Gil Caldwell’s birthday letter to Martin King

Gil Caldwell, activist with King, longtime Methodist minister and friend, wrote a letter to King about our current circumstances of systemic disenfranchisement of blacks and others. His letter names the racism that the Republicans used to stymie many of Obama’s programs.

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Yesterday, John Lewis, the great civil rights leader who suffered a concussion on the bridge at Selma, declared Trump an illegitimate president. He spoke with authority. He has stood for the equal right to vote.

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As a cyclone of ignorance and vapidity, a Trump tweet projected on Lewis being a do-nothing good person. But Trump named himself: has Trump ever done a single act of kindness or for the benefit of another person?

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In recent years, Lewis has become, perhaps, too much of a neoliberal Congressional Democrat. Last year, he wrongly belittled Bernie Sanders’ activism of civil rights to support Clinton. Now he believes the brouhaha about Trump’s Russian ties, solemnly repeating the secret police/CIA’s dark and unsubstantiated claims on behalf of whipping up war with Russia. Ordinarily, Lewis would be against war. But he seems, on this issue, to have forgotten himself. See Glenn Greenwald.

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Unfortunately, Trump is threatening war with Iran (which could easily also lead to war with Russia), so even this one decent thing he stands for, he quickly erases.

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But Lewis is right that Trump was not actually elected. As I show in the Daily Beast on December 11, the initial exit polls show Clinton winning in four swing states (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin) and within one-tenth of a point in Ohio. With a maximum margin of error of 2.5, these results were often outside the margin by 5 points (or 8 in Ohio). Since the year 2000, the American State Department has challenged such deviations in 5 elections out of 14 in “transitional” democracies. And this 2016 US pattern is in fact, more severe and unexpected than those.

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In the United States, most people vote on machines that leave no paper trail. In Ohio in 2016, Secretary of State Jon Husted even turned off the “security” on the optical scan machines which keeps a separate record of people’s ballots.

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The Democrats keep silent about this issue, making a brouhaha about Russia, because a more severe set of deviations between initial exit poll showings for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries occurred in 10 out of 22 cases.

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Senator Sanders was in Michigan today, leading a vigorous rally to preserve the health care coverage of ordinary people. He was accompanied by Senator Schumer who seems to understand that the Democrats will not win elections without a progressive, non-Bill and Hillary Clinton, appeal to many white working people who have been hurt by globalization. There were many such rallies around the country…

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Sanders’s vision and King’s in 1967-68 of a poor people’s movement are very close. King emphasizes mass civil disobedience more sharply but Bernie’s idea of a political revolution, his walking the picket lines with Verizon workers, his demonstrating at the White House in solidarity with Standing Rock, is close…

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Gil’s words are resonant.

To: Martin Luther King
From: Gilbert H. Caldwell

Dear Dr. King,

We first met in May of 1958 at Boston University School of Theology. You were 29, I was
24. You would have been 88 on January 15, 2017 if you had not been assassinated in 1968.
I am 83. One of our Boston University colleagues, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White has
written annual letters to you that have been insightful, candid and prophetic. I make no attempt
to imitate my long time friend and colleague Woodie as I write this, but, I am inwardly
compelled to share the following;

1. The last 8 years, we have been blessed to have as our President, Barack Hussein Obama.
But developments that have been taking place in the process of electing a successor to
President Obama, have motivated my writing this letter to you that I hope and pray will be
shared with others.

2. The nation and world now know that the election of President Obama did not usher in a
post racial/racist era. We missed an opportunity as proponents or opponents of Barack Obama
to act in ways that demonstrated that we acknowledged “America’s Original Sin; Racism”. His
opposition could have been a “Loyal Opposition” that disagreed with his policies, but not disagree with the legacy of the anti-black racism that still hovers over the nation; south, north,
central and west. The nation has demonstrated that it could accept with enthusiasm two black
quarterbacks as they led their respective teams in the quest for a national championship. But,
there were some Americans who in attitudes and actions, were reluctant to fully accept a black
President of the United States, nor his spouse Michelle and their daughters. Football quarterbacks entertain and excite football fans, but a President represents and leads a nation.
This apparently for some Americans, was beyond their capacity to accept.

3. Dr. King, our unresolved racial reality is that there has been and is, an unwillingness to express in word and deed that the nation was wrong in ever tolerating slavery and racial segregation. They both violated the principles of equality, fairness and justice that are writ large in Scripture and the Constitution. We waste time in efforts to label persons racist. I am fascinated at how
persons whether right or left of center, protect others and themselves from the racist label, but
are less enthusiastic in condemning systemic racism re; voting rights, affirmative action, education, housing, economic opportunity, the gap between blacks in healthcare, home ownership, and family, economic well being.

We are not where we ought be on matters of racial justice, because we have discovered we can
enact laws that allow us “to change without changing” the deep seated attitudes that once justified slavery and segregation. Yet, Dr. King, I “Dare to Dream” that Republicans, Democrats,
Independents and all of us can and will join hands and hearts to make America what it is not yet, but can become.

On Friday, January 13th Grace and I and our son Dale visited the Bear Tavern Elementary School
here in New Jersey to talk about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. The faces of those children, their teachers and Principal are in my minds eye as I write this. It is because of them, and those like them that I write this letter. They deserve a better nation than the one that we are now. May we, this MLK weekend despite the dark clouds above us, begin to become Martin Luther King, the nation you dreamed of and believed in as you lived and died for and in the cause of Freedom and Justice.

Gilbert H. Caldwell
Present at the March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, Selma to Montgomery
March, Boston Common Rally against school segregation, Poor People’s Campaign.
A retired United Methodist Minister, living in Asbury Park, NJ

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