Commentary: Please Stop Saying Martin Luther King Was a Republican

A group hoping to get more Blacks to join the GOP is falsely claiming that the civil rights icon was on their side.

Posted: 11/01/2012 10:06 AM EDT

Some new controversial — and seemingly wrong — billboards in Austin, Houston and Dallas, Texas, are causing a lot of residents to turn their heads and wonder just what’s going on. Posted by a group called “Raging Elephants,” the billboards seek to get more Black voters to vote for the GOP by reminding them that the late, great Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican,” reads the billboard, which shows a large photo of King himself in mid-sentence. “Vote Republican!” 

Claver Kamau-Imani, the African-American Republican behind the Raging Elephants, is responsible for the billboards. Raging Elelphants is a political action committee dedicated to building a bigger Black GOP base.

Writes Tom Benning of the Dallas Morning News:

Kamau-Imani said the advertising campaign, which also includes automated phone calls and TV commercials, is an effort to convince Black voters that the Republican Party more closely aligns with their interests and beliefs.

“The use of Dr. King, of course, deals with the fact that he may be the most iconic African-American figure in the world,” said Kamau-Iman…

“It may inspire some African-American voters to re-examine the historical context of the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Kamau-Imani obviously has his own agenda in mind, but there’s a problem: There’s actually no evidence that Dr. King was a Republican.

Throughout the years, some Republicans, particularly Black ones, have attempted to make the case that Dr. King was also a member of the GOP. But people who have tried to fact-check that claim haven’t been able to. This from fact-checking site Politifact:

However, in a 2008 Associated Press story, King’s son and namesake Martin Luther King III said:"It is disingenuous to imply that my father was a Republican. He never endorsed any presidential candidate, and there is certainly no evidence that he ever even voted for a Republican. It is even more outrageous to suggest he would support the Republican Party of today, which has spent so much time and effort trying to suppress African American votes in Florida and many other states."

Dr. Kenneth W. Goings, professor and past chairman of the Department of African American and African Studies at Ohio State University, said in an email message that King may have had to register as a Republican to vote in Alabama in the 1950s. Goings said: "… I’ve not seen any evidence that MLK Jr. was a Republican but if he registered to vote it would have been as a Republican in Alabama simply because the Dems. would not allow Black voters.”

Even if Dr. King had registered as a Republican in order to vote, it’s disingenuous to suggest that his Republican Party was anything like the Republican Party of today. While he was alive, King made it very clear that he was on the side of the poor and the downtrodden, and that spreading the wealth around would be alright by him. If he were alive today, the GOP would probably brand King a socialist and ask him to leave the party. And no doubt he’d do it gladly.


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(Photo: Louis DeLuca/ Dallas News)

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