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. Bosnian Sniper

    Opposing MLK Day. Am I the only person who thinks that is much more significant than choosing not to wear a flag lapel pin?????

    I like McCain, but I am tired of our nation's favoring of cheap nationalism over the real celebration of the ideals upon which the country was founded. You know...liberty and freedom of thought and expression, DISSENT, a government that is for, by, and of the people. It is easy to support these ideas when not much is at stake. But when a nationalistic fervor builds up over a war in Vietnam or a war in Iraq and dissenters speak out, they get the un-American tag. And all they need to wash it off is wear a pin and keep their mouths shut.

    MLK was a peace-advocate but also an in-your-face anti-war, anti-poverty, pro-social justice giant making a much larger contribution to American civil life than those who fall in line with the much easier and lazier version of nationalism – flag pins and war slogans.

    April 4, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  2. Bill Brown (Dallas, TX)

    Who really cares why McCain did or didn't vote for a holiday a quarter of a century ago? Remember when we were told by the Missus that Bill Clinton's draft record (or lack thereof) of 24 years earlier didn't mean anything?

    I honestly could care less whether or not there was a King holiday anyway. Does anyone think if McCain had supported it that more blacks would support him? Of course not.

    April 4, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  3. Pamela

    To see a Republican standing there makes me sick to my stomach. That is a sacred place, now stained with more than the blood of a great man.

    April 4, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  4. Gillis Phoenix, Arizona

    I like this guy. Too bad he is a republican. I have voted for him a few times in Az. He towed party line when first in congress. Then he realized how irrational conservatism really is. Now however, he has to pander to the conservatives to win. But that guy is really a good guy. But I will vote for Obama nothing less.

    April 4, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  5. Henry

    "I voted in my first year in Congress against it and then I began to learn and I studied and people talked to me"
    So you want a president who will cast a vote and not know what he is voting for? Especially about a man such as King who was on every government watchlist? Who in a non-violent way ushered in a change in mindset that grew out of 400 years of hatred? This is the person you want representing the US and our future? Surely you must be kidding.

    April 4, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. Andrew from CT

    This is nothing but BS political posturing. I don't believe it for a second. McCain and Dr. King sport political ideologies that are at opposing ends of the continuum. Dr. King spoke out not only for civil rights and equality but spoke out against the Vietnam War. Now here we have a candidate who supports a war that should have never been authorized, waged on lies to the American people, who speaks of a possible one hundred years more of occupation. I can't take the man seriously. McCain wanted to talk about peace today. With stances like his, he must really be losing it. I'll give him credit, it took a lot of balls to do what he did today but we all know his racist history, his well documented comments about Asian-Americans.
    This is like having Richard Dawkins speak at an evangelical conference.

    April 4, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  7. Tom

    This man has so much integrity. We should be so lucky to have him making decisions in the White House.

    The man owns up to his mistakes, takes responsibility when he doesn't have to – this is the man that should be running our country.

    Go John McCain!!!

    April 4, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |


    Your meeting with the KKK is about to start ignoramus.
    You are the epitome ignorance, disgust, racism, and so much more. You should be ashamed of yourself. Its 2008 loser stop hating and get educated.

    April 4, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  9. Terry Richmond, Va.

    I agree with John in Maryland. A reformed racist? I don't think so! It's just politics.

    April 4, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  10. Tim T.

    Sorry John. Not better late than never. It's called pandering.

    April 4, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  11. richard

    Stick to who you are McCain. These Obamabots made a mistake not researching there candidiate enough and now feel like thay cant change there minds. Way to change your mind Senator. If McCain can change so can you Obamabots.

    April 4, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  12. James McAden

    I am a 76 year old, and as I listen to the Presidental candates, when
    Clinton comes on T. V., it turns me off, same with McCain,
    but Barry O'Bama I can set & listen to him all the time.

    April 4, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |

    This is ridiculous for McCain to be sorry. I would have never apoligised about someone of Kings moral standards. