MLK: Mom and Martin Luther King Jr., February 1960. Courtesy image

It feels like it could have only happened in “The Twilight Zone.” In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States causing widespread optimism about a post-racial America. That lasted about 24 hours, or as long as it took for Mitch McConnell to say, “My top priority is to make Obama a one-term president”

Before “The Big Lie” a newly elected president came to office via a peaceful transition of power, as opposed to violently storming the Capitol. I remember election eve 2008 when Obama spoke magnificently at Grand Park in Chicago to an adoring crowd estimated at 200,000. Watching at a friend’s election night party, I wept tears of joy proud that America, the last industrialized country to abolish slavery, had elected our first black president.

As it happens Oprah was in that Grant Park audience and, after crying her eyes out, casually blew her nose on a friend’s jacket. Except he was a total stranger! When she saw herself on the news she was so embarrassed she immediately invited him on the show and presented him with a new jacket. (Rather cheap given in 2004 she had presented each member of her audience a brand new Pontiac G6.)

Sadly, Dr. King’s teachings, learned by studying Gandhi, are more needed today than ever. Just think of all the voter suppression laws and how there are painfully long voter lines they seemingly always are in neighborhoods of color. This past Monday was Dr. King’s 93rd birthday and that brings me to when my late mother, Thelma Neworth, spent hours with him and the rather amusing wrong turn that mistakenly brought them to Santa Monica.

On a cold day in February, 1960, my mom drove to LAX, an infinitely smaller airport in those days, to pick up Dr. King, who was only 31. Later she said of his remarkable maturity and wisdom, “It was like being in the presence of a prophet.”

My mother’s car was an absurdly tiny 1959 Hillman 4-door with an automatic transmission and a severely under powered 70 horse power engine which I likened to a “sewing machine on wheels.” Such a completely different era, Dr. King was also alone, no entourage, no body guards. He had one suitcase for clothes and one for his books he would sell at Temple.

At 26, and the pastor of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. King was already internationally famous having led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. It was sparked by the historic arrest of Rosa Parks who, on December 1, refused to give up her seat on the crowded bus to a white person.

What followed was a dangerous and tumultuous thirteen month mass protest wherein blacks, primarily cleaning ladies, refused to take city buses which economically squeezed the municipal bus line. The protest ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.

My mother was given the remarkable honor of driving Dr. King (reverse “Driving Miss Daisy”?) and having dinner with him because she headed Temple Isaiah’s Social Action Committee and founded the “Forum Series.” Four times a year she’d reach out and, if lucky, book the likes of RFK, Eleanor Roosevelt, anthropologist Margaret Mead and writer Rod Serling of the aforementioned “Twilight Zone.” Each received $1,000 and the proceeds from all the books they could sell.

My mother’s driving service, 50 years before Uber was founded, suffered an embarrassing snag which she confessed to only a few years before she passed away. Apparently, on their way from LAX to Temple the two were in deep conversation (likely she was doing most of the talking) when she made a wrong turn at Sepulveda and Pico.

Fifteen minutes later, when they drove west over the hill on Pico and saw the beach in the distance, an alarmed Dr. King exclaimed, “Mrs. Neworth, isn’t that the Pacific Ocean?!” When she told me I replied, “Mother, what did you do?” She responded casually, “I made a u-turn, what else could I do?”

I jokingly wonder if mom and Dr. King had driven to the beach and if it had been sunny and if they had waded in the water, might that have adversely changed the course of the civil rights movement? (My critics might say only I would think of that.)

Ironically, the beach they would have arrived at was “The Inkwell,” derogatorily called that in reference to blacks’ skin color. These racial restrictions thankfully disappeared by1965. In fact on February 7, 2008, it was landmarked when the city of Santa Monica unveiled the Ink Well Monument along the bicycle and pedestrian path at the end of Bay Street.

I apologize if I’ve included the same unvarnished praise for Dr. King (or mom) that I have done in past columns. I can almost assure you it won’t happen again. At least not for another year.

To hear Thelma introduce MLK Google: “MLK Temple Isaiah,” or visit http://templeisaiah.com/MLK_Speech.php Jack is at jackdailypress@aol.com.