A Shrewsbury, Mass., man has found himself in the midst of a presidential campaign controversy after saying he saw Mitt Romney's father meet with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.
A Shrewsbury man has found himself in the midst of a presidential campaign controversy after saying he saw Mitt Romney's father meet with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. ``I don't think I understood the significance of the event,'' said Ashby Richardson, who was a 20-year-old in June 1963 when he said he spotted then-Michigan Gov. George Romney meet with King on a street in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Earlier this month, Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Mitt Romney sparked controversy when he stated his father, George Romney, marched with King, the famous civil rights leader. The Romney campaign has pointed to evidence including a 1967 book by two Washington Post reporters that stated George Romney marched with King in Grosse Pointe in 1963. Organizations, including the Detroit Free Press and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, failed to find any news coverage or record of that meeting. The elder Romney was governor of Michigan during King's civil rights work in the 1960s. But just days ago, two people, including Richardson, came forward to say they spotted George Romney and King together during a civil rights march in Grosse Pointe in June 1963. Richardson, now 64, and a Shrewsbury resident for more than two decades, said he remembered George Romney and King met on the street during a Saturday afternoon in June 1963. Richardson had graduated from Grosse Pointe High School two years earlier and was working at a printing company. Richardson doesn't remember why he was there, but said about 35 to 50 people were close by, along with a couple of police officers. Richardson left after about 15 minutes and can't remember specifics of what the two leaders discussed, he said. ``I think they were talking about civil rights,'' said Richardson. But Russell Peebles, a past civil rights worker who lived in Grosse Pointe from 1950 to 1998, said it was unlikely King ever met with the elder Romney in that community. ``That would be a surprise to me,'' said Peebles, 88, who was in a march with George Romney in June 1963 in Grosse Pointe. He noted a King visit to Grosse Pointe would have attracted a lot of attention. Peebles said King did march with about 120,000 others in nearby Detroit in 1963, but Romney was not present. King did visit Grosse Point in 1968 – just three weeks before he was assassinated, said Peebles. Romney was not present during that visit, either, Peebles said. He said King's Grosse Pointe visit was under high security. ``It is said the police chief sat on Dr. King's lap,'' said Peebles, suggesting the high level of police protection given to King. According to Boston Phoenix reporter David Bernstein, King was a speaker at a meeting of the AFL-CIO labor institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey the same day as Romney's 1963 march, meaning the two could not have been together in Grosse Pointe that day. In an interview, Bernstein said he could not comment on Richardson's memory, but he pointed to historical and contemporary evidence - including near-daily media coverage of King in 1963 - as proof the Grosse Pointe meeting did not happen. He labeled the recollections of those who spotted the elder Romney and King together at Grosse Pointe in June 1963 as ``incorrect.'' Bernstein said Mitt Romney has made statements about his father marching with King at least twice publicly - including a televised interview on NBC's ``Meet the Press.'' ``Because (Mitt Romney) stuck with it, because the campaign is trying to prove it did happen, I think A) it has prolonged the story ... and now it's, in a way, more disturbing,'' said Bernstein, who later added, ``At this point, it's trying to insist that an untruth is true.'' Richardson said he has never met Mitt Romney, never donated money to his campaign and described himself as a political independent. He said he does think Romney would be a good pick for the White House. Richardson said he stepped forward because he feels Romney is being attacked over his Mormon faith. ``The press just takes every word out of context,'' Richardson said of Romney's statements. Peebles said George Romney was a ``magnificent governor.'' ``He was a very great supporter of civil rights,'' said Peebles. George Romney died in 1995. Representatives from the Mitt Romney campaign could not be reached for comment. John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.