Martin Luther King

The following is taken from my memoir, Jackhammered—A Life of Adventure:

“In 1983, a bill to create a Martin Luther King holiday came to the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill was explosively controversial, but I vowed to support it. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and a number of outside groups were attacking the bill arguing that confidential FBI records would show that Dr. King had communist ties. It was a specious claim, but it was politically effective. As a former FBI agent, I countered the contention. A number of news outlets mentioned my work on the bill and The New Republic used the speech I made on the House floor to wrap up a 1986 analysis of how and why the bill passed. Here is a portion of what I said, as it appears in the Congressional Record for August 2, 1983:

Mr. BETHUNE:

Mr. Speaker, as a Republican and as a former FBI agent, I rise in strong support of the Martin Luther King holiday bill.

In the 1960s we in Arkansas rallied around Winthrop Rockefeller. I was a Democrat at the time. I became a Republican because we wanted to break the stranglehold that Orval Faubus and machine politics had on our state for a long time which had suppressed not just black citizens but all citizens in our state, and we Republicans, in the finest tradition of Abraham Lincoln, brought blacks into government, and we Republicans, in the finest tradition of Abraham Lincoln, made changes in the election laws and opened up the political process for blacks in Arkansas.

And do you know what we learned out of all that? The great changes are not made here in the legislative chambers or in the judicial halls. The great changes in this world are made in the hearts and minds of men and women. Attitudes are so important.

I think that this holiday for Martin Luther King will give us an annual opportunity to recommit ourselves to the proposition that all men are created equal. It will nourish the spirit of reconciliation that we need so desperately in this country right now.

Mr. Speaker, I urge all Members and I urge particularly the Members on my side of the aisle to support this bill. Let us make this a bipartisan effort, as it should be.”