Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actions and words changed the face of our nation. He will forever be remembered as a prime mover of the civil rights era.
For the past few years, black Republican groups like the “Raging Elephants” and the “National Black Republican Association” have unveiled billboards declaring, “Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.”
We know a great deal about Dr. King's public life from his many speeches, but we don’t know a lot about the civil rights icon’s voting record. (Indeed, he was not registered with a political party.) Was Martin Luther King, Jr. a Republican or a Democrat?
There are few definitive facts: Martin Luther King was certainly able to sway the vast majority of the black vote, and he was courteous and critical to both Republicans and Democrats. He never officially endorsed a party or a candidate.
The closest Dr. King came to an endorsement was his harsh criticism of Barry Goldwater in 1964 (thus, a nod toward Lyndon Johnson) – Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act. However, Martin Luther King also spoke out against the Vietnam War, and thus, Johnson. It’s complex.
Dr. King’s political leanings were probably influenced a great deal by his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. – who was a noted Republican. He would have likely endorsed Richard Nixon for the 1960 election. But when the younger King was arrested during a sit-in, it was then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy who ensured his release, as a favor to Martin Luther King, Sr. After his son was freed, King backed him in the election – and some 10 million votes were delivered for the Democrat. (As a side note, Kennedy was not known for being an overly enthusiastic supporter of civil rights.)
It seems that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Remember, in the 1950s and ‘60s, the political parties were much different than they are today. Republicans were (and still are) thought of as the political party of business and are primarily interested in enforcing the status quo. Democrats were the political party of “progression and change,” but Southern Democrats were known for working with the KKK – think Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd. After the Civil Rights Act passed, many Southern Democrats became Republicans.
When remembering Dr. King, don’t worry if he was a Democrat or a Republican. Instead, try to rise above labels and identify the good and bad that exists in both political parties. Try to emulate Martin Luther King, Jr. His example should prompt us to be better men and women.
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