The King Holiday and Its Meaning

Republished by on February 16, 2005


The origins of our national celebration of
multiracialism and political correctness

American Renaissance

On August 2, 1983, the U.S. House of Representatives
passed a bill creating a legal public holiday in honor
of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although there had
been little discussion of the bill in the House itself
and little awareness among the American public that
Congress was even considering such a bill, it was
immediately clear that the U.S. Senate would take up the
legislation soon after the Labor Day recess. The House
had passed the King Holiday Bill by an overwhelming vote
of 338-90, with significant bipartisan support (both
Reps. Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich voted for it), and the
Reagan administration was indicating that the President
would not veto it if it came before him. In these
circumstances, most political observers seemed to think
that Senate enactment and presidential signature of the
bill would take place virtually unopposed; few
anticipated that the battle over the King holiday in the
next few weeks would be one of the most bitter
congressional and public controversies of the decade.

From 1981 to 1986 I worked on the staff of North
Carolina Republican

Sen. John P. East,
a close associate and political
ally of the senior senator from North Carolina, Jesse

It was not originally my intention that the paper be read
on the floor of the Senate.

While the legislation was being considered I wrote a
paper entitled “Martin Luther King, Jr.: Political
Activities and Associations.”
It was simply
documentation of the affiliations with various
individuals and organizations of communist background
that King had maintained since the days when he first
became a nationally prominent figure. In September, the
paper was distributed to several Senate offices for the
purpose of informing them of these facts about King,
facts in which the national news media showed no
interest. It was not originally my intention that the
paper be read on the floor of the Senate, but the Helms
office itself expressed an interest in using it as a
speech, and it was

read into the Congressional Record
October 3, 1983. During the ensuing debate over the King
holiday, I acted as a consultant to Sen. Helms and his
regular staff.

Sen. Helms, like Sen. East and many other
conservatives in the Senate and the country, was
strongly opposed to establishing a national holiday for
King. The country already observed no fewer than nine
legal public holidays—New Years Day,

“President`s Day”
as it is officially known or

“Washington`s Birthday”
as an unreconstructed
American public continues to insist on calling it,

Memorial Day

Independence Day

Labor Day

Veterans Day

Columbus Day

, and

. With the exceptions of Washington`s
Birthday and Christmas, not a one of these holidays
celebrates a single individual. As Sen. East argued, to
establish a special holiday just for King was to
“elevate him to the same level as the father of our
country and above the

many other Americans
whose achievements approach
Whatever King`s own accomplishments,
few would go so far as to claim that they equaled or
exceeded those of many other major statesmen, soldiers,
and creative minds of American history.

That argument alone should have provided a compelling
reason to reject the King holiday, but for some years a
well-organized and powerful lobby had pressured Congress
for its enactment, and anyone who questioned the need
for the holiday was likely to be accused of “racism”
or “insensitivity.” Congressional Democrats,
always eager to court the black voting bloc that has
become their party`s principal mainstay, were solidly in
favor of it (the major exception being Georgia Democrat
Larry McDonald, who led the opposition to the measure in
the House and who died before the month was over when a
Soviet warplane shot down the
civilian airliner on which he and nearly three
hundred other civilians were traveling). Republicans,
always timid about accusations of racial insensitivity
and eager to court the black vote themselves, were
almost as supportive of the proposal as the Democrats.
Few lawmakers stopped to consider the deeper cultural
and political impact a King holiday would have, and few
journalists and opinion-makers encouraged them to
consider it. Instead, almost all of them—lawmakers and
opinion-makers—devoted their energies to vilifying the
only public leader who displayed the courage to question
the very premise of the proposal—whether Martin Luther
King was himself worthy of the immense and unprecedented
honor being placed upon him.

It soon became clear that whatever objections might
be raised against the holiday, no one in politics or the
media wanted to hear about them and that even the
Republican leadership of the Senate was sympathetic to
passage of the legislation. When the Senate Majority
Leader, Howard Baker, scheduled action to consider the
bill soon after Congress returned from the Labor Day
recess, King`s widow, Coretta Scott King, called Sen.
Baker and urged him to postpone action in order to gain
time to gather more support for the bill. The senator
readily agreed, telling the press, “She felt chances
for passage would be enhanced and improved if it were
postponed. The postponement of this is not for the
purpose of delay.”
Nevertheless, despite the support
for the bill from the Republican leadership itself, the
vote was delayed again, mainly because of the efforts of
Sen. Helms.

