Revisionist History podcast with Malcolm Gladwell | E6/S3: The Hug Heard Round the World

The Hug Heard Round The World with Malcolm Gladwell

Episode 6| Season 3| Revisionist History
Length: 41 mins | Released: June 21, 2018

The following podcast contains explicit language.

Malcolm Gladwell: Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the world's greatest entertainers. He was Sammy the way Cher was Cher or Elvis was Elvis. 5 foot 5 barely, skinny as a pencil, oversized sunglasses, jewelry hanging off him like Christmas ornaments. He lived off nicotine and vermouth, never wore the same suit twice, made a fortune, died broke, that kind of life.

Malcolm Gladwell: A singer, a dancer, a master impressionist with a famous exaggerated laugh that unfolded in three acts. The eyes closed in delight, the full body convulsion, the three-step stagger.

Malcolm Gladwell: In 1972, at the height of his fame, Sammy went to the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, flew there on a private jet owned by an oil company, took a suite at the Playboy hotel. On the opening night of the convention, he sat in the private box of the Republican presidential nominee, Richard Nixon. On a second night of the convention, Davis played a concert for the Republican youth in a shirt open to his navel and skin-tight pants. He was halfway through his set when suddenly people started chanting  "four more years."

Malcolm Gladwell: The cheers were for Nixon. Fresh from accepting the Republican nomination, he was crashing the party. Davis held up his hand to quiet the crowd,  "Ladies and gentlemen, the president and the future president of the United States of America." Pandemonium.

Richard Nixon: I am opposed to busing for the purpose of achieving racial balance in our schools. I have spoken out against busing scores of times over many years.

Malcolm Gladwell: Richard Nixon was, in 1972, the leading practitioner of what was known as the Southern Strategy, the attempt to use racist appeals to win over Southern White voters to the Republican Party. He nominated two Southerners to the Supreme Court, men who were such committed segregationists and so deeply unqualified that the Senate wouldn't confirm them. In the privacy of the Oval Office, Nixon referred to Black people as niggers and jigaboos. He did his best to delay the integration of American public schools. He once complained to one of his aides that the antipoverty programs established by his predecessors were a waste of money because African-Americans were genetically inferior. It was just four years since Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Memphis and the president seemed bent on reversing everything the Civil Rights Movement had fought for. Black people in 1972 did not like Richard Nixon.

Malcolm Gladwell: That is, except for one of the most famous Black men in the country, Sammy Davis Jr. who sat in the Nixon family box, performed at the Nixon coronation, and who crossed the stage and wrapped one of the most famously chilly and awkward of all presidents in a joyful, excited, loving hug.

Malcolm Gladwell: Let me read to you Will Haygood's description of that moment in his biography of Sammy Davis Jr.  "The public had rarely seen Nixon in such an embrace even with his own wife. And Nixon, letting loose with a slow widening grin, towering over Davis, wrapping his arms across his own chest so awkwardly and yet tenderly like some flushed teenage kid, and all those White delegates and all those Nixon placards and Davis leaning on the president's shoulder as if Nixon were kin. Nixon and Sammy in full embrace."

To see the full transcript, go here.

Transcripts for the entire Season 1ÔøΩ ÔøΩ3 podcasts of Revisionist History are available here.

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