Was MLK a Republican? Maybe so

by Dave Kopel

Rocky Mountain News. August 29, 2008

Barack Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination was delivered on the 45th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. At Invesco Field, a King tribute video made sure that nobody could ignore the parallel. The National Black Republican Association has put up 50 billboards around Denver, claiming "Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican." On Tuesday, the Rocky Mountain News reported that the billboard's claim was false, but the Rocky appears to have gone too far.

The Rocky asked the communications director at the King Center in Atlanta. As quoted by the Rocky, he said, "There's no evidence that King was a Republican and members of his family have spoken out about this."

The Rocky should have checked with the Web site of the group that bought the billboards. There, the Rocky would have found a video of King's niece, Alveda King, forthrightly stating that Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his father, Martin Luther King Sr., were Republicans. So there is at least some evidence that King was a Republican, for one member of his family specifically says so.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune (Aug. 3) looked into the issue in depth. Citing historians Taylor Branch and Clayborne Carson, the Herald Tribune reports that King Sr. ("Daddy King") was indeed a Republican, but became a Democrat in 1960 when he endorsed John F. Kennedy. King Jr. "took care not to claim any political party."

That King Sr. was a Republican in the 1950s would not be surprising. While most Northern blacks became Democrats during the New Deal, many Southern blacks remained Republican; Southern white Democrats were the staunchest supporters of segregation, and two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson showed very little commitment to a civil rights agenda.

Alveda King has been in Denver this week, taking part in anti-abortion rallies. It would have been interesting to interview her and pin down the details of why she remembers King Jr. as a Republican. In any case, the evidence was insufficient for the Rocky to so conclusively label the billboard false.

The promises of the extreme left to produce huge street demonstrations in Denver did not come true. Fortunately. Were the Denver media wrong to have devoted so much pre-convention coverage to the demonstration issue?

Probably not. Covering the topic of potential demonstration violence was like covering a hurricane which seems to be moving toward one's city. The odds are good that nothing major will happen, but the chance of a disaster is significant enough so that the story deserves plenty of coverage.

By early in the week, it was clear that the ultra-left coalition that had assembled in Denver was very small. Not only had they failed to recreate '68, they hadn't even matched the crowds that came to the 2004 political conventions. At that point, the local media would have done better to give less space to the demonstrators, and more to some of the positive groups that were putting on events in Denver.

For instance, at Civic Center Park on Sunday, there was a five-hour "Youth Voices 2008" performance and fair organized by Unbound Grace and other nonprofits. These groups describe themselves as "creating community through forgiveness and reconciliation." There were readings of poetry written by homeless youths, music, arts, dancing and a performance by the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble II.

And coverage of the Monday parades should have given more attention to Falun Gong, which had a marching band and a parade float. The group is working to raise awareness of the Chinese dictatorship's violent suppression of religious freedom and other human rights.

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