The document, distributed on the desks of all senators, was
promptly characterized as “a packet of filth”

Sen. Helms delivered his speech on King on October 3
and later supplemented it with a document of some 300
pages consisting mainly of declassified FBI and other
government reports about King`s connections with
communists and communist-influenced groups that the
speech recounted. That document, distributed on the
desks of all senators, was promptly characterized as
“a packet of filth”
by New York`s Democratic Sen.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan
, who threw it to the floor
of the Senate and stomped on it (he later repeated his
stomping off the Senate floor for the benefit of the
evening news), while Sen. Edward Kennedy denounced the
Helms speech as “Red smear tactics” that should
be “shunned by the American people.” A few days
later, columnist
Edwin M. Yoder,
Jr. in the Washington Post
sneered that Jesse Helms “is a stopped clock if ever
American politics had one”
who could be depended on
to “contaminate a serious argument with debating
points from the gutter,”
while he described King as
“a prophet, a man of good works, a thoroughly
wholesome influence in American life.”
Writing in
the Washington Times, conservative Aram Bakshian
held that Sen. Helms was simply politically motivated:
“He has nothing to lose and everything to gain by
heaping scorn on the memory of Martin Luther King and
thereby titillating the great white trash.”
Richard Cohen wrote of Helms in the Post,

“His sincerity is not in question. Only his decency.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Helms, with legal assistance from the
Conservative Caucus, filed suit in federal court to
obtain the release of FBI surveillance tapes on King
that had been sealed by court order until the year 2027.
Their argument was that senators could not fairly
evaluate King`s character and beliefs and cast an
informed vote on the holiday measure until they had
gained access to this sealed material and had an
opportunity to examine it. The Reagan Justice Department
opposed this action, and on October 18, U.S. District
Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr. refused to release the King
files, which remain sealed to this day.

Efforts to send the bill to committee also failed.
Although it is a routine practice for the Senate to
refer all legislation to committee, where hearings can
consider the merits of the proposed law, this was not
done in the case of the King holiday bill. Sen. Kennedy,
a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
argued that hearings on a similar proposal had been held
in a previous Congress and there was no need to hold new
hearings. He was correct that hearings had been held,
but there had been considerable turnover in the Senate
since then and copies of those hearings were not
generally available. Nevertheless, it soon became clear
that Republicans and Democrats, liberals and many
conservatives, the White House, the courts, and the
media all wanted the King holiday bill passed as soon as
possible, with as little serious discussion of King`s
character, beliefs, and associations as possible.

Why this was so was becoming increasingly clear to me
as an observer of the process. Our office soon began to
receive phone calls and letters from all over the
country expressing strong popular opposition to the
bill. Aides from other Senate offices—I specifically
remember one from Washington state and one from
Pennsylvania—told me their mail from constituents was
running overwhelmingly against the bill, and I recall
overhearing Sen. Robert Dole telling a colleague that he
had to go back to Kansas and prove he was still a
Republican despite his support for the King holiday
bill. The political leaders of both parties were
beginning to grasp that they were sitting on top of a
potential political earthquake, which they wanted to
stifle before it swallowed them all.

On October 19, then, the vote was held, 78 in favor
of the holiday and 22 against (37 Republicans and 41
Democrats voted for the bill; 18 Republicans and 4
Democrats voted against it); several substitute
amendments intended to replace the King holiday measure
were defeated without significant debate. President
Reagan signed the bill into law on November 2nd. I
distinctly remember standing with Sen. Helms in the
Republican cloakroom just off the floor of the Senate
during the debate, listening to one senator after
another approaching him to apologize for the insulting
language they had just used about Sen. Helms on the
floor. Not a few of the senators assured him they knew
he was right about King but what else could they do but
denounce Helms and vote for the holiday? Most of them
claimed political expediency as their excuse, and I
recall one Senate aide chortling that “what old Jesse
needs to do is get back to North Carolina and try to
save his own neck”
from the coming disaster he had
prepared for himself in opposing the King holiday.

Indeed, it was conventional wisdom in Washington at
that time that Jesse Helms had committed political
suicide by his opposition to the King holiday and that
he was certain to lose re-election the following year
against a challenge by Democratic Governor James B.
Hunt. In fact, Sen. Helms was trailing in the polls
prior to the controversy over the holiday. The
Washington Post
carried a story shortly after the
vote on the holiday bill with the headline,

“Battle to Block King Holiday May Have Hurt Helms at
and a former political reporter from
North Carolina confidently gloated in the Post on
October 23 that Helms was “Destined to Lose in `84.”

