“Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican. VOTE REPUBLICAN!” the controversial billboard reads from above Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Dallas, Texas.
TheHuffington Post reports that this voter registration tactic is nothing new, having been used before in Austin and Houston in 2009. The ads are the work of Claver Kamau-Imani, a Houston, Texas church leader and the founder of RagingElephants.org. His organization works to encourage African Americans to make the switch to the Republican Party.
Kamau-Imani has called the portrayal of the Civil Rights activist appropriate and accurate, but some disagree.
Peter Johnson, an activist who worked with King in the 1960s, told CBS DFW the billboards are a disgrace.
He said, “Using his image is one thing, exploiting his legacy is another. To distort his legacy, it’s sacred to some of us. We know the suffering and sacrifice that was made.”
Aaron Carswell, a Dallas resident, said, “It’s a bit disrespectful for what Martin Luther King stood for, and who he was, to use his name in a political fashion.”
“The use of Dr. King, because of him being an icon in the community, we feel would be most effective,” Kamau-Imani told the station. “That’s why we used it. We have the documentation to back the claims we’re making on the billboard.”
Even Dr. King’s niece Rev. Alveda King has supported the idea that her uncle was Republican.
But despite these claims, there has yet to be any evidence suggesting King was affiliated with the Republican Party.
“Martin Luther King may have very well believed in some of the Christian principles of the Republican Party, but Dr. Martin Luther King was not a Republican or a Democrat,” Quanell X, the leader of a local Texas New Black Panther Party chapter told Fox News in 2009, when Kamau-Imani first put up a billboard.
“[He] would not be with the party of Newt Gingrich. He would not be with the party of Sarah Palin. He would not be with the party of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage or Sean Hannity,” Quanell X also said.
In 2011, with the help of several historians and King biographers, Politifact looked into Kamau-Imani’s claims.
Thomas Jackson, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and author of From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice, called King a “‘tax and spend’ Democratic socialist.” He said though the Republican Party during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency had the interest of African-Americans in mind, the stance attitude changed after the 1870s.
Another King biographer, David Garrow, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said King was not affiliated with either party, though he voted for Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The late civil rights leaders’ friends and family, including Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, have all rejected the Republican branding effort .
Politifact eventually ruled the claims false.
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