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. Alex H

    THE NAKED TRUTH!!! April 4th, 2008 3:32 pm ET

    HIs legacy is that he is an adulterer!!! SO why would you honor someone like tha? Double standards isn't it you Obama supporters? King gets a Legacy!!!. Bill is called a Liar!! I just love you people's sense of justice. O.J. Was innocent too, wasn't he? Obama will never be President> This one you can put in the books.

    If anyone didn't understand what Obama's race speech was about... here you go.

    Naked truth – last time I checked, MLK wasn't President of the United States when he cheated on his wife. But whatever! Let's jump on board and have it out! George Washington had slaves, MLK cheated on his wife and Hitler loved puppies, was a vegetarian, a Christian, and abstained from alcohol. There's good and bad in everyone. Sometimes the good outweighs the bad... other times it doesn't (note: Hitler... the puppies don't make up for the Holocaust... sorry). I'll take MLK's good over his bad any day.

    April 4, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. Jamaal

    He was right to oppose it.

    April 4, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. GiveMeABreak, Washington, DC

    How can he be unaware of MLKs legacy when he voted in 1983!?!? Wow, there is no way. How can he be as old as he is, living in this country and not know who MLK was? No way. Anyway, who care what McCain thinks, no one need him nor Hillary in Memphis today.

    April 4, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. Gary in VA

    To me this is worse that the Rev. Wright controversy. It is was in is heart and it was more than a 30-40 sec. sound bite in continuous loop or a part of a message that was taken out of context due to not hearing the entire thoughts thoughts. This was a vote that he stood by for sometime. Now he's running for president now he's sorry. He didn't want the holiday for a longtime. I want be sorry when I go to the polls unless Hillary is given the nomination then I will forgive you and vote for you otherwise I am pro Obama all the way. But oh well, It doesn't surprise me after all I am in America. Black people where is the outrage and a I bet alot of you didn't even know. Obama 08' and 12'.

    April 4, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Alice Newman Center Harbor NH

    " McCain said of his initial opposition was due to the fact that "it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized.”

    Since when was King ever a "president" ??? This was in 2000 – the man has only gotten older and more confused in 8 years – doesn't even know the players and their allies in Irag!!!

    Say good night, John!

    April 4, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  6. chris

    and for those of you idiots tlaking about how mccain is bad you nit pick every little thing he does becuase hes a republican but have you even looked at the news about both of your lying sweet talking candidates ones a lying racist black man that is unpatriotic and the other is a lying socialist leaning women that cant even handle he own crappy campaign the only reason obama is doing semi well in your party is hes new and diff and BLACK same with hillary being a WOMEN i dont feel bad for either one of them and neither of them are talented enough to be president neither of them will do anything that they are saying becuase the moderate congress WONT LET THEM THINK PEOPLE THINK these are empty promises and all of you are the sheep getting lead to the cliff and unfortunatly this time your gonna take our great nation with it thanks dems your stupidity doesnt even amaze me anymore its just pathetic


    April 4, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  7. Deedee

    "He was wrong about not supporting a "King Holiday" initially. That was when he was a younger man, now he is an older man and probably even slower in processing the right thing to do. Do we really want him answering the phone at 3 am. Wrong on King, wrong on the Iraq war, and probably will be wrong again, again and again. I say he is not insightful enough initially in his judgements to be president of our great country.

    April 4, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  8. Antoinette

    Poor Guy

    They Boo'ed him badly

    We all make mistakes as someone said in the crowd.

    He was about to get Hotttttttttttttttttttttttttt for a minute. Glad he cleared that right on up

    He sounded kind of phoney though. Not like he didnt mean it, but like he was trying to sound really genuine like Barack and failed seriously

    April 4, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  9. Concerned American

    How sad that now he's running for president it was a mistake. Even more pathetic is the fact that it took him 10 years to "learn" who MLK was. What a winner.

    April 4, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  10. HP Boston

    JOHN McCain has this in the BAG!!!

    I am still going to vote for HILLARY!

    The write in line is my choice So in essence you will benefit John.

    So be IT!

    The Democratic party has screwed up and I am now an independent!

    April 4, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. Rodney

    I think MLK day should be opposed. Why is it that Martin Luther King has his own holiday but all of our US Presidents are combined into Presidents Day. All our of war heroes are combined into Memorial Day. All of our workers are combined into Labor Day. Why should this man be given his own holiday. Even though the laws he was breaking were wrong, he was still breaking the law. He should not have his own day while there have many MANY more deserving political figures in our time that is far more deserving. What next? A Jesse Jackson Day?

    April 4, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |

    It takes a real man to apologize on such a level.

    April 4, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  13. Monica

    Thanks Senator,

    It's never too late to admit to a mistake. If you could share this with Sen. Clinton, I believe she is there also today.