In the event, of course, Sen. Helms was re-elected by
a healthy margin, and the Post itself acknowledged the
role of his opposition to the King Holiday as a major
factor in his political revival. As Post reporter Bill
Peterson wrote in news stories after Helms` re-election
on November 6, 1984, his “standing among whites . . .
shot up in polls after he led a filibuster [strong
opposition] against a bill establishing a national
holiday on the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther
King, Jr.,”
and on November 18, “A poll before the
filibuster showed Helms trailing Hunt by 20 percentage
points. By December, Hunt`s lead was sliced in half.
White voters who had been feeling doubts about Helms
began returning to the fold.” If Sen. Helms` speech
against the King holiday had any enduring effect, then,
it was to help re-elect him to the Senate.

So, was Jesse Helms right about Martin Luther King?
That King had close connections with individuals and
groups that were openly communist is clear today, as it
was clear during King`s own lifetime and during the
debate on the holiday bill. Indeed, only two weeks after
the Senate vote, on November 1, 1983, the New York
published a letter written by Michael Parenti,
an associate fellow of the far-left Institute for Policy
Studies in Washington and a frequent contributor to
Political Affairs
, an official organ of the
Communist Party that styles itself the “Theoretical
Journal of the Communist Party, U.S.A.”
The letter
demanded “What if communists had links to Dr. King?”
Mr. Parenti pointed out that “The three areas in
which King was most active—civil rights, peace and the
labor struggle (the latter two toward the end of his
life)—are also areas in which U.S. Communists have
worked long and devotedly,”
and he criticized
who “once again accept the

premise that U.S. Communists are
purveyors of evil and that any association with them
taints one forever. Dr. King himself would not have
accepted such a premise.”
Those of Mr. Parenti`s
persuasion may see nothing scandalous in associations
with known communists, but the “liberals” whom he
criticized knew better than to make that argument in

Of course, to say that King maintained close
affiliations with persons whom he knew to be communists
is not to say that King himself was ever a communist or
that the movement he led was controlled by communists;
but his continuing associations with communists, and his
repeated dishonesty about those connections, do raise
serious questions about his own character, about the
nature of his own political views and goals, and about
whether we as a nation should have awarded him (and
should continue to award him) the honor the holiday
confers. Moreover, the embarrassing political
connections that were known at the time seem today to be
merely the tip of the ethical and political iceberg with
which King`s reputation continues to collide.

I spoke to several former agents of the FBI who had been
personally engaged in the FBI surveillance of King.

While researching King`s background in 1983, I
deliberately chose to dwell on his communist
affiliations rather than on other issues involving his
sexual morality. I did so because at that time the facts
about King`s subversive connections were
well-documented, while the details of his sex life were
not. In the course of writing the paper, however, I
spoke to several former agents of the FBI who had been
personally engaged in the FBI surveillance of King and
who knew from first-hand observation that the rumors
about his undisciplined sex life were substantially
true. A few years later, with the publication in 1989 of
Ralph Abernathy`s autobiography,

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,
those rumors were substantiated by one of
King`s closest friends and political allies. It is quite
true that a person`s sex life is largely his own
business, but in the case of an internationally
prominent figure such as King, they become publicly
relevant, and they are especially relevant given the
high moral stature King`s admirers habitually ascribe to
him, the issue of his integrity as a Christian
clergyman, and the proposal to elevate him to the status
of a national moral icon.

In the course of the Senate debate on the King
holiday, the East office received a letter from a
retired FBI official, Charles D. Brennan. Mr. Brennan,
who had served as Assistant Director of the FBI, stated
that he had personally been involved in the FBI
surveillance of King and knew from first-hand
observation the truth about King`s sexual
conduct—conduct that Mr. Brennan characterized as 
“orgiastic and adulterous escapades, some of which
indicated that King could be bestial in his sexual abuse
of women.”
He also stated that “King frequently
drank to excess and at times exhibited extreme emotional
instability as when he once threatened to jump from his
hotel room window.”
In a study that he prepared, Mr.
Brennan described King`s “sexual activities and his
excessive drinking”
that FBI surveillance
discovered. It was this kind of conduct, he wrote, that
led FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to describe King as
“a tom cat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges”

and President Lyndon Johnson to call King a
“hypocrite preacher.”
Mr. Brennan also acknowledged:

“It was
muck the FBI collected. It was not the FBI`s most
shining hour. There would be no point in wallowing in it
again. The point is that the muck is there. It is there
in the form of transcripts, recordings, photos and logs.
It is there in great quantity. There are volumes of
material labeled `obscene.` Future historians just will
not be able to avoid it.”

