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MLK praise scrubbed from Bill Clinton speech

Peter Hamby | 3/31/2014, 6:31 a.m.
A pair of lines praising Martin Luther King, Jr. were scrubbed from an early version of President Bill Clinton's 1998 ...
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Wednesday, August 28, 2013. (Pool Photo)

— A pair of lines praising Martin Luther King, Jr. were scrubbed from an early version of President Bill Clinton's 1998 State of the Union address, apparently after someone in the White House raised questions about how the rhetorical flourishes would play with white people.

A rough draft of the 1998 speech was included in a new batch of previously withheld documents released by the National Archives and the Clinton Presidential Library on Friday. It included a passage about racial healing, tentatively titled "One America In The 21st Century."

"It is now two centuries since we proclaimed our ideals to be self evident ... 134 years since we wiped the stain of slavery from our soil ... 30 years, this April, since a rifle crack ended the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of America's greatest patriots," the draft read.

The brief portion of the text pledged enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and called for "a true dialogue among people of different races and backgrounds and religions."

A quote from King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech about his faith in America was also included in the initial version of the speech.

But someone in the White House -- from reading the handwriting, it's not clear who -- scrawled a note in the margin expressing anxiety about the passage.

"Is there some way to be a bit more positive and speak to white people?," the note reads.

By the time Clinton delivered his annual address in the House chamber that January, the speech included a handful of nods to racial harmony, and various proposals aimed at expanding educational opportunity, reducing crime and creating jobs. But the references to King were gone.

The early version of the address was among the papers of former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman, one of thousands of pages of documents included in Friday's document dump.

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