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. MIKE


    April 4, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. kathe oakland, california

    Oh BULL, BULL McCain. In 1983 you were not aware of Dr. King???How did you become a senator then if you were not aware of greatness in your own country??? And then to say it costs too much money and other "presidents" were not being honored with holiday? You must really think first that african americans are stupid and also the American People to believe that crap.

    You attended this historic memorium in Memphis today only for a "photo opt" and politics – just like Hillary.

    What in the world would someone like you even know to begin a dialogue about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. HAVE YOU READ UP YET?? You are very very sad as someone who is a hero, who is running for President – and in 1983 you did not know who Dr. King was and what he meant to America – – what were you in Vietnam fighting for certainly not democracy for anyone if you were unaware of the greatest Civil Rights Leader in the world – who by the way, opposed the Vietnam War – OH I GET IT. You too are a liar – you knew who this man was and that he was against war you were in. How Ironic you attending a memorial to his honor.

    It is amazing how naive you politicans think Americans are



    April 4, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  3. OBAMATheGreat2008

    I can accept whatever reason he has for not voting for the holiday. BUT at least you should know the WHAT behind it all. I find it extremely difficult to believe that any resonably educated person in America (no matter what your personal racial beliefs) would know about MLK. Even more so for a person of his age, education, and involvement in American politics. Now I'm really scared!

    April 4, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  4. kathe oakland, california

    You voted time after time for the Iraq war too because you were UNINFORMED, UNCONCERNED, and ignorant of what was going on – but you voted for it anyway.

    Not my type of President

    April 4, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. Darth Vadik, CA


    just like Howard Dean has said.

    April 4, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  6. Paris

    Democrats don’t have half of McCain’s honesty.
    Let’s see if Obama can be this honest and sincere about Wright.
    John McCain is the only one for the job.

    John McCain 08

    April 4, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  7. Bob, San Francisco, CA

    Rush or some other egghead must have been putting out the "liberals are lazy and just wanted another holiday" talking points judging some of the dumb comments on this post. What happened was Washington and Lincoln's birthdays were combined into Presidents Day. No extra days were given.

    And are you people so brainwashed by our fast-paced rat race that you would argue a day off here and there for sanity and mental peace?

    Must be the same people who believe every military intervention is "fighting for our freedoms". The big businesses count the money and laugh.

    April 4, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  8. Kevin Pennsylvania

    to Xavier, Washington, DC

    that was hilarious I am at work laughing my butt off at your comment lol but anyway some people may think it took guts but I think it was something else the election I mean it was 1983 it is now 2008 HOW LONG did it take for you to realize it was a mistake I respect his military service I owe him for his sacrifices for this country but you will never have my vote you old battle axe

    April 4, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  9. dmsdude

    I lived in Arizona ,and the reason they have a King day is because of hosting the Super Bowl there.no King day,no Super Bowl.

    April 4, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  10. Richard


    April 4, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. Mack

    Wow, he's only 7 years younger than MLK and he didn't know of his legacy? He was an adult during Dr. King's legacy! How could he not know? What he means is he was a racist during King's legacy and that's what he remembered of him and why he voted against it... Now he wants to say he's wrong because he's running for president and wants the black vote... try again buddy...

    April 4, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. Read the whole article

    Are all of you accusing him of only admitting his mistake now he's running for President reading the whole story? Apparently not or you'd have seen that he was the main backer of a 1992 ballot referendum to mark the holiday. 16 years before this presidential run.

    April 4, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. Veteran

    While I don't support McCain, I find it honorable that he would admit he made a mistake. I also see that he does have some reason to not know what was going on back home. He did serve in the Navy from 1960 until the 80's and I know it's hard to find out how things are 'back home' when you're away. Add to that, being in Vietnam as a regularly tortured prisoner for 6 years, and not getting back home until the mid 70's, and you got yourself a much better excuse then Clinton had for 'mis-speaking' about sniper fire in Bosnia.

    As you folks all poke fun at 'grandpa' why don't some of you find out what his natural hair color was, why it's white today, and why he still can't lift his arms above his head.

    Have a little respect for those of us that served.

    April 4, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. Dylan

    This will go down as one of McCain worst votes ever... right up there with his vote to succeed from the Union.

    April 4, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  15. A REAL American

    I agree with the person from Fort Myers.... McCain should've had some backbone. We don't need another national holiday because it means nothing to people anymore, it's just another day off from work that we Americans take for granted, like Memorial Day and Labor Day. Can someone answer why MLK Day now has more importance than President's Day (which celebrates Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays) and Veteran's Day? King was a great man and a fine American, but for anyone to say his greatness supersedes that of Washington, Lincoln, or our veterans is ridiculously PC.

    McCain, you are the right man for president in my book, but don't act like a Democrat!

    April 4, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  16. He who has not sinned cast the first stone

    I know it may be hard to believe that everyone makes mistakes, but we do. Additionally everyone has their own opinion about everything. In the political realm, you seldom if never hear a politician say they are/were wrong and/or sorry. That would admit fault. We all need to think about what mistakes we have made and know that we are not perfect. Sen McCain, thank you for being honest on so many levels; I hope and pray for you and in Nov I WILL VOTE FOR YOU! God bless you. And that my friends is how you deal with hatred.

    April 4, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. William from Texas

    Too little, too late John. Everyone knows how you really feel.

    There goes whatever black vote you might have had.

    April 4, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. AO

    what planet is this guy on anyway? you didn't know about MLK? what a joke. Someone out of touch with reality and this is who is close to being the President. What a shame. Doesn't seem like people learned from the past 8 years of Bush at least not Republicans. If he's President next year then we deserve every crap that with get.

    April 4, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. chris

    all of you are freakin idiots arent you it was in 1982 and he ws a first year senator and millions of americans still dont agree with it oh but if they say anything they are racist right shut up and go into your self serving politicaly correct hole and die pleas

    April 4, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. AO

    what planet is this guy on anyway? you didn't know about MLK? what a joke. Someone out of touch with reality and this is who is close to being the President. What a shame. Doesn't seem like people learned from the past 8 years of Bush at least not Republicans. If he's President next year then we deserve every crap that we get.

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  21. Emeka, Lagos. Nigeria

    Waow, at last the chickens have come home to roost.
    Well, McCain apologises for blocking the MLK holiday because he is running for president. trust politicians to always be chameleons.

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  22. Kevin Pennsylvania


    yo need decaff or somthing if you like Bill some much listen to him and just CHILL OUT and learn how to come to grips with having a president named Barack Obama you better enjoy these last few months under your pal bush the age of racism and ignorance are coming to an end have a nice weekend ....... Douche

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  23. David

    I live in Arizona. I voted against it as well...twice. All Americans enjoy civil rights, Native Americans, Latin Americans, African Americans, etc.

    Had the day been called Civil Rights day I would have been all over it.

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  24. jujub

    I commend Barack Obama for not joining the pandering scene in Memphis. Better to honor Martin Luther King with your heart, than your soul.

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  25. Brainwashed

    I'm sure Barack Obama would apologize too. I mean, if he ever made a mistake.

    April 4, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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