It is precisely this material that
is sealed under court order until the year 2027 and to
which the Senate was denied access prior to the vote on
the King holiday.

One instance from King`s life that perhaps
illuminates his character was provided by historian
David Garrow in his study of the FBI`s surveillance of
King. Garrow recounts what the FBI gathered during a
48-hour surveillance of King between February 22 and 24,
1964 in the Hyatt House Motel in Los Angeles.

“In that forty-eight
hours the Bureau acquired what in retrospect would be
its most prized recordings of Dr. King. The treasured
highlight was a long and extremely funny storytelling
session during which King (a) bestowed supposedly
honorific titles or appointments of an explicitly sexual
nature on some of his friends, (b) engaged in an
extended dialogue of double-entendre phrases that had
sexual as well as religious connotations, and (c) told
an explicit joke about the rumored sexual practices of
recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy, with
reference to both Mrs. Kennedy, and the President`s

Garrow`s characterization of the episode as
“extremely funny”
is one way of describing the
incident; another is that during the session in Los
Angeles, King, a Christian minister, made obscene jokes
with his own followers (several of them also ministers),
made sexual and sacrilegious jokes, and made obscene and
insulting remarks intended to be funny about the late
President Kennedy and his sex life with Mrs. Kennedy. It
should be recalled that these jokes were made by King
about a man who had supported his controversial cause,
had lost political support because of his support for
King and the civil rights movement, and had been dead
for less than three months at the time King engaged in
obscene humor about him and his wife. In February, 1964,
the nation was still in a state of shock over Kennedy`s
death, but King apparently found his death a suitable
occasion for dirty jokes.

More recently still, in addition to disclosures about
King`s bizarre sex life and his close connections with
communists, it has come to light that King`s record of
deliberate deception in his own personal interests
reaches as far back as his years in college and graduate
school, when he plagiarized significant portions of his
research papers and even his doctoral dissertation, an
act that would cause the immediate professional ruin of
any academic figure. Evidence of King`s plagiarism,
which was almost certainly known to his academic
sponsors at Boston University and was indisputably known
to other academics at the

King Papers Project
at Stanford University, was
deliberately suppressed and denied. It finally came to
light in reports published by the Wall Street Journal
in 1990 and was later exhaustively documented in
articles and a monograph by Theodore Pappas of the
Rockford Institute.

Yet, incredibly—even after thorough documentation of
King`s affiliations with communists, after the
revelations about his personal moral flaws, and after
proof of his brazen dishonesty in plagiarizing his
dissertation and several other published
writings—incredibly there is no proposal to rescind the
holiday that honors him. Indeed, states like Arizona and
New Hampshire that did not rush to adopt their own
holidays in honor of King have themselves been vilified
and threatened with systematic boycotts. The continuing
indulgence of King is in part due to simple political
cowardice—fear of being denounced as a “racist”—but
also to the political utility of the King holiday for
those who seek to advance their own political agenda.
Almost immediately upon the enactment of the holiday
bill, the King holiday came to serve as a kind of
charter for the radical regime of “political
and “multiculturalism” that now
prevails at many of the nation`s major universities and
in many areas of public and private life.

This is so because the argument generally offered for
the King holiday by King`s own radical collaborators and
disciples is considerably different from the argument
for it offered by most Republicans and Democrats. The
latter argue that they simply want to celebrate what
they take to be King`s personal courage and commitment
to racial tolerance; the holiday, in their view, is
simply celebratory and commemorative, and they do not
intend that the holiday should advance any other agenda.
But this is not the argument in favor of the King
holiday that we hear from partisans like Mrs. King and
those who harbor similar views. A few days after Senate
passage of the holiday measure, Mrs. King wrote in the
Washington Post (October
23, 1983
) about how the holiday should be observed.

“The holiday,” she wrote, “must be
substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a
day of celebration. . . . Let this holiday be a day of
reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and
strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action
for social and economic progress.”
She noted that
for years the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for
Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta “has conducted
activities around his birthday in many cities. The
week-long observance has included a series of
educational programs, policy seminars or conferences,
action-oriented workshops, strategy sessions and
planning meetings dealing with a wide variety of current
issues, from voter registration to full employment to
citizen action for nuclear disarmament.”

