Okay, let's take the gloves off. This insurrection didn't just happen. It was a set-up--just as the assassination of Martin Luther King was a set-up. The Communists and their Black Power fanatics have been working to create just such a situation for years. They even TOLD us what they were planning to do, again and again, as they did it. . . .
"And remember, the Reds and their Black Power troops have promised us that this is only the beginning! Stokely has said that his forces plan to burn down America.
"They're sure going to try.
"How do you stop it? It's very simple. You stop Communist racial agitation; you arrest the leaders for conspiracy to commit murder, arson and burglary, prove their guilt in a court of law and lock them up. And you free the hands of our police so that the can PREVENT rioting and looting and arson by those citizens now convinced by the actions of our 'Liberals' that theft, incendiarism and assault will be tolerated.
"Don't kid yourself. The people who are behind all of this mean to have a civil war. We either stop them now or they will escalate this thing."
(quoted in Ezra Taft Benson, "An Enemy Hath Done This," p. 335)
"My grandfather's hatred of Dr. King had its effects. The reaction of my own parents to the murder of Dr. King reflected by grandfather's attitudes.
Dr. King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, which happened to be my sister's birthday. I remember that day, most notably by the fact that no mourning went on in our home over his death.
Earlier in the evening, I had seen on our television news broadcasts of race riots erupting in major cities across the country in response Dr. King's murder. I remember the columns of black smoke rising from inner cities set aflame by Blacks outraged at the brutal murder of their hero--and of their hope.
But in the Benson home that night, we had more important things to do--like watching my sister blow out the candles on her cake, singing her "Happy Birthday" and passing out presents.
Years later, when the state of Arizona was embroiled in its own controversy over enacting a publicly-funded state holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. King (a holiday which had earlier been rescinded by Mormon governor Evan Mecham), I was reminded again of my grandfather's disdain for the slain civil rights leader. At that time, I was actively involved in supporting the re-establishment of a state holiday in honor of Dr. King. Together with my then-spouse and our children, we marched in peaceful, pro-King demonstrations in Phoenix and Mesa (the latter being a hotbed of noisy anti-King sentiment largely fueled by Mormon political extremists). We joined thousands of others in multi-ethnic crowds, waving American flags, carrying pictures of Rev. King, chanting slogans in unison with megaphone-toting parade leaders and singing "We Shall Overcome."
One particular year--on the anniversary of Dr. King's birthday--after having spent the morning participating in another public demonstration in behalf of a state holiday in his honor, I received a phone call from my mother. She asked me how I had spent my day. I informed her that I had taken our youngest daughter down to a King Day rally earlier in the morning, where I had hoisted her on my shoulders and joined with the throngs in petitioning for, and celebrating in behalf of, the re-establishment of an official King Day. My mother replied, "Stephen, your grandfather would not have approved of that."
Of course, he would not have. That was one of the main reasons for doing it.
This daughter later informed me that she enjoyed having African-American boyfriends during her growiong up years and assured the parents of one of them that they needn't worry about her harboring any racial bias towards them or their children. As evidence of that, she recounted to them how I hoisted her on my shoulders when she was a little girl and marched proudly with her during those pro-King demonstrations. She ended up marrying a native Ghanaian and together they have a three-month old baby. I recently enjoyed going over to their home and sharing with them a traditional meal prepared by her hsuband and rooted in his native history customs. And my oldest child--also a daughter--is exclusively dating an African-American.
In the wake of the King-bashing legacy left behind by my grandfather, I felt my parents could benefit from some consciousness raising on matters of civil rights. So, for my father's birthday, I gave him a small music box that featured a likeness of Rev. King and played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." My father politely thanked me and placed it on the desk in his home office.
When visiting my parents' home sometime later, I noticed that the music box was nowhere to be seen. I asked my father what had happened to it. In a curiously-worded response, he said, "My wife cleans up my office and puts things away so that the grandchildren won't break them." I did not find that explanation particularly persuasive, given that my dad's office happened to be cluttered with all kinds of figurines and other fragile decorative objects (including a large porcelain American eagle which I had also given him).
