Romney's Father, MLK And the Meaning of 'Saw'

Saturday, December 22, 2007

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 subsequent 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.


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 1963 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 it is unlikely that King was present on that occasion, as contemporaneous newspaper reports failed 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 in a hair salon 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." But he conceded that he "did not see it with my own eyes" and said, "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 staff writer David S. Broder, which stated that Romney "marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit." But the book did not provide a source for the event, and Broder told The Post that he cannot remember where he heard the information.


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 in King's company. Two Pinocchios for exaggeration.

ONE PINOCCHIO: Some shading of the facts. TWO PINOCCHIOS: Significant omissions or exaggerations. THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors. FOUR PINOCCHIOS: Real whoppers. THE GEPPETTO CHECK MARK: Statements and claims contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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