Was Martin Luther King A Conservative?

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When Martin Luther King was alive and in the streets, facing police dogs and fire hoses for civil rights, American conservatives generally condemned him as a rabble-rousing law-breaker and trouble-maker.

Today, nearly four decades after Dr. King's assassination, many conservatives are singing a different tune, claiming King — in many dimensions — as a soul-mate.

King personified Christian activism in politics, they say — and so do we. King said judge not by the color of skin but by the quality of character, they say — when they oppose affirmative action. King did not speak up for gay marriage, they say — and conservatives don't either.

Progressives are appalled.

This hour On Point: the left-right tug-of-war over the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Quotes from the Show:

"I don't think Dr. King would be classified today as liberal or conservative. I think there are things that moderate conservatives and liberal both would take from Dr. King's beliefs and teachings. ... For example, Dr. King was clearly someone that, I believe, supported the traditional American family. At the same time, I also believe Dr. King would have supported affirmative action because of the inequality that still exists." The Reverend Keith Butler

"Dr. King left us a legacy that is entrenched in his writings and his speeches. I would never presume to project on Dr. King a 21st century view based on his 20th century experience. ... Dr. King was an American who awakened us to the darker side of ourselves and the lighter side of ourselves." Lt. Governor Michael Steele

"I think Dr. King transcends politics. ... I think his legacy should be cohesive and unifying, not divisive." Monique, a listener.

"It was obvious that Dr. King could not be contained in one tradition alone. He did not believe one group of people enjoyed the blessings of God. ... He would want us to participate together. Today, he would call today for an interfaith dialogue." Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes


The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Senior Minister, The Riverside Church, New York

The Reverend Keith Butler of the 21,000 member Word of Faith International Christian Center (WOFICC) Church in suburban Detroit.

Lt. Governor Michael Steele of Maryland

Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University, Pulitzer Prize-winning author .

This program aired on January 15, 2007.


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