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The Presidency of Richard Nixon: White Backlash in the White House

. . .there are those who want instant integration and those who want segregation forever. I believe that we need to have a middle course between those two extremes—President Richard M. Nixon, 1969

Eradicate [the Panthers’] "serve the people" programs—William C. Sullivan, FBI, 1969

Richard Nixon and African Americans: Prelude to the Presidency

Recast and reinvigorated, Richard M. Nixon looked toward 1968 with a new determination and confidence. Following his crushing defeat in the race for the Governor of California in 1962, Nixon benefitted from the lessons of the subsequent Republican electoral defeats in 1960 and 1964. Nixon watched the success of Alabama's George Wallace with considerable interest as he was more conscious of the political reality of race and racism than ever. Later he would use ingrained mass racial prejudices as blunt instruments as he mobilized voters in carefully formulated strategies and tactics to defeat his Democratic opponents. Nixon’s vacillating and wishy-washy stance on civil rights in 1960 would not be repeated. Being neutral on civil rights had cost him the election as he had failed to win anti-black white votes and black votes as well.

Born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, a rural agricultural area only thirty miles from Los Angeles, Nixon grew up in modest circumstances. When he was nine years of age Francis “Frank” Anthony Nixon, his father, a laborer who supplemented his income by growing fruit and vegetables, sold the family home and lemon grove and moved the family to Whittier, California where he became a grocer. Nixon apparently did not have frequent contact with African-Americans during his childhood and teen years. Nixon’s autobiography contains no mention of blacks during his childhood or at any other stage of his life. His Whittier football coach, however, was a Native American. Nixon described the coach’s lasting influence on him as one that “drilled into me a competitive spirit and the determination to come back after you have been knocked down or after you lose.” According to Nixon, the coach also helped him understand that “what really matters is not a man’s background, his color, his race, or his religion, but only his character.” Nathaniel George, an African American friend of Nixon from his days at Whittier said that he was “definitely not bigoted.”.

Following Nixon’s undergraduate years at Whittier, he enrolled in Duke Law School in 1934. Nixon pointed to differences with his southern white classmates over “the race issue,” upon which he did not elaborate. In the end, however, he felt that his experiences in Durham, North Carolina helped him to “understand and respect” the Southern “patriotism” and “pride.” Following his years in the South he “felt strongly that it was time to bring the South back into the Union.”

Following graduation from Duke, Nixon passed the bar and, then, married Pat Ryan. World War Two saw Nixon in the South Pacific as a Navy commander. After the war, Nixon launched his political career by running for Congress against Jerry Voorhis. Years later, Nixon was still defending himself against charges that he smeared his opponent by using McCarthy-like tactics. With this victory, anti-communism became a Nixon staple that fueled his rise to political prominence.

In 1952, while campaigning as Eisenhower’s vice-presidential running mate, Nixon made clear his opposition to Rule XXII, the rule allowing unlimited debate in the Senate, under which southern senators could sustain filibusters. As a Senator Richard Nixon stood against this as it was used to impair the achievement of pending civil rights legislation. Seeking to woo the black voters of key states such as New York, Nixon openly stated that the filibuster rule was an obstacle to the passage of civil rights legislation). He pledged that under an Eisenhower administration there would be “performance on civil rights, not just promises.” During his first term, however, the filibuster failed to emerge as an issue in the Senate. When it did become a concern, during his second term as vice-president, Nixon was hardly a staunch opponent of the rule. Nixon supported the 1957 Civil Rights bill while at the same time chairing the president’s committee on eliminating racial discrimination in firms that contracted with the federal government. By the 1960 presidential campaign many observers felt Nixon’s civil rights record was equal to or better than that of his rival Senator John F. Kennedy.

Nixon implied in his autobiography that he lost the 1960 presidential election due to fraud pointing the finger at Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s Illinois political machine as the culprit. However, Vice President Nixon faced a strategic dilemma during the campaign since by 1960 the black vote was key to winning six of the eight states with the most electoral votes. The failure of Vice-President Nixon to respond positively to the arrest and subsequent sentencing of Martin Luther King proved to be the decisive event of the 1960 campaign. While Nixon wrote that his issuing a statement of “no comment,” followed a failed effort to have the Eisenhower White House issue a public promise of a Justice Department inquiry, he had ample warning of the consequences of his stand pat stance. Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in major league baseball, a Nixon supporter, urged him to telephone Coretta Scott King to no avail. Robinson reportedly said that Nixon “thinks calling Martin would be grandstanding.” While this may have been consistent with Nixon's personality, the assessment of the former Major League great as he dropped out of the campaign was that, "Nixon doesn’t deserve to win." Nixon’s African American chauffeur also advised the former presidential candidate of his fatal error in not telephoning Coretta Scott King.

