Some MLK Day Reading

You owe it to yourself to read Rick Perlstein’s excellent piece about the conservative movement’s reaction to Martin Luther King, Jr., if only because Monday is the national celebration of King’s birth. The fact of the matter is that conservatives in the 1960s despised King. Not just fringe Southern racists, like Strom Thurmond, but nationally known conservatives, like Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan. They thought him a subversive, anti-law&order socialist (read: uppity negro) who needed to know his place. It’s a shame that Reagan’s legacy doesn’t include the fact that he was a deeply, deeply racist man, both in this realm and in his steadfast support for the Apartheid government of South Africa (and his slandering of Nelson Mandela and the ANC as terrorists to boot).
But it’s more of a shame that King’s legacy all but ignores how truly revolutionary his message was, even by today’s standards. King is seen by far too many as someone who just wanted legal equality and who, having received it, would back off and do nothing. But that wasn’t MLK. King was one of the first national figures to stand up and oppose the war in Vietnam. He supported a guaranteed minimum income and took a serious stand against poverty. He self-identified as a democratic socialist. He was constantly persecuted by the FBI, and kept an openly gay ex-Communist socialist (the inimitable Bayard Rustin) as his closest adviser. Any conservative who claims that they support King is either ignorant or lying; same with any “sensible centrist” like Joe Klein or David Broder. King was a figure of the left, and the center and right’s attempts to claim him as their own are extremely unseemly.

1 thought on “Some MLK Day Reading

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a lefty (politically,

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say “Any conservative who claims that they support King is either ignorant or lying”. There may be conservatives who support King in some areas of his activism but not others. But I do think that the racisim that fueled and…

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