Channeling Spiro Agnew in the Baltimore riots

Roundup
tags: racism, Baltimore, Ferguson, Spiro Agnew



Name a newly elected Republican governor of Maryland with little previous political experience that hailed from the suburbs and had to deal with racial unrest and rioting in the city during his first term. Maryland's current Gov. Larry Hogan? Guess again. How about future Vice President Spiro Agnew.

As the situation in Baltimore unfolded over the past week, it brought back memories of the violence that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968. Maryland's then relatively unknown Republican Governor, Spiro Agnew, had just started his second year in office. His reaction to the unfolding situation helped make him a household name and led to a reshaping of American electoral politics.

Agnew quickly called out the National Guard and then pointed fingers at Baltimore's mayor, Tommy D'Alessandro, and his staff, accusing them of willfully ignoring signs of impending violence in the city. A D'Alessandro assistant told Theo Lippmann of The Baltimore Sun, "Agnew told us he didn't think Martin Luther King was a good American, anyway!"

Agnew saved his real public vitriol, however, for Baltimore's black political leadership. Calling them to a special meeting at the state office building in Baltimore, he excoriated the group for its failure to take responsibility for the violence and a "perverted concept of race loyalty." Governor Agnew charged the group with cowardice by meeting in secret with Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, both advocates of violence in the civil rights movement by 1968.

To catcalls from the audience ("If you want to talk to us as ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Governor, we'll stay and listen") and a partial walkout, Agnew continued to belittle and upbraid the leaders, characterizing them as silent bystanders while Baltimore went up in smoke. Agnew charged, "It is deplorable and a sign of sickness in our society that the lunatic fringes of our black and white communities speak with wide publicity while we, the moderates, remain continuously mute. I cannot believe that the only alternative to white racism is black racism." ...




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