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Mitt Romney has said several times that he saw his father George Romney march with the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
But the Romney campaign was forced to admit recently that Romney meant "saw" in the figurative sense after the Boston Phoenix , a weekly newspaper, looked into the claim.
Romney said it was a figure of speech and that he meant he was aware of his father marching with King. (For the curious, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary also defines "see" as "to form a mental picture of," "to perceive the meaning or importance of," and "to be aware of.")
Three newspapers have tried and failed to find evidence of the two men marching together. The Boston Phoenix first checked Romney's statement and concluded it was false. Subsequent examinations by the Detroit Free Press and the Boston Globe found no news stories linking the two men to the same event.
We at Politifact.com reviewed the New York Times archives and found several mentions of Romney's support for King and several articles discussing marches that each participated in separately, but never a mention of the two marching together. The elder Romney was then the Republican governor of Michigan, which has a significant African-American population. King, of course, was the most celebrated civil rights leader of his day. It seems unlikely that the Times would have missed covering a march where the two appeared together.
The Globe interviewed Susan Englander, associate director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, who said, "I researched this question, and indeed it is untrue that George Romney marched with Martin Luther King."
We spoke with Englander on Dec. 28, 2007, and she said she stood by that statement and does not expect evidence to turn up to contradict it.
The Romney campaign has pointed to a line in a history book ("The Republican Establishment: The Present And Future Of The G.O.P., 1967," by Stephen Hess and David Broder, p. 107) that says the elder Romney and King marched in Grosse Pointe. Two witnesses also told Politico, a political news web site, that they remembered the men marching together almost 45 years ago in Grosse Pointe. But newspaper accounts from the time and historians contradict these assertions. There is no other support for the contention that the men were in Grosse Pointe together.
But it's also clear that George Romney, who served as governor from 1963 to 1969 and died in 1995, supported King's goals at a time when few politicians did. When King visited Detroit and led a rally of 125,000 people in 1963, Romney issued a proclamation and sent personal representatives. (The Times report noted that Romney was Mormon and did not make public appearances on Sundays.) Two years later, Romney led a march of 10,000 people in Detroit to protest events in Selma, Ala. (King wasn't there.) When King died in 1968, George Romney attended the funeral.
"Romney, as a member of the liberal wing of the Republican party, was stalwart civil rights supporter," Englander said. "He consistently supported integration."
Given the elder Romney's notable support for King's politics, we can understand how people might believe, many years later, that they did march together. And it's arguably a minor point: You could call it a coincidence of history that they never attended the same event at the same time. Mitt Romney, who would have been 16 in 1963, said recently, "I think the thing that's relevant is that my dad was a champion in the civil rights movement, that he aligned himself with Martin Luther King."
That part is true. Nevertheless, Mitt Romney's statement that he saw his father march with Martin Luther King remains problematic at best. If he'd stopped at saying his father was a champion of the civil rights movement, he would have been on solid ground. Balancing the lack of evidence that the two men marched together against the elder Romney's well-documented support of Martin Luther King, we rate Romney's statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
The Boston Phoenix, Was it all a dream? , Dec. 19, 2007.
The Boston Globe, Romney never saw father on King march , Dec. 21, 2007.
Detroit Free Press, George Romney was at march, King wasn't, activist says , Dec. 20, 2007.
Politico, Witnesses recall Romney-MLK march , Dec. 21, 2007.
Mitt Romney campaign, Gov. George Romney And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , Dec. 20, 2007.
The New York Times, 125,000 rally in Detroit to protest discrimination , June 24, 1963.
The New York Times, Romney joins marchers in Grosse Pointe , June 30, 1963.
The New York Times, Romney leads a protest , March 10, 1965.
The New York Times, Leaders at rites; High and lowly join in last tribute to rights champion , April 10, 1968.
Interview with Susan Englander, associate director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
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