As far as I could tell, the only item missing from his office was a little music box paying homage to a certain prominent African-American civil rights and religious leader.
Correspondence from Mormons to Ezra Taft Benson Concerning Rev. King--and the Mormon Church's--Official Response
By their racism, ye shall know them.
My grandfather's hate-filled utterances directed at Rev. King brought like-minded rank-and-file LDS bigots out of the woodwork, rallying to his anti-Communist/anti-civil rights cause.
Just as illuminating as their own vicious attacks on Rev. King were the tepid official responses of the Mormon Church --none of which included any direct answer from my grandfather (who was then President of the Church).
As will be seen, the LDS Church was gingerly trying to keep Ezra Taft Benson off the subject of Dr. King, given that my grandfather's bigoted utterances, if repeated by the Church, would be a public relations disaster.
In late 1989, while Arizona was caught in a deep and divisive controversy over whether to approve a state holiday for Rev. King, I received the following copy of a letter that had been written and sent to my grandfather by its right-wing extremist and Mormon author, Julian M. Sanders.
At the time, Sanders was the self-proclaimed "state chairman" of an organization calling itself "Arizonans for Traditional American Values."
His letter is quoted here in full:
"Julian M. Sanders
2113 E. Minton Drive
Tempe, Arizona 85282
"1 October 1989
"C-O-P-Y (NOT FOR PUBLICATION)
"THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
PRESIDENT EZRA TAFT BENSON
50 East North Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
"RE: STATUS M.L.K. JR. HOLIDAY IN ARIZONA--HOT ISSUE
"Neutrality" not maintained by L.D.S. spokesman
"Dear and Beloved Prophet:
"A good share of Arizonans rightly understand the truth about Martin Luther King, Jr. Many shared your concerns as quoted in U.S. News and World Report, 30 November 1964:
"'The man who is generally recognized as the leader of the so-called civil rights movement today in America is a man who has lectured at a Communist training school, who has solicited funds through Communist sources, who hired a Communist as a top-level aide, who has affiliated with Communist fronts, who is often praised in the Communist press, and who unquestionably parallels the Communist line. This same man advocates the breaking of the law and ahs been described by J. Edgar Hoover as 'the most notorious liar in the country.' --Ezra T. Benson
"All well-informed members of THE CHURCH are familiar with and hold as sacred (mind and will of the Lord for His Church and for the whole world, if they will receive it) the official declarations of the FIRST PRESIDENCY regarding Communism:
"'Communism being thus hostile to loyal American citizenship and incompatible with true Church membership, of necessity no loyal American citizen and no faithful Church member can be a Communist.
"'We call upon all Church members completely to eschew Communism. The safety of our divinely-inspired Constitutional government and the welfare of our Church imperatively demand that COMMUNISM SHALL HAVE NO PLACE IN AMERICA'"--First Presidency, 1936, E-39:488
"President David O. McKay put it in simple terms which apply more today than ever before:
"'We are placed on this earth to work . . . It is our duty to strive to till the earth, subdue matter, conquer the globe, take care of the flocks and herds. It is the government's duty to see that you are protected in it, and NO OTHER MAN HAS THE RIGHT TO DEPRIVE YOU OF YOUR PRIVILEGES (fruits of your labors). BUT IT IS NOT THE GOVERNMENT'S DUTY TO SUPPORT YOU . . . I shall raise my voice as long as God gives me sound or ability, against the Communistic (socialistic) idea that the government will take care of us all, and that everything belongs to the government (state or community) . . . It is wrong! NO WONDER, IN TRYING TO PERPETUATE THAT IDEA, THAT MEN BECOME ANTI-CHRIST . . . No government owes you a living. You get it yourself by your own acts---never by trespassing upon the rights of your neighbor, never by cheating him (employer included). You put a blemish upon your character when you do.'---CN-2/14/53
"The above principles apply to the entire human race---all mankind without exception. M.L.K., Jr., put himself and his cause above God, above God's laws---the Ten Commandments and the U.S. Constitution---in demanding the power of Government to REDISTRIBUTE THE WEALTH OF OUR NATION via GUARANTEED ANNUAL INCOME, LOW-COST HOUSING, NEGATIVE INCOME TAX, and what he called 'some form of socialism' to guarantee equality and justice (like Karl Marx philosophized via Communism).
