Claver Kamau-Imani wants to draw African-Americans into the Republican Party, and he’s not above using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name to achieve that mission.
The Texas church leader is the founder of RagingElephants.org, a conservative group responsible for a provocative campaign billboard that has stirred up the Dallas community.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican. VOTE REPUBLICAN!” reads the billboard, which hovers over an avenue named after the civil rights icon.
The voter registration tactic is the same one the group used in 2009 in Austin and Houston, and Kamau-Imani said it’s entirely appropriate given the organization’s pursuit of African-American recruits for the Republican Party.
“The use of Dr. King, because of him being an icon in the community, we feel would be most effective. That’s why we used it,” Kamau-Imani told a local CBS affiliate. “We have the documentation to back the claims we’re making on the billboard.”
But beyond claims by Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece, that her uncle was Republican, Kamau-Imani has not provided any documentation to back up his assertion.
Last year and again earlier this year, PolitiFact investigated the claims with the help of historians and King biographers, who agreed that King’s supposed affiliation with the Republican Party is inaccurate.
“It is simply incorrect to call Dr. King a Republican,” said David J. Garrow, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1986 King biography “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference”
In fact, most agree, the Nobel Peace Prize winner publicly stated his intent to not endorse candidates of either party in an effort to remain above the political fray and keep attention on the cause of social equality and justice.
Michael K. Honey, a professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma and author of 2007’s “Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign,” called the notion that King was a Republican “laughable.”
“Do they now make things up out of whole cloth or do they fabricate based on assumptions with no actual knowledge?” he told PolitiFact, later adding, “His interest was in getting both parties to do the right thing on issues. The Democrats certainly disappointed him on the [Vietnam] war, and the Republicans had an orthodox conservatism opposed to most of the changes he wanted to see.”
Dallas resident Peter Johnson, a social activist that worked alongside Dr. King in the 1960s, told CBS that using King for political propaganda is disgraceful.
“Using his image is one thing, exploiting his legacy is another,” he said. “To distort his legacy, it’s sacred to some of us. We know the suffering and sacrifice that was made.”