Of Soul Talks After MLK...
My place card at the White House dinner said: "Thanks
much for what you are doing for your country - LBJ."
I think that upset some people because they thought it was
like a pat on the head for helping cool off the riots. I don't
think they understood everything I had been doing-the stay-in-school
campaign, the lobbying with the vice president about job programs,
and things like that. And in less than a month-the dinner
was on May 8-1 was going to Vietnam to entertain the troops.
I also had a song, a patriotic song, about to come out called
"America Is My Home." I called it my contribution
to "the long cool summer." I didn't know it at the
time, but that record was going to disturb a lot of people.
They were going to get very heavy with me over that song.
Today, all anybody says about it is that it was the first
The state dinner was in honor of the prime minister of Thailand.
Besides him and President Johnson, there were senators, congressmen,
and other government officials: Vice President Humphrey, Senator
Birch Bayh, Senator Sam Ervin, Representative John Anderson,
Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford,
Eugene and Walter Rostow, William Bundy, General Maxwell Taylor,
Cyrus Vance, and a lot more. Edward Bennett Williams, Earl
Wilson, Allen Drury, and a few other private citizens were
I was standing in a group with the president and others when
Earl Wilson, the columnist, said, "Won't they call you
Uncle Tom for doing this?"
" No," I said.
"Because I'm not." And Mr. Johnson winked his eye.
I didn't talk to Mr. Johnson very much. He was eating a lot
of food. That man was hungry. I was honored to be there, but
mostly I was just interested because I was getting ready to
go to Asia and most of the people at the dinner were concerned
with what was going on there. The president had just said
he wouldn't run for re-election. He had stopped the bombing
and was about to send some people over to start peace talks.
I think he really wanted peace, but I think he wanted to reassure
Thailand, too. He got up to toast the prime minister and said,
"We will never abandon our commitment or compromise the
future of Asia at the negotiating table."
During the meal I was seated on the other side of the room
from Mr. Humphrey. Afterward, a Secret Service man came to
my table and said, "The Vice President of the United
States would like to see you at his table." It sounded
like an order.
"Please inform the vice president," I said, "that
James Brown is not his boy. I will not walk across the room
to his table." The Secret Service man looked shook up
now. "But you can tell him," I said, smiling a big
crocodile smile, "that I'll meet him halfway."
The Secret Service man looked like he didn't believe what
he was hearing. He stood there for a minute, then walked across
the room, with me watching him the whole way. He leaned down
and whispered to Mr. Humphrey. When he was finished, Mr. Humphrey
caught my eye and started laughing. We met halfway.
It was all in good fun, but I was not his boy. I had been
thinking about the election a lot since Mr. Johnson withdrew.
Mr. Humphrey hadn't really jumped into it that strong yet,
and I had just about decided to endorse Senator Robert Kennedy.
He was a good man and was doing very well in the primaries,
and I thought he was going to get the nomination eventually.
He was a young man with young ideas, and at that time we needed
a leader that young people could identify with. I didn't discuss
my plans with Mr. Humphrey that night, but I intended to explain
it to him before I went public with it.
I talked a lot that night about Martin, like I had been doing
all along on my concert tour that season. "He was our
hero. We have an obligation to try to fulfill his dream of
true brotherhood," I said. "You can't accomplish
anything by blowing up, burning up, stealing and looting.
Don't terrorize. Organize. Don't burn. Give kids a chance
to learn. Go home. Look at TV. Listen to the radio. Listen
to some James Brown records. The real answer to race problems
in this country is education. Be ready. Be qualified. Own
something. Be somebody. That's Black Power."
from the autobiography of the
influential singer who died Dec. 25, 2006 and was honored
the nation last week.
James Brown: The Godfather of Soul
by James Brown and Bruce Tucker
Collier MacMilan 1986