When Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) went to Memphis today to praise the late Martin Luther King--who delivered his famous thundering "Mountaintop" speech at the historic Mason Temple 40 years ago, the day before he was assassinated--he was already quite familiar with the town. Well, a certain part of town--and it's not where the Mason Temple is located.
I'm talking about the zip code 38120, McCain's top contributing Memphis zip code, the source of more than $40,000 to his campaigns, according to a Public Campaign Action Fund analysis of contributions of $200+ to his campaigns provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. In this well-heeled neighborhood, the population is largely white and wealthy. Average incomes hover close to $200,000. Housing developments are gated and numerous million dollar-plus homes are for sale.
This zip code is also home to the headquarters of Federal Express, whose CEO, Frederick Smith, is a McCain finance co-chair--and reportedly a possible candidate to run as vice president on the ticket with McCain. Smith and his wife Diane have personally given McCain $13,200 over the years.
Just last year, Federal Express agreed to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit for $53.5 million brought against its express unit, FedEx Express. According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit alleged that "FedEx Express discriminated against its African American and Latino workers by passing them over for promotion, paying them less than white workers and treating them unfairly in evaluation and disciplinary proceedings." Not exactly living up to the legacy of Dr. King.
Meanwhile, McCain has collected no big contributions at all from across town, where King delivered his speech. Mason Temple is located in South Memphis in the zip code of 38126, where the great majority--97 percent--of the population is African American. Here folks scrape by with an average income of $15,000. This neighborhood could be ground zero for the mortgage crisis: Fifty-seven homes are currently listed for foreclosure.
Indeed, none of the major candidates for president collected big contributions there. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) did also collect a substantial amount of cash from 38120--more than $54,000 (although none from Federal Express executives) while Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) got just $6,300. Both Clinton and Obama, however, unlike McCain, have supported comprehensive public financing of all federal elections. This would give a small donor from the Mason Temple neighborhood the same standing as a CEO from 38120.
Forty years ago, Dr. King boomed that he had "been to the mountaintop." He said "I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you...but we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land." When Dr. King visited Memphis, he went to the mountaintop for redemption--McCain's apparently more interested in going to Federal Express for cash.
See Martin Luther King speak about going to the mountain top here.