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.”
It a shame that MCcain won't get my vote, especially since he was around during the civil right movement while MLK was marching across the country.
Well done. Maybe Hillary can learn from this and say she's sorry she voted for the war
What!!! J. McCain knew little about MLK in 1983? What else doesn't he know? oh, the ECONOMY!!!!!!!
I don't blame him at all. He realized his mistake and backed it wholeheartedly in 1992. You have nothing to worry about. You're courageous.
What you McCain bashers are failing to realize is that he changed his stance before 1992 to become the sole supporter of MLK legislation in AZ – long before running for president.
Get off your high horse and admit the man has more integrity in his little finger than the lot of you.
Anybody can make a mistake.
UNAWARE? thats too funny.. He is was too busy still being being a player'
This is a really sad that all of a sudden he regrets being against MLK Day, he;s only apologizing because he is running for president, but he will be in for a rude awakening come November, the people want to look foward not look backwards
excuse me but arizona is not a racist state.......how dare you make that remark.......you are generalizing all of arizona,,,,,..i think that arkansas has more racial issues going on.....
Another flip flop change of position by the two-faced McCain.
You know I read what McCain said and I have much respect for him now! Its like an alcoholic – the first step is admitting that you have a problem the second is taking steps to correct it! Unlike Hillary – She is clueless that she has a lying problem SO there is no correcting that! Lies and more lies!!!
Much respect Mr. Mccain hovever my vote is for Hon. Sen. Obama!
Senator McCain's claim of increased cost to the state was very wrong. Prior to the MLK Holiday we had 10 federal holidays. After the MLK Holiday was enacted we still have 10 days of federal holidays. Therefore his claim was horse pucky. Now, the truth is that we all need to forgive Senator McCain for his then racist position. If we do not forgive him, we would be guilty of the very same cause of MLK's death.
Poor judgement once again after voting for Iraq war.
I am sure the fact that the NFL boycotted hosting the Superbowl there was enough to make someone say hey, we don't have to think the guy was important but let's give them the day. Major sporting events generate lots of revenue.
I mean, he was a first year senator and he never really know about MLK so I guess he was living on some other planet.
Yeah right Johnnie, nice try.
Wrong on MLK day, and wrong for America. No more GOP neo-con trickle-down theocrat nonsense. Stop the McCain-Bush train wreck of failed policies of the past!
It is real guttsy for McCain to admit mistake in front of the people he offended before. McCain earns my respect for being a straight talker politician.
I'm a Black American and I honestly do not care that he did not vote for this to be a National Holiday. Presently, it is a holiday so his initial vote is meaningless any way.
Focus on his more recent and terrible decisions, and lets let some (not all, but some) of the racial stuff go for now.
Umm...McCain is an adulterer too. And he wants to be president....
For those who say that Obama didn't recognize the MLK holiday but instead went campaigning, I think you miss the point.
He is out there today campaigning to CONTINUE MLK's legacy-and by doing so, he is honoring MLK. The fact that this country will accept an African-American to run for president is what MLK dreamed of for all people, but never lived to see. Obama's hard work in campaigning honors MLK's legacy.
I commend Hillary on her poise today in honoring MLK's death, and I commend McCain on admitting his mistake. I don't believe he is sincere, but you have to admit that it does take a lot for someone to step up and acknowledge his own wrongdoing. Especially, when it is about race.
This overall is a positive, uniting step for this country and I for one, am proud to be an American.
Yes we can, and will.
You are an idiot! You actually believe the proper gander that J. Edger "skirt wearing," Hoover peddled. I wonder who the real racist here is.
I'm a staunch Obama supporter. Even though I didnt agree with him voting against the Holiday, I think it takes alot of courage to own up to your mistakes.
Oh my, he's 71 years old and he was born in 1936 and the civil rights movement was going on in the 1960's and you tell me he was not aware of MLK legacy. I was born in 1970 and my parents and my culture taught me of who he was at a young age. McCain just admit you lied and you didn't agree with giving a black his on personal holiday. That is a major lie....You are 71 that speaks for itself. I hope you realize that a black man is running for office in 2008!!
Well, he had to admit it, it would surely have come out from under a rock. What I don't get is that you didn't know his legacy? I was thirteen 40 years ago and I knew what MLK stood for.
Its easy to understand why McCain oposed MLK because McCain never supported any type of civil rights legislation in his entire career. And today's event I think really demonstrates the extent to which he will say or do anything to get elected, no matter how shameless the level of exploitation is. McCain your supporters should be ashamed of you today and you have blurred today's memorial of a great American, a spiritual and social leader and pioneer by turning the occasion into a photo op. I'm sure MLK is turning in his grave.
I'm a fan of CNN but lately they are giving McCain too much credit and exposure. We want to see the real McCain, CNN. The one who could care less about America, MLK, or anybody else-either here or in Iraq. The only people who will benefit from him in the White House are lobbyists and illegal immigrants.
John "Bush" McCain, I can't believe you have the gall to go to Memphis and try to get votes on Dr. Martin Luther Kings remembrance (have you no shame). I remember how people begged you to acknowledge Dr. Kings birthday in Arizona and you flat out refused.
You only came around because of the heat you were catching, not because you thought Dr. King was special.
What you did in failing to support a holiday for Dr. King will forever be etched into the minds of African Americans and your apology is weak and your record underlines the lack of sincerity in your apology.
Sir, you are a Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Chaney republican, not to be trusted.