"CONCLUSION: After 30 years of observing and studying the life and works (fruits) of M.L.K., Jr., in the light of President McKay's declarations re: above, I can honestly know that he exceeded Lucifer in his ability to deceive the masses with impressive oration and dedication in spite of his addiction to alcohol, tobacco and sex. Regarding the latter lifestyle of adultery, Rev. King confessed:
"'I'm away from home twenty-five to twenty-seven days a month. (Extramarital sex is) a form of anxiety reduction.'--"Bearing the Cross," p. 375, by David Garrow
"As such, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a liar, adulterer and thief (exemplified by his demand for 'a guaranteed annual income of $4,000 for every American adult'--M.L.K., repeated and lobbied for during 1967-8), which plainly puts him into the category of 'anti-Christ,' according to President McKay.
"OPPOSITION TO A TAX-PAID KING HOLIDAY has been long and consistent in Arizona from all but the liberal elements. Recently the pressure was applied on the State Legislature in the form of ECONOMIC BLACKMAIL: $200 million lure a SUPER BOWL (Pro-Football backers), in conjunction with other political compromises turned around enough moderates to get a KING DAY measure through both houses. Even so, all the L.D.S. Legislators remained loyal opponents along with the staunchly conservative Republicans in both houses. The ARIZONA LAW MAKERS with TRUE PRINCIPLES did NOT respond to the ECONOMIC BLACKMAIL. However, on 24 September 1989, the MESA TRIBUNE ran an article on A7, titled:
"'CHURCH LEADERS PRAISE NEW KING HOLIDAY, DESPITE CIRCUMSTANCES.' (In the second half of the article, quoting various religious leaders, is the quote which represents THE LORD'S TRUE CHURCH in the same chorus, singing praises for the HONORS OF MEN,' adding to the MYTH OF THE AGES AND DECEPTION of every 'nation, tongue and people.' They fit the confusion of BABYLON):
"'Mesa's John Lyons, Arizona spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, 'I personally view it, and the Church probably would as well, as another part of the political process. IN THE COLLECTIVE WISDOM OF THE LEGISLATURE, THEY SEEMED TO HAVE FELT IT WAS THE THING TO DO AND OBVIOUSLY WE WOULD SUPPORT IT.'
"Here, Brother Lyons would have us believe that the CHURCH obviously supports the prostituted moderates and liberals who united in 'collective wisdom' to force upon us a TAX-PAID HOLIDAY honoring the MASTER DECIEVER of the ages! Is this the true position of the CHURCH? What happened to the NEUTRALITY in politics? Where is the wisdom and courage of the HONORABLE EZRA TAFT BENSON?
"'. . . [T]hey have all gone astray save it be a FEW, WHO ARE THE HUMBLE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST; nevertheless, THEY ARE LED, that in many instances THEY DO ERR BECAUSE THEY ARE TAUGHT BY THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.' ---2 Nephi 28:14
"If Brother Lyons wants to be led by 'the collective wisdom' of a prostituted legislature and support their tyranny, that is his privilege. However, I will stand with President David O. McKay and Elder Ezra Taft Benson as quoted above. Brother Lyons has lost credibility with the most loyal, conservative Saints here. He stands tall in the community of liberals!
