This is the latest installment of the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth, and where World War II never took place. In the United States, the appointment of the first negro to the Supreme Court in 1941 and the desegregation of the armed forces by President Taft the following year are highlights of the slow but steady retreat of institutionalized racialism . . .
17 May 1956
In the course of a relatively short but eventful life, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., had seen a lot of strange things. But the thin, plain woman who stood before him pretty much took the cake.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he said. "Could you please repeat that?"
"I said that I am here to offer my services in your struggle against the racial-collectivist hooligans of this city," said the woman.
King glanced over at Ralph Abernathy, but his friend and colleague only gave a helpless shrug. You're on your own, Abernathy's expression said.
"I certainly appreciate the offer, Mrs. . . . "
"Miss. Rand. Ayn Rand."
"I appreciate the offer, Miss Rand," King said carefully, "but at this point we're concentrating on organizing alternatives to the bus system. Would you like to assist with the car pool?"
Rand seemed momentarily taken aback. "If you need someone to drive a car, I'm sure my husband will be happy to assist you. Won't you, Frank?"
"Of course, dear," said the vaguely amiable man who had arrived with Rand.
"But there must be other, more creative tasks to be done," Rand continued. "I am a world-renowned playwright, author and philosopher. I have come to publicize the great work that you have undertaken here. For too long have the racial-collectivists in this part of the country imposed their degenerate dogma upon the creative minority. It is time to show them up for the parasitical second-handers they are!"
King took a discreet step back from the manically declaiming woman. Whatever her actual ideology, there was no mistaking the air of the fire-and-brimstone preacher about her.
"Now is the time for the true source of genius and creativity to stand forth and demonstrate the vital role it plays! Let the racial-collectivist regime suffer the consequences of its degenerate dependence upon the initiative of its creative superiors!"
"Miss Rand," said King, "we're just trying to desegregate the buses."
"No," Rand declared emphatically. "You are fighting for the rights of the individual against a collectivist tyranny. My good friend Eric Blair drew my attention to your struggle, and I am here to lend my talents to your enterprise. Tell me what must be done."
The mention of Blair's name brought understanding to King. He was familiar with the Anglo-Polish writer's achievements, as who was not? Blair had attracted a considerable following among leftists who admired his stand against totalitarianism in general and among rightists who admired his attacks on Stalinism in particular. This Rand woman sounded like one of the latter, as best as King could determine from her peculiar rhetoric.
A right-wing desegregationist?
"Well, Miss Rand," King said, "naturally I'm happy to welcome any friend of General Blair's. His support for the cause of negro rights in America is well known in this country. And now that I come to think of it, there is something you can do to help us against the, ah, racial-collectivists."
"There is?" said Rand in excitement.
"There is?" said Abernathy in puzzlement.
"Of course there is," King insisted as he gently elbowed Abernathy in the ribs. "You must understand, Miss Rand, that there are a number of influential people in this country who, staunch defenders of individualism though they be, do not understand the anti-collectivist nature of the struggle for negro rights the way you do. It seems to me that you are uniquely qualified to explain to these people how the basic issue of individualism is involved."
Rand was nodding in agreement. "Yes, I see what you mean, Dr. King. Who better to make the case for the individualistic nature of the struggle than myself? An excellent suggestion. Who in your opinion should I direct my attention to?"
"I think perhaps Senator William Knowland might be a good man to start with," said King, ignoring the contortions that Abernathy's face was undergoing. "His family's newspaper, the Oakland Tribune, has been persistently critical of our efforts to, ah, oppose the racial-collectivist regime here in Montgomery."
"Has it indeed?" said Rand. "Rest assured, Dr. King, that I will bring this sorry misinterpretation of the struggle against collectivism to Senator Knowland's attention in the strongest possible terms! Do you have a typewriter available? I'm afraid I left mine back at the motel."
"My secretary can show you to our typewriter," said King, and Rand allowed herself and her husband to be led away to his office.
Ralph Abernathy was shaking his head in astonished disbelief. "Mike," he said, "you're going straight to Hell for that one."
With a small smile, King said, "The Lord moves in mysterious ways."