Getting All Post-Racial with MLK, Jr.

Since the King holiday is coming up, I thought I’d mention that noise I’ve been reading about Martin Luther King, Jr. being a Republican. This involved posters over the past couple years and his niece declaring it to be so. Frankly, I have not come across a totally credible source proving it one way or another.

The Republican party, of course, was the party of Lincoln, while the Democratic party, particularly in the South, where King lived, was the party of George Wallace and other segregationists. So it is quite plausible that he was a member of the GOP, at least until the 1960 election of John Kennedy. Surely he voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, his public comments make clear.

But most of the conversations miss the greater point, which is, “Would Martin Luther King, Jr. be a Republican in the 21st Century?” Those who suggest that the answer would be “yes” generally zero in on one section of his March on Washington I Have A Dream speech in August 1963, the part that goes: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The clear implication is that race-based remedies for past or current discrimination should be off the table.

But read the very end of the speech: from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

So the real question becomes this: would MLK think Americans are equally free in these days? Or would he think the increasing economic disparity between the rich and the poor needed to be addressed? Would he fret over unequal access to food, shelter, health care? Would he weep over the resegregation of education?

Obviously, I don’t know for certain. But everything I’ve read, all of his speeches I’ve devoured, suggests that MLK would still be in the fight for equal justice, not convinced that we’ve already gotten there. A big issue in his latter days involved a disproportional number of black soldiers fighting and dying in a war he considered unjust. The garbage collectors fight that brought him to Memphis just before his death was as much about economic disparity as it was about race.

I’m a Census guy. Many people tell me they wish we’d stop measuring race. Why is it that the government still counts people in that way, other than the historic reasons? The government measures race and ethnicity in part to delineate equality or disparity in income, housing, and the like. Maybe we’ll stop counting race when we stop being unequal. I really do hope we get there someday.
SamuraiFrog shares Glenn Beck taking back civil rights from MAD magazine.

0 thoughts on “Getting All Post-Racial with MLK, Jr.”

  1. The suggestion that King would be a member of the GOP is borderline idiotic. King was a social progressive. Anybody suggesting he’d be in line with the Republican party in the 21st Century is wholly ignorant of politics and ideologies.

    That’s not a knock on the Republican Party, either, just a statement of fact. To say King would be in the party of the socially conservative is ridiculous, particularly when justified with a sentence taken out of context from a speech made well before the policy you’re trying to invoke was considered. I

    t’s like saying William F. Buckley would be singing the praises of Nancy Pelosi because he smokes pot. Stupid.


  2. I don’t know anything about politics! What I know is that there are good men and bad men. And if there were many more like MLK our world wouldn’t be in the state it is!

    Have a happy weekend, Roger****


  3. You’re right that the claim that King was a Republican is about 21st Century Republicans, but I don’t think it really has anything to do with him. Instead, I think it’s merely an attempt to scrub up the image of today’s Republican Party.

    The same co-opting thing was done (and still is) by social conservatives who claimed that if King were alive he’d be anti-gay and opposing civil rights for GLBT people–this despite MLK’s legacy of fighting for justice and that of his widow, Coretta Scott King (who became a fierce advocate for GLBT rights).

    The point is, a lot of people try and claim MLK to oppose simple justice for their fellow humans. But a lot of people fighting for social justice claim he’d be on there side, too, which suggests his legacy, and what Maori would call his Mana, are still very strong and important.

    As for the census, I’m a lot more cynical: The data will be collected as long as race matters, so I think it’ll be collected for as long as there are censuses.


  4. Well, if we really want to be picky, the quote from the Negro spiritual shouts at me — “whose God are we talking about here?” The Muslims, Buddhists and American Indians all have a different take on God. Of course I’m one of those weird evangelical extremists that all seem to get lumped together as though we have no individual thoughts and beliefs of our own. And incidentally, I think Sarah Palin was way off target(sorry for the pun)in her ad showing cross-hairs.

    That’s all I want to say as I hope to retain the friendship and respect of all my fellow bloggers no matter what religion or political party they are.


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