"Faithfully your Brother,
"Julian M. Sanders"
(Julian Sanders, letter to Ezra Taft Benson, 1 October 1989, copy in my possession, original emphasis)
Sanders had sent me his letter unsolicited. I had not agreed with Sanders' demand that I not publicize his efforts to secretly elicit the support of the President of the Mormon Church in an effort to sabotage public efforts to ratify a state holiday for Dr. King.
I, therefore, immediately provided the letter to the press, which subsequently ran news stories and editorials on its bizarre contents.
The indignant Sanders subsequently called a news conference, which he opened up by singing, 'Love at Home.'
He then proceeded to accuse me of publicly exposing his behind-the-scenes effort to influence government policy via ecclesiastical meddling in matters of state.
A news account of the press conference noted Sanders' complaint:
"'Every human being has a right to privacy and a right to freely communicate with his or her minister without fear of reprisal. . . . My private letter to Ezra Taft Benson . . . in Salt Lake City regarding religious and spiritual matters constituted privileged communication.
"'Steve Benson's breach of trust in misusing my private letter has created discord, lies and hate, resulting in my life being threatened.'"
In the same article, I was given the opportunity to respond:
"[Steve] Benson, the Church president's grandson, called the 'privileged communication' claim 'preposterous.'
"He said the letter dealt not with 'spiritual matters' but with political questions, including low-income housing and Marxist philosophy.
"'Mr. Sanders himself published his so-called "private" letter, sending it to at least three other people besides myself and Ezra Taft Benson,' he said. 'If he was willing to copy his letter to me' he knows how I strongly oppose efforts to rescind the holiday for Dr. King' then one can only surmise how widely he must have circulated copies among his friends and supporters.
"'I am offended when closet racists like Mr. Sanders, under the guise of godliness and good government, attack civil rights and attempt to subvert the legislative process, all the while seeking to silence those in the Mormon Church who do not share their bigoted views./
"The newspaper's management also defended the release of Sanders' letter:
"John F. Oppedahl, managing editor of The Republic, said that although the letter was marked 'Not for Publication,' the paper had not agreed to keep the letter confidential.
"'We were given one of several copies that Mr. Sanders apparently distributed, and we felt the public needed to know what it said,' he said."
(Ed Foster and Steve Yozwiak, "Anti-King petitions get support, thousands sign, drive leader says," Arizona Republic, 10 October 1989, sec. B, p. 1ff).
Throughout the controversy, my grandfather--whether personally, publicly or through official Church spokesmen--never responded directly to Sanders' letter.
For that matter, neither did he address the larger question of a state holiday for Dr. King.
Instead, as the press reported, "Church officials in Salt Lake City moved to put the matter to rest by referring reporters to a statement Benson, the Church's president, made at a news conference when he assumed his position in 1985."
That statement said absolutely nothing about Rev. King:
"My heart is filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for all our Heavenly Father's children everywhere," the statement said. "I love all our Father's children of every color, creed and political persuasion."
("Sanders' letter angers his ally, King slurs draw rebuke," Phoenix Gazette, 6 October 1989, sec. B, p. 1ff; Steve Yozwiak, "Holiday opponent says King 'exceeded Lucifer,'" Arizona Republic, 5 October 1989, sec. A, p. 1ff; "Bigotry rides again: The Lucifer Epistle," Arizona Republic, 6 October 19898, sec. A, p. 14; and "The Sanders letter," Phoenix Gazette, 6 October 1989, sec. A, p. 16)
A few days after Sanders' letter to my grandfather was reported in the press, a group of prominent Arizona Mormons held a news conference, at which they publicly endorsed a paid state holiday for Dr. King.
While a commendable effort on their part to honor the legacy of the slain civil rights leader and to put the best face possible on the historically racist doctrines of the Mormon Church, the fact remained that they could not point to a single utterance by my grandfather praising Dr. King or the civil rights movement.
Their statement read as follows:
"Members of the Mormon Church from 12 Arizona cities today endorsed Prop. 302 and urged voters to vote YES at the Nov. 6 election.