A few months later,

Robert Weisbrot
, a fellow of the

DuBois Institute

, was writing in The New Republic
(January 30, 1984) that “in all, the nation`s first
commemoration of King`s life invites not only
celebration, but also cerebration over his—and the
country`s—unfinished tasks.”
Those “unfinished
according to Mr. Weisbrot, included
“curbing disparities of wealth and opportunity in a
society still ridden by caste distinctions,”
a task
toward the accomplishment of which “the reforms of the
early `60s” were “only a first step.” Among those
contemporary leaders “seeking to extend Martin Luther
King`s legacy,”
Mr. Weisbrot wrote, “by far the
most influential and best known is his former aide,
Jesse Jackson.”

The exploitation of the King holiday for radical
political purposes was even further enhanced by

Vincent Harding
, “Professor of Religion and
Social Transformation at the Iliff School of Theology in
writing in the New York Times
(January 18, 1988). Professor Harding rejected the
notion that the King holiday commemorates merely “a
kind, gentle and easily managed religious leader of a
friendly crusade for racial integration.”
Such an
understanding would “demean and trivialize Dr. King`s
Professor Harding wrote:

Martin Luther King of 1968 was calling for and leading
civil disobedience campaigns against the unjust war in
Vietnam. Courageously describing our nation as `the
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,` he
was urging us away from a dependence on military
solutions. He was encouraging young men to refuse to
serve in the military, challenging them not to support
America`s anti-Communist crusades, which were really
destroying the hopes of poor nonwhite peoples

“This Martin Luther King
was calling for a radical redistribution of wealth and
political power in American society as a way to provide
food, clothing, shelter, medical care, jobs, education
and hope for all of our country`s people.”

To those of King`s own political
views, then, the true meaning of the holiday is that it
serves to legitimize the radical social and political
agenda that King himself favored and to delegitimize
traditional American social and cultural
institutions—not simply those that supported racial
segregation but also those that support a free market
economy, an anti-communist foreign policy, and a
constitutional system that restrains the power of the
state rather than one that centralizes and expands power
for the reconstruction of society and the redistribution
of wealth. In this sense, the campaign to enact the
legal public holiday in honor of Martin Luther King was
a small first step on the long march to revolution, a
charter by which that revolution is justified as the
true and ultimate meaning of the American identity. In
this sense, and also in King`s own sense, as he defined
it in his
speech at the Lincoln Memorial
in 1963, the

Declaration of Independence

becomes a “promissory
by which the state is authorized to pursue
social and economic egalitarianism as its mission, and
all institutions and values that fail to reflect the
dominance of equality—racial, cultural, national,
economic, political, and social—must be overcome and

The holiday also serves to undermine any argument against
the revolutionary political agenda that it has come
to symbolize.

By placing King—and therefore his own radical
ideology of social transformation and
reconstruction—into the central pantheon of American
history, the King holiday provides a green light by
which the revolutionary process of transformation and
reconstruction can charge full speed ahead. Moreover, by
placing King at the center of the American national
pantheon, the holiday also serves to undermine any
argument against the revolutionary political agenda that
it has come to symbolize. Having promoted or accepted
the symbol of the new dogma as a defining—perhaps the
defining—icon of the American political order, those who
oppose the revolutionary agenda the symbol represents
have little ground to resist that agenda.

It is hardly an accident, then, that in the years
since the enactment of the holiday and the elevation of
King as a national icon, systematic attacks on the
Confederacy and its symbolism were initiated, movements
to ban the teaching of Western
came to fruition on major American
universities, Thomas Jefferson was denounced as a
and “slaveowner,” and George
Washington`s name was

removed from a public school in New Orleans
on the
grounds that he too owned slaves. In the new nation and
the new creed of which the King holiday serves as
symbol, all institutions, values, heroes, and symbols
that violate the dogma of equality are dethroned and
must be eradicated. Those associated with the South and
the Confederacy are merely the most obvious violations
of the egalitarian dogma and therefore must be the first
to go, but they will by no means be the last.

The political affiliations of Martin Luther King that
Sen. Jesse Helms so courageously exposed are thus only
pointers to the real danger that the King holiday
represents. The logical meaning of the holiday is the
ultimate destruction of the American Republic as it has
been conceived and defined throughout our history, and
until the charter for revolution that it represents is
repealed, we can expect only further installations of
the destruction and dispossession it promises