By Ernie McCray
A couple of years ago at a showing of “Sing Your Song,” a documentary that highlights Harry Belafonte’s role in pursuits for human and civil rights, I met Ben Kamin, a scholar who has written much about the social struggles of those times. I just finished reading, with delight, his latest book, “Dangerous Friendship.”
The book puts the spotlight on Stanley Levison, a little known figure in the civil rights movement, who fully dedicated his life to helping Martin Luther King.
Regarding this man, Clarence Jones, another prominent aide to Martin, says “I am extremely upset, and I get angry, 24/7, and have been for many years about the glaring omission of the name and history of Stanley Levison in the civil rights chronicle.”
These words from the book get at what Mr. Jones was talking about: “Stanley Levison had been so close to Martin King for so long, had corrected the texts of his speeches, done his taxes, edited his books, found him donors and attorneys and bail money, advised him on matters ranging from his sex life to how to criticize American foreign policy, and had effectively edged out Ralph Abernathy as the ultimate confidante. Ralph was Martin’s friend; Stanley was Martin’s conscience.”
The man, quite simply, had a lot to do with keeping the civil rights movement alive. Pro bono.
Kamin tells a compelling story of how resistant our nation has been throughout its history to give full civil and human rights to all its people. And Stanley Levison was in that category both as a Jew and a one-time member of the Communist Party.
The book highlights how being a “Red” in this society is a huge faux paux. Because of a “former life,” so to speak, Levison had to work like a fugitive in the shadows for the movement as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and JFK and RFK were not okay, in any way, with a commie freely helping a people to become free.
They wiretapped and closely tracked and photographed Levison relentlessly and eventually did the same with Martin. So, for a long while, trust between the leaders of our nation and the leaders of our largest civil rights movement, was practically non-existent.
“Dangerous Friendship,” a great read, tells it like it was, exposing how our government has made struggles for freedom way more difficult than they should be.
The book suggests to me that we should select our leaders more diligently and observe them more vigilantly. History, like that revealed by Ben Kamin, reminds us of such a necessity.