[Hutchinson] Was Dr. King A Republican? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Hutchinson] Was Dr. King A Republican?

Civil rights leaders, black Democrats and Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele went ballistic when the they heard a woman in a 60-second radio ad say that "Dr. King was a Republican." The ad, which is bankrolled by the National Black Republican Association, is purportedly running on several Baltimore radio stations.

At first glance, the ad is a cheap political shot that stretches political lunacy far past the outer limit. But is it? The ad is not the first time that Republicans, and more specifically Republican conservatives, have claimed Martin Luther King Jr. as one of their own.

The debate over whether King has anything in common with the GOP has raged since the 1980s. Republicans grabbed at King's famed line in his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 in which he called on Americans to judge individuals by the content of their character and not the color of their skin to prove that he'd be on their side against affirmative action. Supporters of affirmative action loudly protest that this deliberately distorted the spirit and intent of King's words.

They are both right.

During the fierce wars over affirmative action in the 1990s, King's words were shamelessly used to justify opposition to affirmative action. Yet, there is enough paradox and ambivalence in the few stray remarks that King uttered on the issue to give ideological ammunition to liberals and conservatives. In several speeches and articles in the 1960s, King did not demand that the government and corporations create special programs or incentives exclusively for blacks, but for the disadvantaged of all races. He vaguely called for the government and corporations to increase spending for jobs, skills training, education and public works.

With the passage of the civil rights bill in 1964, King realized that ending legal segregation wasn't enough. Integrating a motel or lunch counter did not provide jobs, improved housing and better schools for the black poor. These were stubborn and intractable problems that required massive spending on new social programs by government and business.

King felt that the bigger problem for blacks and whites was the disappearance of thousands of industry jobs to automation. He sensed that jobs were a volatile issue that could inflame blacks and whites. He claimed that black and white workers suffered equally when jobs were lost and tactfully called on labor to fight for jobs for all. But in those days affirmative action was seen as a tool to prod employers not simply to hire and promote the disadvantaged of all races, as King insisted, but blacks. If that happened, King almost certainly knew that this would leave many whites out in the economic cold.

King's debatable ambiguity on affirmative action was only one issue with which Republicans manufacture common cause. Starting with Reagan, Republican presidents slowly and grudgingly have realized that they can wring maximum political mileage out of King's legacy. They have recast him in their image on civil rights, and bent and twisted his oft-times public religious Puritanism on morals issues to justify GOP positions in the values wars that they wage with blacks, Democrats and liberals.

But that wouldn't be possible if some of King's pronouncements did not parallel the GOP's positions on crime, marriage, the family and personal responsibility. Republicans have carefully cobbled bits and pieces from King's speeches and writings during the 1950s and early 1960s with their own values issues to paint a King that is anti-big government, welfare and black crime, and an advocate of thrift, hard work and temperance. This is not a completely politically skewed picture of King. In those speeches and writings he took the moral high ground and lectured blacks on the value of hard work, the importance of setting personal goals and striving to develop good character.

In countless speeches in the 1950s, he mingled the demand for civil rights, voting rights, and the government clampdown on racial violence with a forceful call for blacks to practice thrift and self-help. King realized that government programs meant little if fathers weren't in the home, and he railed against the peril of family breakdown. This was a major social problem that civil rights leaders either ignored or downplayed. King again strongly emphasized values training, discipline, hard work and the reduction of family violence as the keys to resolving the family crisis. That crisis increasingly caught the policy attention of liberal and conservative academics and government officials.

In numerous speeches, even into the early 1960s, King continued to stress personal responsibility, economic self-help, strong families and religious values as goals that blacks should strive to attain.

While King can never be considered a political conservative, the snippets of conservative thinking in his musings on the black family, economic uplift and religious values blend easily with the social conservatism of many blacks. In the decades after his murder, it has blended just as easily into the GOP's prescription for black ills. And that, evidently, is more than enough for black Republicans to say he'd be a big player on the GOP team.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the forthcoming book The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's courting of black voters.

Previous Comments

ID
73925
Comment

I knew October was gonna get nasty before the mid-term votes, but I did expect it to go this far. How desperate can one group of people get for votes? Pretty desperate, apparently. I do not see Dr. King as a polarizing figure, even though the ones who put out this ad are trying to paint him as one. From what I learned about him, he wanted EVERYONE to be tolerant of EVERYONE.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-10-25T19:21:01-06:00
ID
73926
Comment

did expect I meant "did not expect". Typing too fast.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2006-10-25T19:40:32-06:00
ID
73927
Comment

Maybe a republican in terms of "republican of the '60s".. it's no secret democrats weren't the same liberals they are today. Dems controlled most of the South and were the "judge and jury" against segregation. Indeed, times have changed. I guess no one will ever know if Martin was a repub or dem except Martin himself.. unless he ever flat out told someone.

Author
Jo-D
Date
2006-10-30T09:44:38-06:00
ID
73928
Comment

The article listed Michael Steel, Marilyn's lieutenant Gov., as one of the folks who was outraged at Dr. King being referred to as a Republican. For Steel, I am totally confused. He has bumper stickers that say "STEELE DEMOCRAT". This political climate has gotten pretty sick and it is evident that some will stop at nothing. Steele is a Republican and was encouraged by Bush and his gang to run for Senator from the State of Marilyn. The idea is to split the Democratic vote because the candidate who is able to attract the most Black support will win. POLITRICKS, POLITRICKS, POLITRICKS!!!!!!!!

