Society

MLK's Widow Warned Against Jeff Sessions In 1986

| by Ray Brown

In 1986, Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote a strongly-worded letter opposing the nomination of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama when he was his state's attorney and got nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” King wrote in her nine-page letter, which was published by The Washington Post on the first day of Sessions' Senate hearing for his nomination to be President-elect Donald Trump's attorney general.

King added: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

King accused Sessions of supporting racist policies that would dramatically roll back civil rights progress.

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“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” she wrote, later adding: “I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

Due to then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond never entering King's letter into the congressional record, it was largely unknown before The Washington Post published it, according to BuzzFeed.

Sessions faced numerous charges of having made racist statements as Alabama's attorney, including calling a black colleague “boy” and allegedly saying he believed the Ku Klux Klan was "OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana," said Thomas Figures, a black assistant U.S. attorney who worked for Sessions, reported CNN.

Sessions denied having made racist statements.

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"I am not a racist, I am not insensitive to blacks. I have supported civil rights activity in my state. I have done my job with integrity, equality, and fairness for all," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 8 against Sessions' nomination and he became only the second nominee in 50 years to be rejected for the federal bench, according to CNN.

Sources: The Washington Post, CNN, BuzzFeed / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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