Conservatives try to appropriate MLK, Jr.

Everyone seems to want to quote and refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. This article in The New Republic reminds us that MLK, Jr. was not so conservative as some think.

Hey Conservatives! Stop Trying to Appropriate Martin Luther King.

From The New Republic

Leading conservatives seem to adore Martin Luther King. Jr. As president, George W. Bush called him a “second founder … who trusted fellow Americans to join [him] in doing the right thing.” In 2008, Michele Bachmann wrote, “though his life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet, each of us has the power to ensure that his legacy never dies.” Last year, Glenn Beck told a huge crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, “the man who stood down on those stairs … gave his life for everyone’s right to have a dream.” And just last week, Charles Krauthammer celebrated the new King Memorial on the National Mall by calling its subject a “prophet” whose “movement” was “a profound vindication of the American creed.”

These figures may appreciate King’s citizen-activism and his religious zeal to distinguish right from wrong. But such paeans still sound quite bizarre coming from a Right that is opposing even the slightest attempt at stimulating the economy to help people who need jobs, good schools, and medical care. So it’s worth reminding these notables what King actually thought about the chronic ills of the American economy and how to remedy them.

To save them some time, I offer a few details, most of which are culled from the enlightening, prize-winning study, From Civil Rights to Human Rights, by the historian Thomas F. Jackson. As a student in the early 1950s, King read and admired such texts as The Communist Manifesto, Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward, and pro-socialist essays that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote during the Great Depression. When added to King’s firsthand observations of the conditions faced by menial workers, these writings persuaded him that a system that took “necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes” was both unjust and un-Christian. In 1965, King summed up his beliefs in a speech to the Negro American Labor Council, the union group which had done the most to organize the march on Washington two years earlier: “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”

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