Others, notably prominent figures in the Republican Party, felt that the party had erred in 1960 and 1964 by not basing its conservatism on racial retrenchment. To achieve victory, it was thought, the Republican Party must either disregard the black vote and appeal to the anti-black sentiments of white southerners or, alternately, actively risk alienating whites and more aggressively pursue the black vote. The drafting of a Republican platform that conformed to one of these strategic approaches would prove a significant factor in the party’s chances for victory in the November election. Unlike the platform hammered out at the Democratic Convention earlier that year, the original 1960 Republican platform avoided indications of support for black sit-ins or federal intervention. Perhaps this hedging was an attempt to blunt the impact of Nixon’s choice of a Vice-Presidential running mate, Nelson Rockefeller, known then as a liberal, or of his conviction that it was necessary to capture a share of the black northern vote to achieve victory. Nixon apparently later regretted not cultivating the interests of the white southern Democratic constituency. Many analysts have concluded that this vacillation cost him the 1960 election.

Nixon’s 1968 “Law and Order” Presidential Campaign

Garry Wills describes 1968 as a year when the “politics of resentment” took hold. Nixon, as well as former Alabama Governor George Wallace, worked to capitalize on this sentiment. Conscious of the prevailing political sentiments among whites, Nixon himself seemed to have changed, now a hardened politician who occasionally used “jigs,” a pejorative term for African Americans, in private company. Nixon was accurate in his estimate of 1968 as being the precise historical point of party realignment similar that which occurred after 1932. He, too, had seen the writing on the wall in the 1964 elections. Now, in 1968--a year in which the nation experienced the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, massive African American rebellions, riots at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the decision of LBJ not to run again, and other remarkable events—Nixon could sense the desire for stability. This desire for stability was perhaps felt the greatest by the millions of lower, middle, and working class whites who began to feel directly and personally threatened by African American progress. By the dawn of the Nixon era, the achievements of the civil rights movement by the Nixon era were crystallized in an altered moral vision of society as well as progressive legislation. With Titles VI and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act at least some of the demands of the civil rights movement were institutionalized as laws and agencies for their enforcement were established.

The reaction against African American progress and increasing militancy began to be an important factor politically by the mid-1960s in every region of the nation. In the northern urban areas white politicians such as Sam Yorty in Los Angeles, Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia, and Louise Day Hicks in Boston skillfully rode white fears to local political power. The very direct threats to the white status quo represented by busing, desegregated neighborhoods, and their perceptions of crime were key to the new varieties of racial prejudice that evolved during the 1960s. The open display of anti-black racial prejudice by this species of politician served to further radicalize African Americans and provide fresh recruits for the emerging militant organizations.

The 1968 election featured, in effect, George Wallace offering white voters a "roll back" of black gains; Richard Nixon offering a "containment," and then a "roll back" of these advances. Democratic presidential nominee, former Minnesota Senator and then Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, tied to the legacy of LBJ, tried to downplay his liberalism and to appear tough on crime, but, ultimately, failed to convince sufficient numbers of white voters of this. For example, Humphrey’s acceptance speech amid the tumultuous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago stressed his opposition to “rioting, burning, sniping, mugging, traffic in narcotics, and disregard for the law." Repeatedly he used the phrase "law and order" and only later did he discuss subjects that reflected black interests.

By the time Richard Nixon delivered his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, he knew what the basic ideological thrust of his campaign would be. Carefully avoiding criticism of the Kennedy legacy, Nixon posed the basic question before the electorate as: "Whether we shall continue for four more years the policies of the last five years."

Presidential candidate Nixon also had a reply for those who would dare accuse him of racism:

And to those who say law and order is the code word for racism, here is a reply: Our goal is justice—justice for every American. If we are to have respect for law in America, we must have laws that deserve respect. Just as we cannot have progress without order, we cannot have order without progress.