Author
justjess
Date
2006-10-30T14:40:59-06:00
ID
73929
Comment

Actually, Michael Steele is lieutenant governor and at the time he announced his candidacy, it looked like Kweisi Mfume was going to win the Democratic nomination. Steele is also a moderate Republican by any estimate, and there were "Steele Democrats" long before he entered the Senate race; he has a lot going for him, though Cardin has a 10-point lead and I don't see that changing. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-30T15:18:31-06:00
ID
73930
Comment

Re Dr. King: He was, as far as I know, neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He was primarily concerned about civil rights, labor unions, and pacifism, which are not generally causes associated with the Republican Party. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-30T15:20:39-06:00
ID
73931
Comment

...and Tom the Republican Party was not associated with African-Americans on any appreciable scale during the late 50s and 60s. I worked with Dr. King and you can believe that his platform of inclusion was a far cry away from the ideology of Republican Party. In King's letter from the Alabama Prison, who was it that got him out of jail? The KENNEDYS. (DEMOCRATS) One major point in the letter was that of a good law and a bad law. A good law uplifts the human spirit....a bad law is one that detracts from the abudance of life for citizens.... It was Democrats who tried to bring the American ethos in line with the preachments of equity, justice and equality for Blacks. Republicans have consistently gotten into wars and have created an ambience of "The rich gets rick and the poor gets poorer." I am a Bennie Thompson supporter; however, it is interesting that Evon Brown, a dedicated Republican did not receive any help from her Party and on that note, I will rest my case. Think of the Champions of these issues: The War on Poverty James Meredith Stopping George Wallace at the University of Alabama

Author
justjess
Date
2006-10-30T17:58:58-06:00
ID
73932
Comment

By the way, Steele. on Meet the Press, bacame a carbon copy of the philosophy and practice of GW. He was even fond of his issue on "Stay the Course."

Author
justjess
Date
2006-10-30T18:00:59-06:00
ID
73933
Comment

Well, James Meredith and Charles Evers are Republicans, so I'm not going to take the point of view that it's impossible for anyone who cares about civil rights to be a Republican--but that hasn't been the party's main history. Goldwater ran in part on opposing the Voting Rights Act of '64, and Nixon and Reagan were all about "state's rights." I don't think MLK would have been happy if he'd been co-opted as a Democratic partisan--as, say, DNC chair or something--but there's no doubt in my mind that the Democratic Party has generally done a much better job, over the past few decades, of living into his values. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-10-30T18:45:59-06:00
ID
73934
Comment

Justjess: Republicans have constantly gotten into wars? I'll say its pretty even on both sides. Ever heard of Vietnam? Korea? WWI,II? Kosovo? You think after 9/11 if Gore had been president he would not have attacked Afghanistan? Or all the times Clinton bombed Iraq? come on, you're smarter than that. JFK would have a hard time getting nominated by today's Democratic Party with his stands on tax cuts and foreign policy.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2006-10-30T19:17:21-06:00
ID
73935
Comment

"Well, James Meredity and Charles Evers are Republicans...." Tom Head, they are listed as Republicans now but Charles' political life was spent under the Democratic banner. Becomming a Republican is "NEW." He is now 84 years old and his Republican affiliation started about 10 years ago when he said, "Blacks will never be free as a race of people - only as individuals." Charles will let you know - up front and in your face that his "party" business has all to do with the "Almighty Dollar." He goes on to say that he loves "God and Money" and in that order. James Meredith's story is a very sad one. Yes, he did attend and graduate from Ole MS but after returning to Jackson, he could not find a job here doing anything. James Meredith spent many years in New York. We probably need to find other representatives who are Republican to give the banner for championing "Civil Rrights." Charles just made a complete mess of this issue when he embraced Melton and made the statement that we will never find 12 people on a jury to convict him. Just remember that Medgar Evers was the jewel of MSs Civil Rights Movement. Charles does not take issue with these facts: He was busy selling corn whiskey and running prostitutes. I'm not angry with him. I just wish that other African-American men and women who are able to stand up could not be so easily pushed down by those who can not deal with any position in a relationship other than being in control.

Author
justjess
Date
2006-10-31T11:47:43-06:00
ID
73936
Comment

Amen, Justjess. That's the double truth, Ruth.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-10-31T11:57:20-06:00
ID
73937
Comment

There ain't no way in hell Dr. King could be a republican now had he lived. He would have had to become blind (mentally and physically), crippled, and crazy. However many blacks share conservative ideas. Even Louis Farakan share many ideas arguably conservative. Anybody remember how Reagan used Ralph Abernathy to get a few votes? He made promises to Abernathy and didn't make any follow-thru or acknowledgement that Abernathy existed afterward. That was like a hungry lion or bear promising he won't eat you if you exit the barricade. Exit the barricade and watch what happens. I hope maggots are dancing on Reagan's eyelids and urinating down his throat.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-10-31T12:27:54-06:00

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