Dorothy Butler Gilliam at The New York Times:
In 1964, Trillin captured an exchange with King that speaks to our current political moment. King was flying to Mississippi when a young white man with “a thick drawl” and self-identifying as a Christian leaned across the aisle and questioned whether King’s movement was teaching Christian love or inciting violence. King explained that “love with justice” was a basic tenet of the nonviolent civil rights movement, and asked him what he thought of the new civil rights law. The inquisitor said he hadn’t read it.
“I think parts of it just carry on the trend toward federal dictatorship,” the man said. King later asked him if he was going to vote for Goldwater, the Republican nominee. “Yes, I expect I will,” the man answered. “I’ve voted for losers before.” King shook his head as the white man exited the plane. “His mind has been cold so long, there’s nothing that can get to him.”
In today’s hostile political climate, when an air of fatalist resentment seems to emanate from supporters of Donald Trump, that conversation, with a change of names, could easily occur.
Demonstrating that racism extended beyond the South, Trillin wrote about the successful battle whites waged against integration in Denver schools in 1969. In “Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Always Easy,” he patiently debunks the coded language of white supremacy the segregationists used to warn of “forced mandatory crosstown busing on a massive scale.” By 2015, Trillin writes in an update, most of the city’s white residents have fled to the suburbs, and “only 29 of Denver’s 188 schools could be considered integrated.”