Stateside,  The Right

The myth of a conservative Martin Luther King

Guest post by Andrew Murphy

Every year when Martin Luther King’s Birthday comes around, the American Right tries to claim that a democratic socialist was really a conservative. It is rather amusing to see and read tributes to the late Dr. King suggesting that he would be not only a Republican, but probably co-hosting a show on Fox News with Glenn Beck. Let’s examine briefly two big myths.

#1 Myth: Martin Luther King was a Republican

This was argued in the Human Events newspaper by a one Frances Lee. The obvious fallacy in her argument is that just because one was a Republican years ago, that doesn’t make one a Republican today. After all, the great freethinker Robert Ingersoll was a bloody-flag, militant Republican. But can one see Ingersoll welcome in most parts of the Republican Party today?

In truth, the Republican party was the party of social justice for former slaves. It was the GOP which ended slavery and gave the slaves the right to vote and citizenship in the USA. The Freedman’s Bureau set up after the Civil War helped give over 15 million rations to former slaves and helped set up education institutions to educate those who had been denied education for decades.

Furthermore, in the 20th Century it was Republican Dwight Eisenhower who started the ball rolling on ending school segregation. But Republicans like civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph in the 1940s would be skeptical of the party of the “Southern Strategy” of the 1970s.

There is no evidence of Dr. King endorsing Republican or Democrat candidates save one. When Barry Goldwater was nominated as the GOP candidate in 1964, Dr. King said:

While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.

Dr. King said of Governor Ronald Reagan of California’s first bid for the White House in 1968:

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 war psychosis can explain such a turn of events.

# 2 Myth: Martin Luther King had “conservative” values

Who said to his staff in 1966?

You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folks then. You are messing with captains of industry…. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… with capitalism…. There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.

Was it Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas or American socialist theorist Max Shachtman?

No. It was Martin Luther King.

Bloodhound J. Edgar Hoover did not have Dr. King followed and wiretapped because he was a member of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority.” It was because of his outspoken leftwing views on economics, his opposition to the Vietnam War and because some of King’s staff members– like his speechwriter, Bayard Rustin– were former Communists. Rustin had given up his communism decades earlier and was a garden-variety social democrat by the 1960s but that was of no difference to Hoover’s FBI.

In an essay for the Heritage Foundation on the “conservative virtues” of Martin Luther King, Bill Bennett and Robert Woodsen go to great lengths to claim that Dr. King if alive today would be against affirmative action and all race-based policies. Pure mythology.

In an interview with Playboy magazine, when asked about racial quotas, he said:

“If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.”

In his book Where Do We Go From Here?, Dr. King wrote,

A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.

Dr. King was also against prayer in schools and was a supporter of Planned Parenthood; he even won the Margret Sanger Award in 1966.

One wonders where conservatives get the idea that Dr. King would be some sort of Christian conservative today.

Perhaps on Martin Luther King Day, democratic socialists will organize a rally and march on Washington called “Socialists for Sarah Palin in 2012.” That would make as much sense as conservatives trying to cling to Dr. King’s coattails.