    Obama 08

    April 4, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  14. Patrick

    Not being for a national holiday doesn't make you a racist give me a break. Sure I disagree with his decisoin at the time but he admitted he was wrong and then fought for it. Am I a racist b/c I don't think there should also be a Malcom X day? Or are black people racist b/c they don't want a George Bush day? Obviously those two men don't compare to MLK but does it make you a racist to oppose the thought of it? He did it for financial reasons not racial issues, read the man's speech. And do the poster named "Common Sense" he never said MLK Jr. was a President, he said that there were other Presidents who deserved holidays of their own and that is one of the reasons he didn't think MLK should have a holiday in his honor first. It's called reading comprehension....

    April 4, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  15. Mark Webb

    Only for opposing MLK day????
    How about 100 year war???
    And dirty tricks with a lobbyist???

    April 4, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  16. Photon Torpedo

    Quote from: Maybe race is the issue; "I find it more than strange that after screaming race every 5 min in this campain when it benifits him, Barack Obama did not see fit to go to Memphis today. Very strange to me."

    Wait, I didn't know that the only way to honor the life of a great civil leader who was slain was to actually go to the site of the death.

    I believe that Sen Obama DID in fact honor him while in Indiana... just like I honor him here in Dallas as my friend honors him in California.

    MLK is just one of many who stand as a beacon as to what IS right about this country in chaos and in peace.

    I could care less if Sen. Obama couldn't make it to Memphis just as long as he does care.... which he does.

    Yes We Can & Yes We Should!
    Obama 08'

    Photon Torpedo
    Dallas, TX

    April 4, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  17. Whitney G.

    THANK YOU for apologizing NOW that you are running for President. HOw convenient. Whats with the smirks this guy is giving in the video? NOT cool.Didnt realize his legacy? Thats like someone saying "I didnt know Lincoln freed the slaves!" Come on! What a racist thing to learn about John McCain . It is very sad and disheartening to learn this about my party's nominee. I guess this is another thing to add to my list as to why I am voting for Obama in November! Thats right NOVEMBER. Yes its great he apologized but the truth of the matter is that it is an issue especially in my African American community which is where it resignates the most, that he would have the audacity to oppose this. That is the type of ignorance that grinds my gears about the WHITE PEOPLE of America. The whites have a history of wanting to surpress people, disenfranchise people, take credit for others doings not just blacks, The roots of the white man trace back to thievery, corruption, lies, and so much more when it comes to America. THat is why race is such a big issue in this election. LETS SEE CNN POST THIS CONTROVERSIAL ONE. DOUBT IT!

    April 4, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. George

    You liberals are so unused to hearing a candidate speak the truth that all you can do is bash the man for being honest. Why am I not surprised?

    April 4, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  19. Steve

    John McCain is the wrong choice for president. America needs a fresh start. His stand on the issues clearly indicates he will give us more of what we've had wtih the Bush Administrations. However, I am reading a great deal of self-righteous indignation in many of these comments. George Wallace, after admitting he was wrong, was forgiven, even by many Black people. McCain has admitted he was wrong on the issue of national recognition for Martin Luther King. Accept his apology and get back to confronting the issues of jobs, the war in Iraq and heath care.

    April 4, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  20. An Agnostic Democrat

    McSame was McWrong about a lot more than MLK holiday.

    April 4, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  21. Andrew

    I'm an Obama supporter but have respect for McCain even though he is completely wrong on the war. It disturbs me that people are posting such denigrating comments. McCain is not a racist. Yes, he was wrong about not supporting MLK day 20+ years ago, but he then became a strong backer of it against a Republican governor. At least he admits that he was wrong and now people are using that admission to take cheap shots at him. There's no way I'd even consider voting for McCain, but he deserves better than the angry and ignorant comments that are being posted on this page.

    April 4, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  22. Fay (the Texan who voted for Obama)

    If this guy becomes our next president I'm moving to Canada. I see another Bush when I look at him. And that's total bull about not knowins Dr. King's legacy in 1983. I knew his legacy when I was in elementary and I'm 23 and know his legacy now. Wow!

    April 4, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |

    Don't worry about it McCant, just kick Hitlerys butt around!

    April 4, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  24. NickNas

    I remember this one! There were many states that didn't want to support MLK day. If you believe it was because of what it COSTS then I have a bridge ............................

    I remember driving with my young family across the country at that time after getting out of the Service and heading home to California. As we drove through Arkansas we were listening to the CB and were shocked to hear a TON of people chatting about it. Well let me tell you the words they used to have this conversation kept me driving HOURS longer than I should have to get as far from them as I could before stopping. The year was 1986 and after years of serving my country I, a Black man was terrified of my own countrymen.

    If you forget history it will sneak back up on you.

    April 4, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  25. Patty Atlanta GA

    Too little too late!

    Go have another adulterous affair you be sinner! Or go buy Cindy some more drugs to keep her happy. I can't believe how you got her off of her drug charges! I would never get away with doing what she did. I would have been jailed!

    April 4, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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