Reagan on MLK’s purported Communism: “We’ll know in 35 years, won’t we?”

Lest we forget, support for a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. was not popular with the right (It’s worth noting the House Republican supporters of a holiday: Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Hamilton Fish, Henry Hyde, Dan Coats, Jack Kemp, Bob Michel, and Dan Lungren; Howard Baker and Richard Lugar, the latter “primaried” in 2012, provided crucial Senate support). Ronald Reagan signed the bill reluctantly. Asked if King was a Communist, Reagan quipped, “We’ll know in thirty-five years, won’t we?” What a guy. At first Congress voted for a statue. Opponents of both, according to could have used a substantive counter-argument:

Opponents of the holiday could have said: Congress already honored King with substantive action, in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. To point to the superfluity of an additional tribute would have bolstered the most effective point that holiday opponents made, though they never emphasized or belabored it: A Martin Luther King holiday would be an odd, cult-of-personality-like gesture, the sort of thing that King had always opposed. To point to Congress’s substantive tribute to King from 1968 would also have given holiday opponents the cover of respectability that they clearly sought. It would have backed up their claim that they really respected King; they just did not think a holiday was the most apt way to honor him.

There’s something to this, I admit. Given the false choice between embalming King and continuing the hard work of writing legislation that gave the poor some kind of floor of support, I would have gone with the latter and so would you, especially when schoolbooks and public men honor what was even in 1983 the most easily digestible portion of his legacy while overlooking his stances after 1966, the point at which the Vietnam War undid the landmark legislation for which King and his predecessors had suffered and died. King understood — to a degree so did Johnson — that fair housing, a living wage, clean air, and safe food represented the next battle, without which voting and civil rights look fungible. I recommend Taylor Branch’s magnificent multi-part biography and Gary May’s recent Bending Towards Justice.

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8 Responses to Reagan on MLK’s purported Communism: “We’ll know in 35 years, won’t we?”

  1. jonolan says:

    Lest we forget or choose to willfully ignore, the push for MLK Day wasn’t about celebrating his life or any part of it; it was a bargaining point for major labor unions, especially the public sector ones.

    As for King’s Communist or Socialist leanings – They were largely made up by the government before 1966 but he seemed to turn that way later when the program he set up failed due to lack of funding. In the end, King turned into just another anti-American, Black trying to get the government to give him and his more of the White people’s money. That’s why we’ve isolated his life and stripped him of any existence past his “Dream Speech.”

  2. humanizingthevacuum says:

    “In the end, King turned into just another anti-American, Black trying to get the government to give him and his more of the White people’s money.” Is this a misbegotten joke or are you just another anti-American white?

    • sharecropper says:

      King and his family worked a way to milk the generation. A far more sincere man than say Al Sharpton and Jesse J, but nevertheless followed the playbook on white guilt, through the churches and ministers (which are fine for the spirit, but have little to nothing to do with the pioneering principles of invention, hard work, investment, creation and community employment in the private enterprise dream that is America. No, the dependent class developed greatly, with LBJ’s help (he being a true white trash MF liar, like Byrd– the classic Klan democrat). The marxist book was to drive a wedge between all whites and blacks but especially the lower middle and poor– the garden of instability and revolt and riot…. to shake loose even more enabling socialist programs to fund the next phase which is totalitarianism. What we have today. He became a tool of his achievement– not the first time this has happened to flawed visionaries. About which see Father Georgy Gapon (a spy for the Okhrana who led thousands of Russians to their death).

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