Today, on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Democrat and Republican pundits have scrambled to appropriate the memory of the assassinated civil rights leader. But was King a Democrat? Was he a Republican? Was he a Communist? Was he a Capitalist? More importantly, how do we know?
Ada Fisher, a Republican National Committee woman from North Carolina, said “Most people don’t talk about the fact that Martin Luther King was a Republican” this week in an article published by ABC News.
King did not hold his tongue on many issues. More than many leaders of his day, we know a surprising amount about his thoughts on issues which he did not give speeches on. Republicans often point out the fact that many Democrats opposed civil rights in that era. These and many other issues, such as his religiousness, lead many Republicans to assume that King was a member of the Grand Old Party. They are wrong.
On the other hand, Democrats point to King’s cries for social justice, along with his lengthy and vocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. To most, it seems clear that King was a Democrat. But those who believe this are also wrong.
King called out Capitalism, but even though FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, he also had words for Communism too. King stated the following in his “Where Do We Go From Here” speech back in 1967:
What I’m saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
King commented on both Democrats and Republicans, as well as Communism and Capitalism alike. The reality is that King had strong criticisms of both.
King was not a partisan and never endorsed any political candidate. In a 1958 interview, King said “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.”
There you have it: Martin Luther King, Jr. was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
This notwithstanding, King did comment on the Republican party. In Chapter 23 of his autobiography, King says the following about the 1964 Republican National Convention:
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.
If from this you gather that King was a Republican, then there probably isn’t much anyone can say to convince you of anything. But at the same time, King wasn’t a Democrat either. He found both parties to be deficient in some regards. Perhaps on this day of remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. we should consider why he was so markedly non-partisan, and ask ourselves how we measure up?
(Article by Shante Wooten and M.B. David; image by PBSpot)