A version of this story ran Martin Luther King Day 2013:
“Let me say how deeply grateful all people of goodwill are to you for your assiduous labor and dauntless courage in seeking to make the Civil Rights Bill a reality,” were the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Vice President Nixon in a letter following a meeting between the two in 1957.
Read the letter from MLK to RN on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Also on display are Nixon’s handwritten notes from their meeting in Washington, D.C.
“With persons like you occupying such important positions in our nation I am sure that we will soon emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice for all men,” wrote King.
Richard Nixon’s commitment to civil rights continued during his presidency more than a decade later. At the end of January 1969, as Nixon entered his first week as President, 68% of African-American children in the South were still attending completely segregated schools; and 78.8% of them were enrolled in schools that were 80% or more African-American.
Despite the potential damage it could do to his career, Nixon asserted that segregation was morally wrong and and sought to reverse this injustice.
In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1969, the just-sworn-in President gave his assessment of the situation and set out his goal: “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.”
In 1970, President Nixon accomplished what had seemed impossible only a few years before: The peaceful desegregation of schools in the American South. By 1972, only 2 percent of African-American children in the South were attending all African-American schools.
Learn more about the exchange between VP Nixon and Dr. King and RN’s civil rights record at the Nixon Presidential Library.
Read the whole letter from MLK to RN: