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. Yankee Air Pirate

    MLK is the most overrated man in American history.There shouldn't be a holiday for him & I wish McCain had never changed his mind.Regardless,he's still the best candidate in the race.A true American hero & I'll be proud to vote for him.

    April 5, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  2. Spider

    By the time my comments get "moderated" the comments are closed. Will try to sneak this one in.

    Barack Obama is getting 90 to 95% of the African American vote. How can anyone say that is not based on his race. If Hillary got 90% of the female vote it would be gender bias. Bob Dole didn't even get 90% of the dottering old veteran with a bum right hand vote.
    There is a racial bias is this election.

    April 5, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. NObama

    Of course we all know what MLK stands for. That's what they name a road after so that out-of-towners will know they are on the bad side of town.

    April 5, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  4. Kevin

    I'll bet he would have voted for James Earl Ray Day. Being the bigot that he is.

    April 5, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  5. Len, Colorado


    Agree with you 100%. He is not the man to lead this country through all of our problems.

    Vote Democratic in the Fall!

    April 5, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  6. Truth Hurts

    He opposed the day because it's silly. It has gotten to the point where everyone thinks there should be a holiday for everything. There is a lot of racism in this country, that's for sure, but not from McCains side. I don't see his reverend preaching hate like some others.

    April 5, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. John

    Wrong about Martin Luther King in 1983?

    In 2008, McCain obviously thinks Martin was a president who should have waited his turn like all the other 'presidents'.

    McCain's been 'out of it' too long.

    Time for a permament holiday in Arizona.


    April 5, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  8. american Man

    Who cares if its a national holiday or not who cares if if we cellebrate it as a national holiday . i dont think racial relations have gotten any better since Dr. king was living , i have met his wife and son and im sure the couldnt pick me out of a line up . i will never forget the first time i met them at the reenactment of the march from selma to montgomery . Blacks in america are just as racist as some whites .
    Its ok to be angry and want improved race relations. I am also saddened by the fact that black people when white people are not around they are racist against whites , what really hurts me as a black man i get discrimanated against everyday . Blacks should know better than anyone that this is wrong and step up and lead by example .
    I have a lot of friends who say they are voting for obama because hes black . i dont feel like obama is black ,sure his father is african but that does not make him black . Native africans hate american blacks just as much as whites . If u want to stop racism the first step is to stop calling black americans african americans we are not from africa we are froom here. i dont hear whites refered to as european-americans . My birth certificate says negro basicaly the government wanted to call me a n(u know the rest )word . Obama is an african -american his mom is white and his dad is african.

    April 5, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. J. Dean, Juno Beach, FLORIDA


    April 5, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. Will

    This is a bunch of crap. If you listen to the video you can also here people saying, "We all make mistakes," and "We forgive you," in addition to scattered boos.

    The news media wants to shape the narrative of this election for the sake of ratings and spin; regardless of who you support, you owe it to yourself to take every headline, story, and agenda into account.

    April 5, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  11. California Independent

    Listen to the poor little Obama drones sniveling again. McCain was a little busy at the time, but like their fearful victim of a leader, they have no patriotism.

    Then come the 'I have to change my vote' crew. They read a few sentences on the ticker and waaaaaaa, 'I can no longer vote for that person.' As usual, it's whining Obama supporters. If your sensibilities are so offended by a few sentences, maybe you use your computer for more than whining on a ticker. Keep the wimp out of the White House.......

    If it isn't Clinton, McCain '08

    April 5, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  12. Tiredofit

    I was against it then as well as now. A federal Holiday for what? The whole thing is dumb and dumber. MLK should be recognised for everything he stood for but why a holiday?

    April 5, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  13. An Ohio Voter

    Senator McCain,

    Thank you for gathering with us to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King inspired, loved and spoke up for all people, no matter what our differences are. As we celebrate his life, let us all encourage ourselves to let the "light" of the Lord shine in all of us. Thanks again for coming, good luck to you in your campaign for President of the United States and God Bless you and your family.

