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. Kimberly

    Wow. I can't believe that he had the nerve to say that. Dr. King died 40 years ago and you just NOW realized that you were wrong. I am not sure if he is racist or anything but his judgement is a little off. I believe Obama didn't go to Memphis today because he doesn't have to. Dr. King's sister and daughter weren't there either and obviously they care. McCain and Clinton flocked to Memphis because that is good politics. Clinton's speech was pretty good though. It seemed somewhat sincere.

    April 4, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  2. man in the mirror

    you didn't know about his legacy , Got to be kidding

    April 4, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  3. Wisconsin for Obama

    A racist comming out of the closet. Too late!!!

    April 4, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  4. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    More politicians should vote against state, county, municpal paid holidays for MLK's birthday. It's a wast of money, and rarely do those same employees attend observances (mostly the politicians and wackos) they just hang out around the house or shop. But the business owners, and employees who pay for those taxes black and white–usually end up working.

    I hope he grows some grit!!

    April 4, 2008 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  5. Hillary Supporters...Democrats or Republicans???

    25 years to realize that he was wrong about his vote, or at least admit to it.

    100 years to realize that he is wrong about Iraq.

    America can not afford to have a President with an abundant lack of foresight combined with grossly delayed hindsight!

    OBAMA '08!

    April 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  6. Justine, Cincinnati

    I just can't get over his excuse that he was unaware of MLK's legacy in 1983. DUDE! Really?!?!?! WOW!

    April 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  7. FRED

    I can't believe this man said he knew nothing about Kings's Legacy? was he still a POW or something?

    April 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Jared

    "I hate the gooks," McCain said yesterday in response to a question from reporters aboard his campaign bus. "I will hate them as long as I live." -John McCain 2000

    So now that he is running for President, he isn't racist?

    April 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  9. Ann

    Wrong on the MLK vote.
    Wrong on the war vote.
    Wrong on the economy.
    Wrong on free trade.
    Wrong on the lobbyists.
    Wrong for president.

    April 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  10. bernj

    How can he not be aware of Dr. King in 1983? McCain is a senile opportunist who ought to just go somewhere and shut up.

    April 4, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  11. sue

    Ha! We dont believe you McCain!

    April 4, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. Rob

    Where are all of your hyocrites when Obama's main supporter was utter hatred filled rants against this country? And the "he doesn't have to believe everything he says" does not fly. If you don't like a movie get turn it off, right? He never turned off the movie or gut up to walk out!!!!! Obama is the bigger racist. And why not talk about MLK and his sexcapades while we are judging? You can't have it both ways.

    April 4, 2008 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. ToLateMCsameMcbushGrandPa

    What are you sorry now. You voted against is because you do not think black leader deserve a government holiday in memory of their good contribution to the America and the World. That is what he beleived in 83 that is what he beleives now. You can not change an old Dog. He is doing this because he is running for president he needs a vote from balck people to win. It ain't going to happer grandpa.

    April 4, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  14. Nobody Asked Larry But...

    If McCain was "a little slow" in 1983 in recognizing MLK's importance, when he was 48 years of age, imagine how slow he is going to be when he reaches for that phone at 3AM, let alone attempting to make a decision at the advanced age of 73 years and counting.

    April 4, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  15. rushdio

    McCain claimed in 1983 he did not know of Martin Luther King’s legacy. Did he not attend any schools in the country? Did he not watch or read the news until the 1980s? Was he oblivious to the Civil Rights movement? I find it very hard to believe that a person who works in politics was unaware of a huge political issue in this country. I find it hard to believe that he knew nothing of Dr. King’s legacy. I find it hard to believe that he is sincere in his apology. This is a political move on his behalf. Pretty soon he will release a statement saying he can identify with African Americans because he watches BET.

    April 4, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  16. Vivian Mcrae

    I find his statement about not being aware of Dr. King's legacy more insulting than him not voting for the holiday, forget it McCain, you will not have the black vote!. I wish that the moderators would be more sensitive to the comments that are allowed to be posted, lot 's are tinged with racism, but again why shoul d I be shocked? we are African Americans, not colored's.

    April 4, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  17. Labrone

    I can't believe that Mr. McCain was unaware of what Dr. Martin Luther King was all about in his first year in congress. After all, Dr. King was a nobel peace prize winner and just about every state in the union recognized Dr. Kings legacy.

    I think its more about the matters of the heart with Senator McCain, his heart was not in the right place until he recognized he could gain politically and then he was for it. This seems like a pattern with McCain, he was for the war in Iraq and then became against it, he was against Dr. King and then became for him, he was against Bush and then became for him, he was for campaign reform, but now is against it, he was against tax breaks for the rich and now is against it, he loses his temper quickly, but now says its under control.

    How can we trust his decision making ability when he has no clue what he's for or against.

    April 4, 2008 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  18. Irony

    Is that a Black man holding the umbrella over McCain's head?
    Now THAT'S funny!

    April 4, 2008 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  19. debra

    I still don't think that the Obama supporters deserve the support of the Clinton supporters if Barracck wins.

    April 4, 2008 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  20. Tom

    What's the big deal? I'm 37 years old, and I'm unaware of King's legacy. I don't know much about the man at all, other than he fought for the rights of blacks in America. In my mind, that's what Louis Farrakhan is fighting for too... so what's the difference? Well, I'm a typical white guy, and I don't know my black history and don't have the ability to tell the difference between the Farrakhans and Kings of the world. I can only go by what the media tells me. I have to trust their estimate that King was a great man and that Farrakhan is a racist.

    That's why I understand John's statement that he didn't know King's legacy. Look what happened when he did learn about it – he was the lone supporter of the holiday in AZ! He took the right approach... if you don't know enough about it, take the conservative "don't spend money on it" approach until you do learn more about it.

    April 4, 2008 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  21. Surrounded by morons

    To all the people that seem to think this is a new position for McCain, feel free to read the artclie. McCain isn't changing his position NOW, and this has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. He corrected his error back in 1992. It says RIGHT IN THE ARTICLE:

    "McCain was a chief backer of a successful 1992 Arizona ballot referendum to mark the holiday"

    Nobody is perfect. I'm glad there are people that are willing to admit and correct their mistakes.

    April 4, 2008 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  22. love2008

    atleast here is politician who is not afraid to admit he was wrong. unlike someone I know that would flat out lie to your face that 1- I was under sniper fire in Bosnia, 2- I consistently opposed nafta and 3- I never said Obama cant win. Integrity, if you dont have it, you dont have anything!

    April 4, 2008 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  23. Val

    Oh my GOD, and this 70 year old man had the nerve to say that he was unaware of Dr. Kings Legacy, come on you could not be that stupid. Everyone in the WORLD knows about Dr. Kings Legacy, and what he stood for, and you are running for what, The President of The United States of America, Please, don't insult my intelligence.

    April 4, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  24. HH

    Why do you have a African American holding the umbrella? Could you not atleast get a white person.

    April 4, 2008 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. woogie

    He voted against it in 1983, then fought for it in 1992.

    So his change of view came well before his run for president. He admitted his mistake in 1992, not 2008.

    How much can you twist this to make the man look bad.

    April 4, 2008 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
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