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A tale of political courage: Author discusses book on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first incarceration

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Feb 26, 2021

Paul Kendrick

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Father-and-son duo Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick have written three books together at this point, but their greatest triumph may have been with their latest publication, “Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election.” The book has been named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, along with being on Oprah’s Book Club List this month.

This book was also the focus for the latest installment in the Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications’ American Conversation Series, a series of public forums presenting high-profile speakers from all sides of the partisan and ideological aisle to discuss competing approaches and solutions.

“I wanted to write it, so that you as a reader could feel the excitement over those last few days before the election,” Paul said, of the 1960 General Election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

According to Paul, who spoke on the Zoom event on behalf of himself and his father, the election may have turned out very differently, if not for the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In the 1960s, you had the Black vote seemingly split fairly evenly,” Paul said, mentioning even King’s family was going to vote for Nixon, because Kennedy seemed to not care about Black voters. “Everything got upended when Martin Luther King got imprisoned three weeks before the election.”

On Oct. 19, 1960, King participated in a sit-in protest at Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta, Ga., and was incarcerated for it. King was sentenced to four months in prison, but thanks to former Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford’s influence while on Kennedy’s staff, Kennedy became involved and helped free King after eight days in prison.

“That experience led to Black Americans preferring the Democratic Party. It gives us the world we have today, it gives us the political parties we have today. It teaches us to speak up when there’s injustice,” Paul said, mentioning Nixon had likewise been encouraged to stand up for King but, like the majority of Kennedy’s campaign staff, felt it would be too big a risk for his campaign.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold! Boldness can be rewarded in politics,” Paul said. “We often play it safe in campaigns, but that’s not always the best solution. If your work is authentic and shows heart, people really connect with that!”

According to Paul, he and his father collected as much information for this book as possible from primary sources, including lengthy in-person interviews with Harris.

“We wanted to show America that it is possible to do good. What can be morally courageous can be politically courageous,” Paul said of his and his father’s inspiration for the book. “We wanted to tell stories that have not been told as often, that prove this to be true. This story captured so many of those values, just in telling the history and how it happened.”

The event was moderated by Paul’s former professor, George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs Associate Professor Peter Loge. To learn more about the Stubblefield Institute and its upcoming events, visit http://stubblefieldinstitute.org/.