McCain marked the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's death Friday. (AP Photo)
(CNN) - Speaking at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, John McCain said Friday he was wrong to initially oppose a government holiday in memory of the civil rights leader.
"We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I made myself long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King," McCain said during the rainy Memphis speech. "I was wrong and eventually realized that, in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona. We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans."
The comments were met with audible boos in the audience, though the Arizona senator did draw applause at other moments in the speech.
McCain, then a first-term congressman, voted against creating a government holiday for King in 1983. On Thursday, he suggested he was unaware of King's legacy at the time.
"I voted in my first year in Congress against it and then I began to learn and I studied and people talked to me," he told reporters. "And I not only supported it but I fought very hard in my home state of Arizona for recognition against a governor who was of my own party."
McCain was a chief backer of a successful 1992 Arizona ballot referendum to mark the holiday.
In 2000, McCain said of his initial opposition was due to the fact that "it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized.”