Romney had just become Governor of Michigan and declared the occasion "Freedom Day in Michigan." He sent an emissary to join the crowd of about 120,000 (had the march not been on a Sunday, he likely would have been there himself). The following year, in his State of the State address, the governor said that "Michigan's most urgent human rights problem is racial discrimination--in housing, public accommodations, education, administration of justice, and employment."
Romney was one of a number of moderate and liberal Republicans who strongly supported the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and, at the Republican Party convention, worked on behalf of efforts to include an anti-discrimination plank in the party platform. When the party's presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, opposed the bill, Romney refused to support Goldwater's candidacy for the presidency. When asked whether he would be campaigning on behalf of Goldwater, he said (with his characteristic directness), "You know darn well I'm not."
The irony is that George Romney championed Civil Rights at a time when his church was theologically opposed to the idea of innate equality. Romney could not bring himself to condemn his church publicly (in spite of his private views) for its policy of denying the "priesthood" to black men.
In 1964, the year King won the Nobel Peace Prize, George Romney was the most powerful Mormon in American politics and was gearing up for a presidential run in 1968. The LDS hierarchy took note and worried about his positions on civil rights. Delbert L. Stapley, a high-ranking member of the LDS (who was born the year the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was constitutional and died the year the LDS lifted its ban on African Americans in the priesthood), wrote to Romney deeply troubled. "After listening to your talk on Civil Rights, I am very much concerned. Several others have expressed the same concern to me." The letter was "personal" and not an "official Church position" but it still came on letterhead that read, "The Council of the Twelve."
Stapley directed Governor Romney to read Joseph Smith's position on "the Negro" and "abolition." Stapley commented that when he reflected on Smith's anti-black words, he thought of "what happened to the three of our nation's presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, [and] I am sobered by their demise." (John F. Kennedy had died only five months earlier.)
While Mormons could support "all the privileges, social opportunities, and participation enjoyed by the Whites," Stapley warned, they could not change the fact that the "Lord had placed the curse upon the Negro, which denied him the Priesthood." While Stapley supported some elements of the Civil Rights Bill, he could not support "full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas." In conclusion, Stapley added, "Don't think I am against the Negro people, because I have several in my employ."