He attacked social programs that had only yielded “an ugly harvest of frustrations, violence and failure across the land.” To substitute for these programs Nixon would use tax and credit policy reforms and use the natural mechanisms of the free enterprise system to facilitate black progress. "Black Americans—no more than white Americans—do not want more Government programs which perpetuate dependency. They don’t want to be a colony in a nation." On one particularly important flash point for racial conflict, busing, Nixon seized upon it declaring that it was a mistake to conceive of busing as a solution. Blacks were not being helped by busing, Great Society handouts, or by being soft on crime. Blacks needed jobs, and he would create incentives for private enterprises to invest in the black communities of the nation.

Former Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s sociological classic, The Negro Family, published in 1965 to a firestorm of controversy, was relied upon by Nixon. Nixon concluded that existing welfare programs were misdirected efforts that fostered the decline of the black family as the father was encouraged to leave the family in order for his wife and children to receive welfare payments. Moynihan’s conclusion that the efforts of well-intended social programs were futile so long as the fundamental family structure of African Americans remained, in his view, dysfunctional endeared him to Nixon who accepted this reasoning as a basic pillar of his political thought. Soon Moynihan’s recommended “benign neglect” of blacks in favor of other minorities was greeted by Nixon’s enthusiastic response, “I agree!.” Crime too, was a problem that blacks had to address, and one that would impede any progress that the federal government could facilitate. These themes were woven into a more general premise that blacks were their own worst enemies, not racial prejudice and discrimination. The problem was internal to African Americans themselves, and no amount of well-intended social programs could alter this situation until this more basic problem was resolved. The need for “law-and-order”, however, was more immediate in the eyes of the Nixon administration. During this period police departments went on an unprecedented weapons-purchasing binge that saw an increase in federal and state spending amounting to 42 percent from 1971 to 1974.

One key element of Nixon’s southern strategy was set in place following a June 1, 1968 Atlanta meeting with Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Nixon promised to allow Thurmond to veto his vice-presidential choice and, most importantly, committed himself to finding a way not to enforce desegregation measures, especially school desegregation if he would influence the southern Republican delegates to support him at the convention. Subsequently, Nixon made known his opposition to busing, open housing, and other African American interest. This stance was particularly important for Nixon’s prospects of victory since George Wallace appeared on the ballots of every state, and threatened to siphon off important votes away from the Republicans especially in the south.

A January 1969 announcement by HEW Secretary Robert Finch gave notice that the previous administration’s guidelines and deadlines requiring desegregation would be maintained. The administration would, however, allow districts to receive funding later if desegregation occurred within 60 days of the deadline. Later nervous pro-segregation leaders were reassured when they were told by an administration spokesman that there would “not be a continuation of the policies of the Johnson administration.” Indeed, soon the federal government had switched sides in the legal battle from the defenders of civil rights to the defenders of segregation.

Spiro Agnew and the Politics of Race

Nixon’s choice of Agnew as his vice-presidential running mate constituted a key aspect of his southern strategy. Spiro Theodore Agnew was born in November 1918 in downtown Baltimore to an upwardly mobile Greek-American family. Growing up in the Baltimore suburb of Forest Park, Agnew’s political career began to take off in the early 1960s following his election to the county executive post in Baltimore. Agnew’s racial views during this period, while perhaps not as extreme as later in his career, were distinctly anti-black. In 1964 he rejected without consideration an invitation to participate in designing a metropolitan-wide approach to open housing, declaring that open housing was an violation of constitutional property rights. Despite this, he claimed to favor integration, in theory at least. When it came to actually facilitating integration he consistently opposed it.

In the wake of the rebellions that roiled black communities across the nation following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Agnew’s angry and bitter tongue-lashing of Baltimore black leaders set the trajectory of his relationships with African Americans on a downward course for the remainder of his political career.

Following Martin Luther King’s assassination, Baltimore, like scores of other cities and towns experienced spasms of angry violence in black communities. Almost 5,000 Army regulars and 5,500 National Guardsmen were used to quell the outbreaks of burning and looting.51 Outraged at the outbreak of lawlessness in his hometown, Agnew called a meeting with the principal black leaders of the city while the ashes from the violence still smoldered. Following a brief remark by an Agnew aide, the governor made a grand entrance with an Army General, the Superintendent of the state police, the Baltimore police chief entering alongside him. Flanked by these high-ranking military and police officials within a city still occupied by the army, Agnew delivered a terse statement denouncing black leadership for not preventing the burning and looting of the city by speaking out. Agnew’s audience walked out before he could finish the speech. As they left, Agnew charged that earlier they “ran” after a white had applauded them for denouncing black militants. Terming them “circuit-riding, Hanoi-visiting. . . caterwauling, riot-inciting, burn-America-down type of leader[s],” Agnew accused them of “breaking and running” when they should have been on the streets stopping the riots. Agnew accused them of the crime of being united and refusing to criticize one another. He also directed his verbal attack specifically at “outside agitators’ pointing Stokely Carmichael who “was observed meeting with local black power advocates and known criminals in Baltimore on April 3, 1968. . .” One of those who left said that Governor Agnew was “as sick as any bigot in America.”