"Stan Turley, former president of the Arizona State Senate, said, 'The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were intended to place all citizens on an equal basis and prevent discrimination based on race.
"'Because of the diligence of Dr. King and numerous civil rights workers, the principle is now well established that all citizens have equal rights before the law,' Turley said.
"'This remarkable step in the progress toward a free society without discrimination ranks as one of the most important achievements in our nation's history,' Turley said.
"Lamar Shelley, Chairman of the Members of the Mormon Church for Martin Luther King, Jr./Civil Rights Day Committee, said, 'Dr. King followed the enlightened principle of non-violent, civil disobedience to unjust laws and court decisions.
"'He taught that people must lay down their weapons and hatreds and that oppression could be conquered by love.
"'Dr. King maintained: "This is the beauty of nonviolence; it says you can struggle, without hating, you can fight war without violence,"' Shelley said.
"Quoting Dr. King, Shelley said, 'We must make them know that we love them. If I am stopped, the movement will not stop because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.'
"Shelley said, 'Because the struggle for equality continues today, a holiday is needed to provide a continuing emphasis to these principles for present and future generations.
"'By commemorating the civil rights movement, and Dr. King's birthday, all citizens will learn about the importance of the struggles and the accomplishments of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.'
"Ray Russell, former Special Assistant to Gov. Evan Mecham [who had, before being removed from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, cancelled a paid state holiday honoring Dr. King] said, 'The accomplishments of the civil rights movement forever changed American society.
"'The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and that thereafter no second-class American citizens,' Russell said.
"'This principle has been made much more secure in America as a result of the broad-based civil rights movement led by Dr. King,' he said.
"'I hope all Arizonans will join me in supporting civil rights and the passage of Proposition 302,' he said. . . .
"In early 1990, Jerry P. Cahill with the Church's Public Communications Department said, 'Since the adoption of the federal holiday honoring Dr. King, the LDS Church has included the holiday among those for which Church employees in the United States are give the day off as a paid holiday.'
"In addition, LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University commemorates a specific 'Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday' on the third Monday in January, in conjunction with both the federal holiday and Utah state holiday.
"President Ezra Taft Benson, prophet, seer and revelator for the Mormon Church, has in his capacity as president, made only one public statement relative to Dr. King. On October 6, 1989, Church officials referred reporters to a statement made by Benson at a news conference when he assumed his position in 1985: 'My heart is filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for all members of the Church and our Heavenly Father's children everywhere. I love all our Father's children of every color, creed and political persuasion.'
"His statement of love for all mankind, regardless of color or creed, stands as the only official declaration made by him as the President of the Church.
"The LDS Church, through Richard Lindsay, Managing Director of Public Communications and Special Affairs, issued a public tribute to Dr. King on January 19, 1998, during an ecumenical candelight vigil on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Building. Lindsay praised Dr. King's legacy, reminding all that his vision was founded on faith, prayer and 'conquering oppression through the beauty of love.'"
"('Statewide Committee of Mormon Church Members Endorse Prop. 302,' statement for immediate release, 16 October 1990, copy in my possession)
"Julian Sanders, who had compared Rev. King to Lucifer and the anti-Christ [and whose letter to Ezra Taft Benson had attempted to involve the Mormon Church in killing efforts to pass a King Day in Arizona] responded angrily to the above press release by saying:
"'They say "we are a group of Mormons" and if they involve the name of the Church, they are in violation of the spirit and purpose of the counselor's world to prevent the Church from being involved in such controversy/'"
(Lawn Griffiths, "Prominent Mormons line up behind King holiday," Mesa Tribune,17 October 1990, sec. A, p. 1).
On this, Sanders had a point.
My grandfather, and the Mormon Church, was doing its damndest to stay out of the King holiday controversy.
Based on what I know about my grandfather and those in my family who worked closely with him (like his sons Reed, my uncle, and Mark, my father) I have concluded that he did not get involved because those working for him in crafting his official presidential utterances were well aware of his anti-King racial bias, perhaps even agreed with it but certainly did not want, at this sensitive point in time, to drag it out into the open for the world to see.
