Assertions regarding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s political affiliations are constantly circulating the internet. The National Black Republican Association uses the slogan “Martin Luther King Jr. Was A Republican” on their billboards and other advertisements, and countless Republicans have used this statement in defense of accusations regarding party racism. However, it is just these accusations that cause the Democrats to argue in return that there is no way that King could have been a Republican. King’s home state of Georgia did not have registration by party, so allegiance to a political party depended on which primaries a voter chose to cast a ballot in. This means that there are no voter registration records, and no paper record of King’s political affiliations. King also chose to keep his voting choices to himself, so there is not even any person who can say with 100 percent certainty that he ever cast a ballot for one party or the other. While there is no concrete proof of King’s party affiliations, both his own political beliefs and the platform of the Republican Party of his time can be used to make an informed hypothesis on the matter. However, it is also important to remember that parties evolve, as do their platforms. Therefore, whether or not Martin Luther King, Jr. considered himself a Republican in his time does not mean that he necessarily would or would not stand behind the party’s beliefs today.
Was Martin Luther King, Jr. A Republican?
Many have testified that Martin Luther King, Jr. made a point to hold no concrete political affiliation. 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.”
Arguments For King As A Republican
First and foremost, the word of King’s family states that he was, indeed, a Republican. In A Covenant With Life: Reclaiming MLK’s Legacy, Dr. Alveda C. King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., states, “My grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., or ‘Daddy King’, was a Republican and father of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a Republican.” During King’s time, most African Americans were, indeed, Republicans. This is because the Republican Party was the party fighting against racism, while the Democratic Party contained groups such as the KKK, trying to undermine civil rights movements in any way possible. For this reason, it is highly probable that King was more supportive of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.
The fact that the political ideals of the Republican Party were more closely aligned with King’s than those of the Democrats is supported by the politicians of Georgia during King’s time. Fletcher Thompson, who represented the Atlanta area in Congress from 1966-72, explained, “Most of the blacks in the late 1950s and at least up to 1960 were Republican. Our party was sympathetic to them and the Democrats were the ones enforcing ‘Jim Crow’ laws and segregation.” Others have noted that King seemed to support the creation of new voters for the Republican Party. New York Times political reporter Tom Wicker noted that, as the 1960 election approached, “the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had volunteered to lead a voter registration drive among blacks, which King thought would produce many new Republican voters.” Much of the media at the time speculated on this issue as well, with The Reporter Magazine stating “It is open secret among many Negroes that the Rev. Martin Luther King, if he were to speak out on the subject, would probably indicate a preference for [Republican Richard] Nixon over [Democratic nominee John] Kennedy,” in October 1960. However, this claim would later be challenged by the author of King’s biography.
Arguments For King As A Democrat
While the political platforms of the time suggest that King could have been a Republican, there is evidence to the contrary as well. Democrats have family testimony to back their story as well. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, has stated, “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.” Many who have researched King extensively agree with this statement. David Garrow, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of King, stated “It’s simply incorrect to call Dr. King a Republican.” Garrow stated that King absolutely held some Republicans, including Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, in high regard, and was incredibly critical of Lyndon Johnson. However, Garrow also stated that he has little doubt that King voted for Kennedy in 1960 and Johnson in 1964.
In his autobiography, King speaks out against the 1964 Republican National Convention. He states, “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.”
While this does suggest that King was dismayed at the direction of the Republican Party, his statements seem shocked and dismayed. Therefore, it is possible that King was a believer in Republican ideals up until this point, where the ‘64 convention and Senator Goldwater showed him a new, extreme, and different side to the Republican Party.
Party Support For King
In 1960, when King was sentenced to four months in Reidsville Penitentiary for violating probation after he was sentenced for driving with an expired license and tags a month before, his family and friend reached out to both Nixon and Kennedy for help. While Nixon stated that he believed King was getting the short end of the stick, he also said that it would be improper for him to contact the judge and ask for help for King. Kennedy, in contrast, called Coretta and offered to help her in any way he could. We will never know for certain if this impacted King’s political opinions, but it certainly swayed his family. His father stated, “I had expected to vote against Sen. Kennedy because of his religion. But now he can be my president, Catholic or whatever he is. It took courage to call my daughter-in-law at a time like this. I’ve got all my votes and I’ve got a suitcase and I’m going up there and dump them in [Kennedy’s] lap.”
Democrats, Republicans, And Race
Early in American History, the Democratic Party was the party of slavery and segregation. The Confederacy was founded and run by Democrats, enacted the Fugitive Slave Act, and pushed to spread slavery into new states. President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and the Republican Party became the anti-slavery party in 1854. In 1866, members of the Democratic Party began the KKK to fight back against reconstruction. Republicans continued to fight against continued segregation and racism. The Republicans started the NAACP in 1909. This brings us into King’s time, and the two parties as he witnessed and would have been affiliated with them.
It was Democrat Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor who set vicious dogs and set fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham. It was Democrat Georgia Governor Lester Maddox who famously brandished ax handles to prevent blacks from patronizing his restaurant, and Democrat Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus tried to prevent desegregation of a Little Rock public school in 1954. Alabama Governor George Wallace, who stood in front of the Alabama schoolhouse in 1963 and stated, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” was also a Democrat.
Meanwhile, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower pushed to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and sent troops to Arkansas to desegregate schools. Eisenhower also appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the 1954 “Brown v. Topeka Board of Education” decision ending school segregation, as well as the “separate but equal” doctrine created by the 1896 decision in “Plessy v. Ferguson.”
Republican Senator Everett Dirksen from Illinois was highly praised by King for his “able and courageous leadership” in pushing through the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
- No, Martin Luther King Jr. Was Not A Republican – ThinkProgress
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican – National Black Republican Association
- Registration Unknown, Martin Luther King Was Likely Republican – Newsmax
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