Immediately after Martin Luther King was slain, Agnew commented that the African American leader “was not a good American, anyway!” While these statements further alienated him from the black community they endeared him to a segment of the white political leadership and gave him valuable name recognition with the most racially biased portion of the northern electorate. For leading Republican presidential hopeful Richard M. Nixon, who was bound to choose a running mate acceptable to Strom Thurmond, this made Spiro T. Agnew an ideal candidate for Vice-President.


President Richard Nixon

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President

January 20, 1969 to August 9, 1974

Birth: January 9, 1913, Yorba Linda, California

Death: April 22, 1994

Education: Whittier College, Duke Law School

Religion: Quaker

Profession: Lawyer, Politician

Political Party: Republican

Primary Form of Relationship with African Americans: Politician

Important Online Works

Life Portrait of Richard M. Nixon Nov 19, 1999, CSPAN



Chosen for his anti-black credentials, Governor Spiro T. Agnew campaigned during 1968 as Nixon’s point man on race. Aiming to capture voters attracted by the openly racist message of Alabama’s George Wallace, Agnew carried his message to every corner of the nation fanning the flames of racial resentment. Aided by Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, Agnew used strident rhetoric to bash the left, liberals, and aggressive blacks. Civil rights, crime, and the war on poverty were linked in an analysis that convoluted cause-and-effect. In a New York speech in July Agnew condemned the spread of “relativism” that was “epitomized by the agonizing of a police officer who couldn’t bring himself to kill a looter over a pair of shoes. . . ." For Agnew there was no issue, law and order took precedent over black life.

The Nixon Administration and Desegregation

President Nixon’s January 20, 1969 Inaugural speech surprised many with its words that seemed to suggest a softening of the racial polarization that the Nixon-Agnew campaign itself had fed upon and helped create. Nixon said:

No man can be fully free while his neighbor is not. To go forward at all is to go forward together. This means black and white together, as one nation, not two. The laws have caught up with our conscience. What remains is to give life to what is in the law: to insure at last that as all are born equal in dignity before God, all are born equal in dignity before man.

Despite the newly-inaugurated president’s liberal racial rhetoric, Nixon’s inauguration was the signal for the launching of a conservative counteroffensive against the advances and aspirations of African Americans. The first task of the Nixon presidency was to halt the progress in recognition of the historic and contemporary injustice meted out to blacks in America. Playing to the growing sentiment of white backlash, Nixon constructed the logical pillars of an entire edifice of arguments and positions designed to counter any notions that America now needed continued remedies to combat racial discrimination.

Robert Finch, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and a close advisor to President Nixon was clear in his view that the administration owed blacks nothing. In December 1968 he said:

It is perfectly clear that we hardly owe our election to the Negro community. . . in a way we get a kind of freedom out of this in terms of options because we can deal directly with this problem without any hint of political obligation.

Immediately after Nixon’s defeat of Humphrey in the November 1968 presidential election, five southern school districts were threatened with the cutoff of federal funds due to non-compliance with provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Southern officials fearing cutoff contacted the team of President-elect Nixon. They were assured that no cutoff would take place as the Nixon administration would act to postpone the cutoff dates. This was an early signal that the Nixon administration would make good on its promise to retreat on civil rights. The NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights were among the groups that criticized Nixon’s retreat on desegregation. The latter organization charged that the administration’s actions would “encourage disregard for the school desegregation laws” and strengthen southern resolve to fight to maintain segregation. To counter the criticism from the civil rights community, the Nixon administration brought in James Farmer, the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who supported its recent actions negating desegregation laws.

