Littwin: We honor MLK by learning Republicans were lynched and King wasn’t about race

Rep. Lori Saine is pictured here in 2015 on the House floor. (Photo by Tessa Cheek)

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”Martin Luther King Jr.

You can find a Martin Luther King quote for just about any occasion. He spoke so passionately and so eloquently that, like the Bible itself, the King oeuvre is easy to cherry-pick to make a point on nearly every topic. I found this King quote for Rep. Lori Saine, whose ignorance, I’m sure, is sincere and whose recent bout of stupidity is beyond question.

You must know the Saine story by now. As Rep. Saine, a Weld County Republican, took to the House floor last Friday on a day honoring King, she invoked his memory in her talk about injustice — the offense being that two white colleagues weren’t allowed to be prime sponsors of a resolution honoring King’s birthday.

By rule, only two members of the House could be prime sponsors. Two black members had signed up to be prime sponsors. And Saine decided this decision was racist and an affront to King’s inclusivity and was, in her four-minute speech, the focus of her wrong-headed tribute to King. Someone, she had heard, had told Perry Buck she was being denied because of her “heritage.” No one was quite sure who said the H-word or if anyone said it or in what context, if said, it was made.

Sincere ignorance? Conscientious stupidity?

Oh, it’s worse than that. Before Saine got around to heritage, she  took the floor to speak first about how whites and blacks, following Reconstruction, were lynched in nearly equal numbers. For those few listening, jaws must have dropped. She then said, in what amounts to the Republican version of victimhood in America, that those lynched, black and white in “nearly equal numbers,” were hanged “for the crime of being Republican.”

I swear to God. Here’s the clip. It’s those quotes — for their sheer lack of context, for their appalling arithmetic, for their historical illiteracy, for their attempt to equate radical Republicans like, say, Thaddeus Stevens with modern-day Republicans like, say, Lori Saine — that have grabbed the headlines, even as Republican House leaders hide in their offices without making any comment.

It’s as if Billie Holliday’s haunting “Strange Fruit” spoke of “Republican bodies swinging in the southern breeze.” It’s as if Emmett Till were lynched for being a member of the Young Republicans. It’s as if Jim Crow laws didn’t allow Everett Dirksen to play checkers with a Democrat in a public square. It’s as if the Little Rock Nine weren’t being taunted and harassed and threatened by white people. It’s as if it was a mixed congregation — white and black Republicans — at the Birmingham church where the four little girls were blown up.

During Reconstruction, northern whites were killed. But as I’m sure everyone but Saine must know, lynching was terrorism practiced by the KKK and others against blacks, mostly in the Jim Crow South. Martin Luther King, I’m sure, never said there were very fine people on both sides.

But here’s the money quote to me: In talking to members of the black caucus, Saine would say, “My colleagues, how can you redeem your marginalized voice by marginalizing ours? Our march towards justice is not over when a colleague is barred from introducing a resolution on this floor because of the color of her skin. Our march of justice is not over when a member of this body who represents all races, creeds and religions is told that Martin Luther King does not represent her heritage.”

Those in the black caucus had, at first, no idea what she was talking about. Saine and the “barred” colleague were both among dozens of co-sponsors. This was a day for at least a pretense of unity, a day when it would be particularly ignorant and hurtful to say that blacks and whites lost their lives in equal measure because they were Republicans.

Does Saine think that Martin Luther King would be marching alongside Donald Trump? Mike Pence must have thought so. He invoked King, actually likening Trump to him while suggesting that Trump, like King, was trying to bring people together in his bid to end the government shutdown.

Does that offend you? I could do a whole speech about that and about the co-opting of King, who was a non-violent warrior (but very much a warrior) for justice, who said at the Berlin Wall that there were God’s children on both sides of the wall, who spoke out against the Vietnam War when it wasn’t popular to do so, who was assassinated while working with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, who feared that he would be killed for his beliefs and yet marched on, for poor people, for the victimized and to end racial injustice.

I wonder what he would think of this world, where, for many, so-called reverse racism is the real racism and when just talking about racism will almost certainly lead to someone calling you a racist. In King’s time, they settled for calling him a communist and, of course, an outside agitator.

And the conservative movement, after his death, after many Republicans had fought against the idea of a King holiday, has now adopted the content-of-his-character, not-color-of-his-skin quote to suggest that King was color-blind, that race wasn’t the issue, but justice for all.

Every year, the same politicians whom King would have fought in his lifetime try to co-opt King’s message by pretending it is something else altogether, pretending that King would not have approved of Black Lives Matter, pretending that King — whose disapproval ratings in 1966, after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts had passed, were at 63 percent — was beloved by all. Pretending that J. Edgar Hoover had not wiretapped King, that the FBI had not sent King a threatening letter suggesting he should kill himself.

Meanwhile, in the days after Saine’s controversial remarks hit, the Greeley Tribune writes that she “doubles down” on them. The Tribute quoted exchanges between Saine and right-wing radio host, Jimmy Lakey, who, during the interview, several times referred to Jared Polis as “our gay, Jewish governor.”

From that exchange: 

“There were people of both races that made sacrifices? They don’t have a corner on this market?” Lakey said.

“That’s correct,” Saine said.

She added that she’s not being hanged or killed, but she has received negative emails.

“I know MLK would not want us to go backward into more segregation,” Saine said. “He got on the mountaintop for all of us — children of all races. I think this is going to ricochet further than Dems realize.”

So, the fact that Rep. Perry Buck, for example, had to settle for being a co-sponsor in a resolution honoring King is the segregation that King abhorred. Indy reporter Alex Burness reached Buck, who told him that another representative, whom she wouldn’t identify, was the one told her she was denied prime sponsorship because “it wasn’t my heritage.”

