As presidential nominee Barack Obama prepared to rally fellow Democrats to close out his party’s national convention, billboards that claim Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican are lining Denver’s major arteries. The Illinois senator’s highly-anticipated speech, which comes at the 76,000-seat Invesco Field tonight at 8 p.m., also coincides with the 45th anniversary of King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech, painting a hopeful picture of American racial equality and harmony. The convention’s opening moments on many national news channels featured a video tribute to King. The National Black Republican Association has bought 50 billboards throughout Denver, including in minority neighborhoods, that simply state “Martin Luther King Jr. was a REPUBLICAN” alongside a photo of King and the association’s contact information.
The Sarasota, Florida-based group has already caused a stir with billboards elsewhere, and is also behind radio attacks in battleground states that characterize Obama as a liberal elitist. The ads make it sound like Obama is getting a free pass because of the jubilation surrounding his historic achievement as the first black person nominated to be a major party’s presidential candidate. The association’s chairwoman, Frances Rice, could not be reached for comment. An aide for the Obama campaign said the candidate was busy readying for tonight’s speech. And representatives for the Congressional Black Caucus were unavailable–although one aide exclaimed, “Ha!,” when told of the billboards. In the latest issue of the association’s publication–The Black Republican–King’s niece, Alveda C. King, claims Republican loyalty runs in the family: “My grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., or ‘Daddy King,’ was a Republican and father of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a Republican.” The claim brushes aside the spectacular political events of King’s final years. During the early years of the civil rights movement, many blacks loathed Democrats, particularly Southern party members, such as Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who opposed racial equality and was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (he later said he regretted being part of the white supremacy group). However, in 1960, John F. Kennedy, then a Democratic candidate for president, reached out to King’s cause. King, in turn, delivered black voters to Kennedy, casting a vote himself. He also supported Kennedy’s vice president and successor, Lyndon Johnson, and led black voters to the Democratic Party in the era of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.