MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and GOP presidential contender Herman Cain got into it on O’Donnell’s show on Thursday after the host decided to ask Cain about his decision not to participate in the Civil Rights movement.
The show started off normal enough as the two discussed current issues like the Senate Democrats hope to tax the rich, Cain’s “brainwashing” comments, and ESPN’s decision to drop Hank Williams Jr. from Monday Night Football. O’Donnell wanted to cover it all it seems.
But the show took an uncomfortable turn when O’Donnell questioned why Cain decided to concentrate on his studies rather then take part in the Civil Rights movement. The host used Cain’s new book “This is Herman Cain!: My Journey to the White House,” as a source, where Cain writes he was told by his father to stay out of trouble at the time.
“The Civil Rights movement was a few years in front of me. I was too young to participate when they first started the Freedom Rides and the sit-ins. So on a day-to-day basis, it didn’t have an impact. I just kept going to school, doing what I was supposed to do, and stayed out of trouble—I didn’t go downtown and try to participate in the sit-ins…counter to our real feelings, we decided to avoid trouble by moving to the back of the bus when the driver told us to…Dad always said, ‘Stay out of trouble,’ and we did.”
So O’Donnell asked: “Where do you think black people would be sitting on the bus today if Rosa Parks had followed your father’s advice?”
“You are distorting the intent of what I said,” Cain responded. “I was a high school student, the college students were doing the sit-ins, the college students were doing the freedom ride, if I had been a college student I probably would’ve been participating, but if you’re a high school student in the 10th or 11th grade your under 18 years of age, you didn’t need to get arrested and be in the middle of that.
“That was the intent of what I said, relative to me not being involved. Now I was impacted by that on a daily basis, simply because I was living in Atlanta, Georgia when all of this was going on. It was not prudent. This was what my dad meant. It was not prudent for a high school student to be in the middle of what was going on in terms of those demonstrations.”
Intent on continuing the Civil Rights discussion, the host pointed out that Cain was in college from 1963-1967, adding that Cain could’ve participated in the movement that gave African Americans the rights they have today. Cain later said he graduated high school in ’63 and started college in the fall.
“Do you regret sitting on those sidelines at that time?” he asked.
“Did you expect every black student and every black college in America to be out there?” Cain responded, adding, that he may have had a sick relative at the time that O’Donnell wasn’t aware of.
O’Donnell said he gave Cain’s book a “fair reading” and didn’t see anything about a “sick friend.”
“What I read was a deliberate decision to not to participate in the civil rights movement,” O’Donnell added.
Said Cain: “I don’t understand why you’re trying to make a big deal out of this small point, when we have an economy that is on life support. We got 14 million people out of work and you want to try and deduce something that is incorrect from my words in my book.”