She then concluded: “It is what it is. There are some that are very proud of what they say is their heritage. I think Martin Luther King was about unity. I don’t think he’s about race.”

That Martin Luther King’s life wasn’t about race, or fighting segregation and racial injustice, is certainly an original take. We should end there. Because, beyond sincere ignorance, what else is there possibly to say?

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


  1. NAACP’s account of lynching has this particular bit of information:
    “Of the lynching that did not take place in the South, mainly in the West, were normally lynchings of whites, not blacks. Most of the lynching in the West came from the lynching of either murders or cattle thiefs. There really was no political link to the lynching of blacks in the South, and whites in the West.”

    Which makes me wonder where Rep. Saine came up with her research to suggest people were killed for being Republicans. It certainly is a novel interpretation, one I’ve not been aware of in reading a fair amount of American history and studying American rhetoric.

  2. Hunting further, I went looking for the numbers Rep. Saine used in a radio interview with Dan Caplis, reported on Colorado Pols. And I found them: a national Humanities Center timeline ” TIMELINE: 1860-1920, to accompany the Seminar Toolbox “The Making of African American Identity” Vol. II: 1865-1917
    The numbers there are credited to * Lynching statistics from Tuskegee Institute Archives, as presented by Prof. Stephanie Browner, Berea College

    Digging around more … I found “Many whites were lynched for fighting racism”
    Richard Emanuel, Alabama Voices Published 1:40 p.m. CT Sept. 25, 2017 | Updated 10:36 a.m. CT Sept. 28, 2017
    “Alabama Voices columnist Richard Emanuel, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at Alabama State University. Emanuel has taught for more than three decades at two-year and four-year public and private colleges. He has authored dozens of research articles that have been published in national and international refereed academic journals.”

    Emanuel wrote: “While some whites were lynched for murder or stealing cattle, there is another important reason many were lynched. Many whites were lynched for helping blacks or being anti-lynching. According to David Barton’s extensively well-documented book, “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White,” the original targets of the Ku Klux Klan were Republicans, both black and white. The Klan terrorized both black and white Americans not to vote for Republican tickets. “Of all forms of violent intimidation, lynchings were by far the most effective.” Republicans often led the efforts to pass federal anti-lynching laws and their platforms consistently called for a ban on lynching.”

    And who, pray tell, is his source, David Barton? Wikipedia says “David Barton (born January 28, 1954) is an evangelical Christian political activist and author. He is the founder of WallBuilders, LLC, a Texas-based organization that promotes unorthodox views about the religious basis of the United States.
    He has been described as a Christian nationalist; his work is devoted to advancing the idea that the United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation and rejecting the consensus view that the United States Constitution calls for separation of church and state. Scholars of history and law have described his research as highly flawed, “pseudoscholarship” and spreading “outright falsehoods”. ”

    So, a germ of truth, wrapped in a polemic, based on a Christian nationalist, untrained historian.

  3. Try using your brain before hitting the enter key Randy. How is this comment helpful or in the spirit of constructive dialogue? Stupid is as stupid does.

  4. John, I thought you were on trail and path to tell the whole story. You seemed to question Barton, but he wrote a book in 2007, by title you referenced, and gives more documentation and statements that are more pertinent then those you listed. This carried right on through the passage of Amendment 14, when not a single Democrat voted for it (House or Senate) and in fact it list all the long hours of filabusters by prominent Democrats, opposing passage. Continued until Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower signed 1960 Civil Rights Act.
    Condelezzi Rice was Republican, because her father was denied registration by Democrats and he never forgave them, and neither did Condi. I am 89 years old, but I can remember as a youth, in high school in 1940s, when the blacks were required to attend a black, elementary school near my uncles, and also Blacks were segregated in towns where they lived. Just as in Denver, in 1950s, and 1960s, Blacks could not buy or live east of York Street in Denver. So did you not read the entire article, John? The documentation is there in our history, as recorded in Washington D. C. by many authors through the years. Just because Mike writes past the subject, to cast Colorado Representative as ignorant and wrong, you do need to tell whole story, if you have it. ——-And though I was born in Ohio, I am very familiar with Denver since 1950-51 era. And have seen changes that were good, but much that is not so good.

  5. He’s really just pointing out what certainly appears to be the truth. I’ve never seen a group of people SO willing to believe obvious horse crap as long as the right person said it. These truly are sheep looking to be led to the slaughter. It’s a great, lovely closed loop. Some idiot at the top decides he wants people to believe something for whatever reason, and he tells the right wing media to go with it. This used to be done by looking at what was on Drudge every morning. That was clearly where they got their talking points, and they ALL did it. You could go on Drudge early in the AM and already know what they were going to be spouting off about. But anyway, they spout, and the rubes believe and pass it on. It doesn’t matter how big of a load of bilge water it is, as long as the right Faux Noise personality said it, they were all in. And then you have the other loons, like Alex Jones and Limbaugh. They lie like rugs, and people LOVE them for it. Their nonsense is debunked within a 5 minute google search, but just the fact that one of these lunatics said it is good enough for the righties.

    Constructive dialog? With righties? They will just immediately yell “FAKE NEWS” in your face and say they don’t believe any of it. You can’t deal with these people, they are intentionally foolish and they don’t WANT to change. They are being led and that’s EXACTLY what they want.

    Stupid IS as stupid does, and if you want to see stupid, you look to the right side of the political spectrum. They prove it to us every day. These aren’t good, smart, brave people. These are scared, foolish twits who want their lunch taken away from them as long as the brown people don’t even GET lunch money to begin with. It’s time to stop playing PC games, since they hate that anyway, and just call them what they are.

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