At any rate, they were not about to undermine my grandfather's anti-King record with a pro-King declaration uttered in his name.
Indeed, Ezra Taft Benson's Office of the First Presidency remained completely silent on Dr. King himself, despite being directly petitioned by members of the LDS Church to speak up in behalf of the murdered civil rights leader.
Letters from inquiring Church members, imploring the First Presidency to speak publicly on the issue, went unanswered by the Church's highest official body.
One such plea to my grandfather came from Arizona Latter-day Saint W. Julius Johnson:
"January 30, 1990
"President Ezra Taft Benson
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Church Office Building
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
"Dear President Benson:
". . . I know that the Church does not ordinarily get involved in controversial issues of this nature [the Martin Luther King holiday]. However, I also know that the Church will be directly affected by the outcome of this controversy. A negative vote will be blamed on to the Church, along with the implications of bigotry.
"I would urge you to take a strong stand on this issue. If the Church could support the Martin Luther King holiday, it would remove for all time the world's perception of the Church as being racially biased, due to the Church's previous policy on priesthood holders. If this is not possible, please strongly emphasize again the Church's neutral position on this issue.
"Local and national news has portrayed Mormons as opposed to the Martin Luther King holiday; and for good reason. Local brethren here are leaders in the opposition to the holiday. This seems to be a carry-over of the political situation that has embarrassed the Church during the past two years [following Mecham's cancellation of a paid state King holiday]. Unless members of the Church take a lower negative profile on this issue, there is the potential for increased adverse news coverage of the Church.
"Sincerely, your brother in the Gospel.
"W. Julius Johnson
"Mesa Second Ward"
(W. Julius Johnson, letter to President Ezra Taft Benson, 30 January 1990, copy in my possession)
My grandfather, as I fully expected, did not respond.
Instead, a public relations spokesman wrote back.
All this designated damage controller could do was quote President Spencer W. Kimball, not President Ezra Taft Benson, even though the member's letter was not written to Kimball, but to Benson.
This is indeed telling: An assistant for a supposedly "living prophet" responds to a direct request that "living prophet" intervene, yet all the Church can manage is to quote a "dead prophet."
That response (from the Church's director of International Communications, Jerry P. Cahill on stationery of the 'Public Communications/ Special Affairs Department,') read as follows:
"February 26, 1990
"W. Julius Johnson
428 South Wilbur
Mesa, Arizona 85202
"Dear Mr. Johnson:
"We acknowledge your letter to the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, concerning the Martin Luther King holiday.
"On March 31, 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball, then the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reaffirmed a statement first made ten years earlier by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, concerning the Church's institutional role in matters that are best pursued by Church members as individual citizens.
"President Kimball said on that occasion, 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be committed, as an institution except on those issues which are determined by the First Presidency and Twelve to be of such a nature that the Church should take an official position concerning them. We believe that to do otherwise would involve the Church, formally and officially, on an [sic] sufficient number of issues that the result would be to divert the Church from its basic mission of teaching the restored gospel to the world.'
"Based on that statement, the Church did not express a position on the adoption of a holiday honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King, either on the national level nor in any of the states where the matter was considered. Since the adoption of the holiday, however, the Church has included the holiday among those for which Church employees in the United States are given the day off as a paid holiday. Church offices are closed on that day, as they are for the observation of Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, among other holidays.
"In his 1978 statement, President Kimball, added, 'We earnestly hope Church members will feel their individual responsibilities keenly and pursue them wisely.' Obviously, individual members of the Church may express their opinions when any matter is being considered by their legislative representatives. We hope they are wise when they choose to express their opinions and avoid the problems and feelings you describe.