On October 29, 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that the period of “all deliberate speed” in integrating the nation’s schools had expired and it was the time for an immediate desegregation of every school district. Having had the opposite intentions, the Nixon administration was stunned by the Court’s ruling. Attorney General John Mitchell had earlier expressed the hope that “the Court would respect the administration’s wishes” for another postponement in the desegregation of southern school districts. Nixon announced his support for an amendment by Senator John Stennis of Mississippi that mandated an uniform enforcement of desegregation decrees in both northern and southern districts. This aimed to delay and cloud the issue by forcing northern whites to experience the “pain” of desegregation along with southern whites. Leon Panetta of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) was sacked and replaced by Robert C. Mardian, notably more sympathetic to the opponents of desegregation and black civil rights. In one interview, HEW’s Finch indicated that “separate but really equal schools” were acceptable to him provided it was voluntary and there was “no evidence of any intimidation of any kind.”

By the summer of 1970, President Nixon told his advisers to “quit bragging about school desegregation. We do what the law requires—nothing more.” He didn’t want any members of his administration “praising ‘our great record.’” Nixon coldly reasoned that “we will get no credit from blacks but a lot of heat from our own supporters.” He ordered his aides to give “as low a profile as possible” on desegregation. He directed his subordinates to oppose busing “at every opportunity.” By 1971 Nixon was calling for Congress to mandate a “moratorium” on busing for racial balance. The president proposed a policy designed to “improve” black education without busing, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1972.

In September 1969, President Nixon said that “there are those who want instant integration and those who want segregation forever. I believe that we need to have a middle course between those two extremes.” He attempted to achieve this balance on the Supreme Court by making it more hostile to desegregation. Unfortunately, his designs for a more conservative Supreme Court were set back following the rejection of his nominee Judge Clement F. Haynsworth to the Supreme Court in November 1969 by a vote of 55 to 45. Haynsworth’s long-time support of segregated schools, hospitals, and other public facilities doomed his nomination.

Undaunted by the Senate rejection of the South Carolinian Haynsworth, Nixon in January 1970 nominated Judge G. Harrold Carswell of Georgia for the U. S. Supreme Court. Carswell was a dedicated foe of desegregation. In 1948 he declared that “[S]egregation of the races is proper and the only practical and correct way of life. . .I have always so believed and I shall always so act.” As in the case of Haynsworth, a long history of pro-segregation decisions demonstrate the sincerity of his convictions. Nixon downplayed the importance of Carswell’s membership in a golf club restricted to whites since, “if everybody in Washington” in government who at any time belonged to such “restricted” clubs were to “leave Government service” then Washington “would have the highest rate of unemployment of any city in the country.” Carswell’s racial attitudes and behavior coupled with an undistinguished record as a circuit court judge, led to the rejection of the nomination. An irate President Nixon said, “I understand the bitter feeling of millions of Americans who live in the South about the act of regional discrimination that took place in the Senate yesterday.”

Nixon’s War on the African American National Community

The initial years of the Nixon presidency were marked by a fierce and unrelenting repression of radical and not-so-radical black political organizations and movements. Nixon was aided in this endeavor by the FBI which already had in progress a massive surveillance campaign against black community groups, leaders, and rank-in-file participants. In August 1967, the FBI initiated a new effort that encompassed the wide spectrum of black community activities within its broad scope. Nonviolent civil rights groups, “Black Power” groups, and revolutionary organizations violent or nonviolent, were targeted by these surveillance activities falling under the FBI category “Black Hate Groups.” Nixon inherited this from President Lyndon B. Johnson, and more directly, paradoxically from Attorney General Ramsey Clark. By October 1967, the “Ghetto Listening Post” and “Ghetto Informant” programs were initiated. Key institutions, enterprises, and areas of the community were targeted in an effort to recruit storeowners, bartenders, veterans, taxi drivers, and others to provide detailed intelligence information to the government. By the early 1970s, every meeting in the African-American community nationwide was within the potential scope of the federal, state, and local intelligence agencies. The most active organizations, of virtually every political stripe, were being monitored clandestinely.

The COINTELPRO program went considerably further than merely collecting data on black community activities. Its goals were to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters.” This would have the long-term impact of stunting the organizations’ development and miring them in mutual hostility and internal conflict.

The FBI extensively harassed particular groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). Often police would cooperate in making repeated arrests of activists, leaving them financially exhausted, incarcerated or demoralized. In 1969, the Black Panthers bore the brunt of this escalating onslaught with over 348 of its members arrested on a variety of serious charges. On several occasions, police and federal agents laid siege to their offices leading to prolonged shootouts. The major objective of these assaults were to destroy the organization through not only removing its activists, involving it in endless legal battles, but also, by destroying its credibility. For this reason, the FBI feared the Panthers’ successful development of community-based social programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program, its most popular ongoing project. William C. Sullivan of the FBI ordered his subordinates: “Eradicate [the Panthers’] ‘serve the people’ programs.”

