Dr. Clarence Jones met Martin Luther King Jr. at the ages of 29 and 31, respectively.
Jones joined King’s legal team in 1960 when the government accused the civil rights leader of tax fraud.
The two formed a bond and Jones, who would become the first Black man to make partner at a Wall Street investment bank, would go on to assist King in penning some of his most memorable speeches including the unforgettable, “I Have a Dream.”
Now a visiting professor at the University of San Francisco and a writer-in-residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute, Jones once again prepared for the annual King Day observance during which he paid tribute to his old friend.
“I think we have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of sanitizing Martin Luther King Jr.,” Jones said.
“African Americans in particular have to fight against this because the sanitized version tells us that he was someone who simply gave moving speeches and so forth. Indeed, he was, but make no mistake about it, that brother was deep,” he said.
History has revealed that the two men held mutual admiration for one another. In 1962, King reportedly wrote a letter that recommended Jones to the New York State Bar.
In the missive, King wrote: “Ever since I have known Mr. Jones, I have always seen him as a man of sound judgment, deep insights and great dedication. I am also convinced that he is a man of great integrity.”
Jones continued to function as King’s lawyer and advisor throughout the remainder of King’s life, according to the online “King Encyclopedia.”
He assisted King in drafting the “I Have a Dream” speech and preserving King’s copyright of the momentous address, acting as a member of the successful defense team for the Southern Christian Leadership Council.
In addition, Jones served as part of King’s inner circle of advisers known as “the research committee” and contributed with Vincent Harding and Andrew Young in the development of King’s “Beyond Vietnam” address which the civil rights leader delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967.
Jones praised King as one who successfully dealt with the “jugular vein of the American system: power and money.”
“If there had been media polls when the March on Washington occurred in 1963, Dr. King would have had at least a 70 percent approval rating because even white people loved him,” Jones said.
“They’d say, ‘I’ve never heard a Negro speak like that before’ and he’s committed to nonviolence,” he said.
Among those King would influence in the assistance of African Americans in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, would be the then president of the U.S., Lyndon Johnson, Jones noted.
At one crucial moment in the Civil Rights Movement, King referred to Johnson as the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln because of Johnson’s success in securing both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, Jones said.
“But, we had to tell him that he wasn’t being honest because we knew how to count and when we looked at the Treasury, King told Johnson, ‘There’s no way in the world that you can spend all that money on the Vietnam War because there will be nothing left to do the things you’ve said you want to do,’” Jones said.
“It was a practical thing. We understood that Lyndon Johnson had wrapped himself into this great 20th century emancipator next to Lincoln and, don’t get me wrong, he was a bad dude. The baddest dude there was in terms of civil rights,” Jones said.
“But, he got lost because apparently he didn’t know how to count. King told him if he had 100 cents and spent 80 cents on the war, that would leave just 20 cents remaining and that it would hurt us and our cause,” he said.
Jones recalled that King maintained a healthy respect for several of the country’s historically Black institutions.
“The two essential pillars of support of the Civil Rights Movement were, first, the Black Church and then the Black Press,” Jones said.
“The Black Press was critical and very important in telling our story and in our efforts to increase support for our cause,” he said.