"Jerry P. Cahill
"Director, International Communications'
(Jerry P. Cahill, letter to W. Julius Johnson, 26 February 1990, copy in my possession)
Simply put, the Mormon Church was in a bind on the King issue, placed there by the racist pronouncements of Ezra Taft Benson. It could not issue statements in my grandfather's name extolling the slain civil rights leader. Given his past attacks, that would obviously not appear credible and would serve only to undermine his authority in the eyes of his faithful followers, of and the outside world, if it was pointed out that the Mormon prophet was now reversing course.
But the Mormon Church also realized that if it did not pay Dr. King appropriate homage, it would continue to be viewed--rightly so--as racist.
So, it contorted and dodged the best it could, given the circumstances.
What follows here is information based upon sensitive correspondence in my possession, the details of which cannot be publicly released. I will therefore do the best I can, given that limitation, in explaining the situation that was involved at the time.
Getting around "the King problem" became the assignment of Richard P. Lindsay, managing director of the Public Communications/Special Affairs Department for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lindsay worked for the Church's Special Affairs Committee, which included among its members several Apostles from the Quorum of the Twelve.
It would be inconceivable, therefore, that Lindsay, acting as he did in behalf of the committee, would have issued any public statement that did not meet with the committee's approval.
On 18 January 1988, Lindsay, on the steps of the Utah State Capitol Building, in his capacity as LDS director of communications, paid open and explicit tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King.
To the audience he declared:
"'Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.'
"That's what the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., said to an audience in Memphis, Tennessee, the day before his assassination.
"Over the years he had been a man well-acquainted with the darkness of night.
"The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man who knew the meaning of paradox. To win the battle, he taught, people had to bury their weapons. They must beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. They would conquer oppression through the power of love. 'This is the beauty of nonviolence,' he said. 'It says you can struggle without hating; you can fight war without violence.'
"His life was laced with confrontation, but his response was powered by love, not hatred. He said, 'In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must no' be guilty of wrongful deeds.' This part of the legacy he has left us.
"His vision was founded on faith. Despite the oppression he saw, the bombings, the beatings, the blatant injustice that masqueraded in the robes of the law, he knew that God is a just and loving Father to all mankind. He said, 'Through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to life you from fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.'
"During the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956, when a battle for the simple freedom of riding the bus in dignity was being fought, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., was threatened. Given the mounting pressures of the boycott, he was discouraged, and felt incapable of continuing. He prayed for help. His prayer was answered.
"Standing on the porch of his house, he said, 'We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. If I am stopped, this movement will not stop because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.'
"We have been cautioned against idolizing the man. Wrote one of King's classmates, the Black educator Charles Willie, 'By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr., into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity==his personal and public struggle--that are similar to yours and mine. By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise."
"I think Dr. King would agree with that. I think he would have us remember what GOD has done. It was God who said, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'"
(Richard P. Lindsay, "A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.," 18 January 1988, manuscript copy in my possession)
Even in belated tribute, the Mormon Church's public affairs department could not resist the temptation to save until last as a punctuation point of sorts, a reminder to listeners of Dr. King's personal weaknesses.
Personal Benson-Family related Encounters Involving ETB-Poisoned Mormons and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
--Correspondence Sent to Me from Mormon Anti-King Benson Supporters
You can tell a person by the company they keep. For my grandfather, his company included rabid Mormon racists.
Many of them were involved in obnoxious efforts to convince fellow Saints of their supposed obligation to support the anti-King views of Ezra Taft Benson.
One of these outspoken anti-King Mormon agitators was Shirley Whitlock of Mesa, Arizona. Whitlock, at the time, was president of the local chapter of Phyllis Schlafly's far-right "Eagle Forum" and had worked as a political operative for Arizona's impeached Mormon and openly racist governor, Evan Mecham.
