April 5th, 2008
10:01 AM ET
11 years ago

McCain says he was wrong to oppose MLK day


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.”

Filed under: John McCain
soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. JO, Seattle

    Go McCain !!

    April 4, 2008 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  2. Jeremy

    Brave. Good job John. This is why I volunteered for you in 2000.
    OBAMA 08.

    April 4, 2008 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  3. ben

    I am white. I will vote for Obama!!!!!! However, I did not think at the time
    MKL should be given a national holiday. I still feel the same.
    What about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock etc.
    Yes MKL was a great man. He helped pull the downtrodden black race
    upwards toward a long over due equality to the American dream that all men are created the same. I believe he should receive a very prominent place in all history books. We don't have enough days in the year to give all the great Americans who have served our country a holiday.

    April 4, 2008 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  4. kelly WI

    Oh barf, just saw Hillarys MLK speech.
    That woman is really a piece of work.

    April 4, 2008 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  5. bob in LA

    Not only did he vote agianst it, but his home state was amoung the last to inact the January date as a holiday. That action didi not come until the mid-ninties!
    And they still say he's too moderate to be the Republican nominee! He's too moderate to be the Grand Dragon of the KKK, but Ihtink he follows the precepts of the RNC perfectly!

    April 4, 2008 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  6. pete

    MLK was great, but he is the only individual who has his own national holiday and I don't fault McCain for voting against it. This though is just pandering. Its so said that he's reduced himself to this.

    April 4, 2008 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  7. Bayou Joe

    Advice from the Bayou. Here in the swamp we call it as it is, no apologies, no regrets. MLK was not a priority for us returning veterans from Vietnam. We had to deal with the Jane Fondas(Hanoi Jane) and being spit upon by complete strangers upon returning from Battle. We had to get our lives back in order and go to work for a living. MLK was not exactly our saviour. at the time, and for non Blacks a pain in the neck in the college admissions and job market.

    April 4, 2008 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  8. McCain Supporter

    i am a McCain supporter. I am ashamed of this. I must consider my vote in the general election.

    April 4, 2008 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  9. ben

    Before someone calls me stupid because I wrote MKL instead of MLK.
    I wrote my comment very fast and was shocked to see I had written it badly. I am sorry!!!!!

    April 4, 2008 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  10. kayla

    you thought it cost too much? well 'what do you think this war is costing us? chicken feed?

    April 4, 2008 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  11. Nikole

    At least he admitted to his mistake.

    April 4, 2008 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  12. Proud2BAmerican-NOOBAMA

    I'm dead set against as well!!!! We lost a day of regcognition for one of the our founding fathers for this King guy. All it is is a day off for blacks! For the ones who have a real job!

    April 4, 2008 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  13. Joe

    In my view, we shouldn't be so concerned about the government legislating to have non-Christians acting like Christians. As far as the American constitution is concerned, I am not sure that the government should be legislating on spiritual issues affecting prayer and the like.

    This whole area is a difficult issue and I don't know if MLK would even agree to have prayer in the public schools and the Ten commandments in our courthouses.

    April 4, 2008 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  14. kimathi

    "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Rev MLK, Jr.

    Maybe McCain should apologize for his continual efforts to hasten the spiritual death of America. McCain cannot pretend to be a supporter now of Rev. King or the movement when he still opposes almost everything that King stood for – racial reconciliation, social uplift, workers' rights, corporate responsibility, and the defeat of militarism.

    April 4, 2008 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  15. Allen in NC

    Has anyone besides my myself, Seen a, {Should I say pattern) In the MCcain and clinton campagne? Lots and lots of apologies for a slip of the tongue, I mispoke, (Or so we are told?) I shouldn't have voted that way. Wow! The bible says forgive your brother seven times seventy..... But you guys are taken it to the extreme a little don't you think?

    April 4, 2008 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  16. Anna

    I cannot believe the venom and the nasty language of certain people. First off the Obama supporters who are for "uniting" the country are more polarizing than any other group. What an irony!! Second people who do not understand the language should not respond. Thei first task is to study and understand. McCain did not apologise now that he is running for President, he apologised in 1992 and in 2000 and backed a referendum which created the MLK Holiday in Arizona. Which part of this, don't you understand. He is one of the few people in politics today who has integrity. Still you do not have to vote for him but PLEASE keep it civil.

    April 4, 2008 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |




    April 4, 2008 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  18. Char

    I give Mccain much credit. This is a man of integrity who is not afraid of speaking straight to the voters even when he has little to gain but much to loose. Who in this day and age of politics has gone against his own party for the sake of the country. Who has gone against his own interest to risk his life for his country. Who has held tightly his belief and principles with regards to Iraq when his presidential bid is on the line. Who has showned a history of no pork to save america's budget even when he is the only one in the senate to have done so. Who has actually work across party line to get things done instead of just talking about it. This man has integrity not because he said he that he does...its because his records, history and actions has been consistently so. BTW, who in politics whether on the Dem or GOP side has been offered a VP position by the other party? None! and that's because there has never been a politician like Mccain. Mccain for president!

    April 5, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  19. Phoenix

    Blessed are the merciful–they shall see mercy.

    April 5, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  20. Porter

    Madison wrote our Constitution... no holiday.

    King plagiarized his writings, advocated socialism, and led some marches.... HOLIDAY!

    Anybody else see a problem?

    April 5, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. eloise c

    you know what people, cut the man some slack! he apologized. who of all of you can honestly say you made a mistake, then publically acknowledge you made it? so don't diss mr. (president to be) mccain for being a man about it and fessing up.

    April 5, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  22. Peter, Historic Yorktown, VA

    I wonder how many people realize that he doesn't need to apologize. At the time, 1983, he voted against it. He then was a "chief backer" for it later, which I think adequately cleans the slate in this case. I'm not voting McCain, more than likely, but the ignorant statements of the uninformed fanatics on here sicken me. That America is so arrogant to not get the right information, or to ignore the information, then claim their candidate is being duped is just stupid. I wonder what happened to the collective IQ in this nation?

    April 5, 2008 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  23. Janice, Aberdeen, SD

    McCain only apologized for his opposition to the MLK holiday for political reasons. Had he not been running for president, he never would have shown up and he never would have apologized.

    People who still think he's some sort of special "maverick" are forgetting that he now has flip-flopped on most of his positions to align with Bush. He sold out to get the political machine to support him. I hope the media finally gets over their love affair with McCain and starts showing him for who he really is.

    April 5, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  24. JB

    I am not going to vote for you, however, I (and we) have to give this guy an enormous amount of credit for a)attending this event, and b) addressing this issue.

    No one can argue that he is a man of principles. I just wish he was 20 years younger and more of a moderate

    April 5, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. Anonymous

    The lack of knowledgable and reasoned political debate by our everyday citizens is unfortunate.

    April 5, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
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