By the middle of 1969, the FBI was operating against over 42 Panther chapters and over 1,300 members. The Justice Department, through its anti-Panther task force, was attempting “to develop a prosecutive theory against the BPP [Black Panther Party].” After FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover complained to President Nixon that he had been trying to push the Justice Department harder to move more aggressively against the Panthers, Nixon said he would try to directly contact the heads of the department. Later, Attorney General John Mitchell played a key role in Nixon’s offensive against the Black Panther Party.

President Nixon presided over a counter-insurgency war against the national African American community. The attack was aimed at the very fabric of community institutions, particularly those underlying a vibrant political life, churches, colleges, high schools, social, and cultural institutions, local civic organizations, and political organizations. While by the end of the Johnson administration the FBI had an estimated 3,300 “racial ghetto-type informants,” in the Bureau’s terminology, by the end of Nixon’s first administration it had more than doubled totaling 7,500. The policy of the FBI was “to thoroughly saturate every level of activity in the ghetto.” In addition, the FBI cooperated with the Secret Service in compiling a computerized list of some 5,500 “Black Nationalists” including such “extremist” figures as Jackie Robinson and Roy Wilkins, who were hardly of the black nationalist bent. The detailed surveillance and intelligence activities of the FBI included a “Black Nationalist Photograph Album” containing almost 500 entries.

A particularly significant aspect of the federal assault was the promotion of fratricide among black organizations of different political, social, and cultural outlooks. The operatives of the FBI fostered mutual recriminations within and between black nationalist organizations, sometimes leading directly to bloodshed. The overall effect was to undermine the community’s organization’s, and the individual’s sense of trust and solidarity. Coupled with the influx of drugs, that many black community residents felt suspiciously followed the onset on large-scale rioting, and the rise in violent crime, the years of the Nixon administration began a rapid decline in black community strength and cohesion.

President Nixon worked closely with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, although at times they were at odds. As the demand for a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King increased, the FBI supplied information to the Nixon administration on the black leader’s “highly immoral personal behavior.” President Nixon responded, “No! Never!” after learning of the calls to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday.98 Hoover and friend Vice President Spiro Agnew were particularly adamant on this point. After the vice-president requested information on the Black Panther Party and Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Hoover delightfully complied. Following the killing of two students at Jackson State University where Mississippi troopers opened fire on a dormitory witih a fusillade of bullets and buckshot, in May 1970, Vice President Agnew worked with the FBI to undermine Ralph Abernathy’s credibility. Agnew felt that Abernathy was behind the black activism on the campus and in the cities of Atlanta and Augusta. Agnew requested anything from Hoover that would help in “destroying Abernathy’s credibility.” In addition, the FBI worked with the Nixon administration in the undermining of the reputation of the late Martin Luther King. The FBI searched for any proposals for resolutions to honor or commemorate the slain African American leader and, when they learned of such plans they worked to discourage their passage. At one point, a counterintelligence operation against Coretta Scott King was proposed in conjunction with a media campaign against her husband.

President Nixon’s anti-black paranoia came through in a memo in which he found the high standing of Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke in a poll of African American presidential candidates as threatening. The February 1970 poll of African Americans found Brooke to enjoy 12 percent support as a presidential candidate far behind Julian Bond, 27 percent and Reverend Ralph Abernathy, 17 percent. A memo from Nixon aide John R. Brown to John Ehrlichman read, “[O]n reading the above the President noted that Brooke is too responsible for them. This shows why they talk all right privately and then lash out in public.”

Shortly after his landslide electoral victory in 1972 over Senator George McGovern President Nixon was stunned by the unraveling of scandal stemming from the Watergate break-in. As the scandal gradually mushroomed into a full-blown political crisis for the president, Nixon’s concern turned from both domestic and foreign affairs to his own political survival. Soon, Vice-President Spiro Agnew himself was mired in scandal. By October 1973 Agnew resigned in disgrace pleading “no contest” to charges of bribery and extortion. Soon, Richard M. Nixon would follow that route resigning in August 1974 following months of increasingly debilitating controversy.

©Christopher Brian Booker, 2014.