Parenthetically, Whitlock and another of Mecham's Mormon minions, Earl Taylor, wrote my grandfather, angrily demanding that I be removed from all my Mormon Church responsibilities because of my anti-Mecham cartoons. They warned my grandfather that if I was not removed from my Church callings, I would face a Church court. Upon receipt of their letter, my grandfather's office manager, Gary Gillespie, phoned me at my newspaper office in Arizona, asking me why such pro-Mecham Mormon extremists could not understand how they were making the rest of the Latter-day Saint community look like 'fools.' My grandfather did not act on Whitlock and Taylor's demand that I be given the boot, although my stake president shortly thereafter did release me from my position as high councilman because of my anti-Mecham drawings and after having received pressure to do so from a local Mormon legislator, Jerry Gillespie (no relation to my grandfather's office manager).
With regard to Ezra Taft Benson's views on Rev. King, Whitlock sent me the following note:
"Contrary to your apparent belief, Ezra Taft Benson, not E.M. [Evan Mecham] is my political mentor.
"I read him agreed with him, learned from him committed to his political and religious views--long before I ever heard of E.M.
"Do YOU conclude, from the enclosed [anti-King] writing by your grandfather, that this proves HIM to be a racist bigot?
"Your judgment of same for E.M. is based on far less 'evidence'!"
(Shirley Whitlock, letter to Steve Benson, 20 September 1989, original emphasis)
Enclosed with the letter was a photocopy of pages from my grandfather's book, "An Enemy Hath Done This," with his King-clubbing rhetoric highlighted for my benefit.
--Ezra Taft Benson's Private Conversations with Me on the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the mid-1960s, I was in junior high school. It was a time when the nation was being rocked by the tumultuous struggle for civil rights. During those uncertain days, I remember my grandfather telling me that Dr. King was a tool of the Communist conspiracy and urging me to read John Birch Society literature on King's supposed true nature and Communist-inspired agenda.
That propaganda was readily provided me by my father and mother (the latter who was a card-carrying Bircher). My father kept thick files in his home office on his favorite conservative. One of my weekly chore (for which I earned my allowance) was to organize and categorize their contents.In the process of doing so, I came across Bircher articles purporting to show Dr. King's Communist connections.
I remember, in particular, a photograph of a young Martin Luther King, Jr. sitting in a classroom at the allegedly Communist Highlander "Folkschool" training center in Tennessee, where, Birchers claimed, he and others underwent undergone Communist indoctrination at the hands of their Kremlin-directed programmers.
That accusation was, in fact, without foundation. The school was not Communist but, rather, a progressive institution devoted to fighting racism. It was attended by none other than Rosa Parks the summer before she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery Alabama, bus.
(Herbert R. Kohl, reply to Marshall Brady, "New York Review of Books," 19 January 1984)
Unfortunately, as a young kid in junior high school in a overwhelmingly white and staunchly conservative suburb of Dallas, Texas, where I attended an all-white Mormon ward and had all-white mostly Mormon friends, I didn't know these facts and, thus in dutiful and impressionable ignorance, was encouraged by my father to enlighten my fellow classmates as to the "truth" about Martin Luther King, Jr. Under my father's direction, I gathered up stacks of John Birch propaganda, (complete with the photograph of Dr. King supposedly taking orders from Communists in that Tennessee classroom), and brought them to school to show an unexpectedly skeptical classmate. He took one look at my "proof" and laughed. I was crestfallen. I had lost that battle to warn my friends against the coming Communist "Negro" invasion.
My mother later warned me to limit my association with Black people because, she said, they were "different." In the Benson household of my youth, racial equality was not a topic of priority.
She also once described to me how, when she and my dad lived in Washington, D.C., while I was an infant, one night they decided to go out on a date and hired an African-American woman to come over and babysit me. My mom said she asked her to wash the dishes and mop the kitchen floor while they were gone. She said that when she and my dad returned home, they found that the babysitter had mopped the kitchen floor with the same bucket water that she had first used to wash the dishes. My mom laughed in retelling the story, adding,"We gave her a banana and sent her home."
Edited 6 time(s). Last edit at 01/22/2018 04:31AM by steve benson.