Many conservatives now claim the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader whose birthday is being celebrated Monday, as one of their own.
The main tenants of King’s philosophy were conservative, they say: self-help, patriotism, and colorblind policies.
Former President Ronald Reagan was one of the first luminaries to cite King's philosophy in support of conservative ideas, according to Stephen Prothero, who chronicles this in his book "The American Bible," CNN reports.
In June 1985, Reagan brought up King in a speech opposing affirmative action. He mentioned King's "content of our character" line from the "I Have a Dream" speech. King supported a colorblind society, and that wouldn’t include racial hiring quotas, Reagan said.
Other conservatives, including William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh, have since repeated that point, saying the "I Have a Dream" speech argues against affirmative action as reverse discrimination.
"He [King] was against all policies based on race," Peter Schramm, a conservative historian told CNN. "The basis of his attack on segregation was 'judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.' That's a profound moral argument."
Those on the left say conservatives are completely distorting King’s message.
In another interesting twist, King was friends for a time with former President Richard Nixon. After Nixon worked to strengthen the 1957 Civil Rights Bill, King wrote to tell him “how deeply grateful all people of goodwill are to you for your assiduous labor and dauntless courage in seeking to make the Civil Rights Bill a reality,” according to Jeffrey Frank of The Daily Beast.
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