Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. He would have been 87 years-young this past Friday had a tragedy not befallen him, our nation, and the world when he was assassinated in 1968. Dr. King was the spokesman and activist head of the Civil Rights Movement, which protested racial discrimination on both the state and federal level.
His movement was instrumental in getting Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since 1986 the third Monday in January has commemorated Dr. King’s birthday. Like all great historical figures, there has been much written and said about the man; the right-wing has tried endlessly to appropriate his movement for their own nefarious purposes. It was Ada Fisher, a Republican National Committeewoman from North Carolina who publicly proclaimed:
“Most people don’t talk about the fact that Martin Luther King was a Republican.”
This statement was published by ABC News back in August 2013 and as ThinkProgress noted at the time, it was “published without qualification or correction this week by ABC News.” There is no support for this claim. It is a claim incessantly asserted by conservatives on Twitter and other places on the internet – especially with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s historic March on Washington, which was celebrated in 2013. “The claim is most prominently advanced by King’s niece, Republican activist Alveda King. Over the years, conservative groups have purchased billboards making the claim.”
Dr. King was neither a Republican or a Democrat. As Dr. King’s son Martin Luther King III said in 2008 “It is disingenuous to imply that my father was a Republican. He never endorsed any presidential candidate, and there is certainly no evidence that he ever even voted for a Republican.” As Dr. King, himself, said in a 1958 interview, “I don’t think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses … And I’m not inextricably bound to either party.”
ThinkProgress notes King did weigh in on the Republican party in his autobiography writing about the 1964 Republican National Convention and its presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona:
“The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.
Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.”
In fact, Dr. King campaigned throughout the country in 1964 in support of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, while never formally endorsing him. However, according to his biographer Nick Kotz, Dr. King called Johnson’s win “great victory for the forces of progress and a defeat for the forces of retrogress..”
King also had some sharp words for the Republican hero Ronald Reagan, ripping him for being a “war hawk”: “when a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor can become a leading war hawk candidate for the Presidency, only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”
Ironically, it was President Reagan who signed the bill back in 1983 declaring Martin Luther King Day a national holiday, but only after first opposing the holiday – citing cost concerns. However, when the bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority 338 to 90, Reagan signed the bill.
Consider what Dr. King stood for – the challenges he faced – a legacy, which inspired people to fight for equality. He faced vapid racist hatred – sometimes violent – while preaching peaceful resistance and love. Now consider the Parties in 2016 and their presidential candidates. The Republican Party displays outright racist disdain for President Obama and the obstructionism towards any policy or idea he has proffered – no matter how reasonable. Consider the race-bating hatred and xenophobic statements from the likes of Donald Trump and Ben Carson or the anti-immigrant tirades of Rubio and Cruz – and ask yourself could Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. be a Republican?