    An Ohio Voter

    April 5, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  14. Gergg

    I personally don't think that MLK, who was a great man, deserved his own individual holiday over and above other Americans such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

    April 5, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  15. Independent

    Are these Obama supporters for uniting the country? I doubt that Obama and his supporters are for uniting the country. They seem the same as Bush and his supporters. The only difference is they are on the other side.
    The man honestly recognized that he was wrong. Not many politicians can do that.

    April 5, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  16. JB

    You know, I have to say something here:

    What is going on in this country??????

    For some reason the military has become the red headed step child of the US. Colleges won't let them recruit on campus. People in uniforms get booed on the sreets. A friend of mine in college who is ROTC went to Columbia for a swim meet and was pelted with tomatoes.

    People are attacking John McCain for not knowing MLK's legacy. THE MAN WAS BEING TORTURED FOR 5+ YEARS TRYING TO PROTECT OUR RIGHTS.


    Let me remind you, if our military disappeared right now, we would be gone in days.

    I am a democrat who is becoming incredibly disgusted with the MOVEON's who seem to be taking control of the party.

    April 5, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. Doug

    A lib would never admit a mistake which is why we should not allow one of those two to occupy 1601.

    if MLK was truly against hate then his target today if he were alive in 2008 would be the American Lib. As you can see in this thread and all over the net, no one in America is more hateful at this moment, not even the kkk, that's saying something.

    Since I'm not a lib I provide proof to back up what I'm saying. In ultra blue states like New York, politicians like Alan Hevisi talk about shooting republicans between the eyes in public speeches to get the support of the libs who dominate that state. If what is said of MLK is true, he would be outraged at the most hateful in America today, the American Lib.

    April 5, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  18. Steve

    Want the real truth about where McCain was born? Read the treaty signed by the USA and Panama which was the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty. Panama did not give one square inch of territory to the USA. Panama retained complete jurisdiction and sovereignty over the Canal. McCain was born in Republic of Panama. The Canal Zone was owned by the Republic of Panama not the USA.,

    April 5, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  19. jeremy

    I would like to know how anybody on this planet could not have been aware of MLK's legacy in 1983. I was 9 years old and fully aware of MLK.

    April 5, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  20. Will Pompiano

    Those who say they admire his honesty, that's it's so refreshing, those people seem so un-refreshing, and quite frankly, retarded. It's like they've been waiting for a politician to come along that speaks truth. Well, those same people can't, and have not handled the truth so far. If they did, it would be a shoe-in for Ron Paul and not for this mini Napoléon Bonaparte.

    April 5, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Ridgeway

    Pandering. Enough already. Washington and the Continental Army at Valley Forge never gets this kind of adulation and they sacrificed for the entire Country.
    Come on McCain tell the critics to pound salt.

    April 5, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. independent

    It is funny to see him apologizing to the left and to the right. When will he apologize for this war? I won't have time to wait 20 years, not even 4 years, for it!

    April 5, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  23. Dan from Ohio

    Seems as if he learned from his mistake by '92, and I appreciate his honesty in bringing it up at a place where he knew it would get a few boos.

    I will be voting Democratic in November, but I appreciate integrity when I see it. It is a rare thing these days. (Just take a look at all of the comments on this board, for example.)

    -An Obama Supporter

    April 5, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  24. Spider

    Hey, wait a minute. Barack didn't vote for the holiday either.
    Didn't vote for the war. Wasn't there to vote for it , but we give him credit for not voting for it.
    Didn't vote for MLK day. Wasn't there to vote for it. We should give him the exact kind of credit.

    April 5, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Barack Obama 44th president !

    He is a liar and a political opportunist. Any intelligent person can see right through this – the truth is he voted against MLK birthday in 1983 because he's a racist.

    According to Rep. John Conyer, he didn't acknowledge wrongdoing then, nor in 1987 so how convenient to say he is wrong now that he's running for president.

    He is foul !

    April 5, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
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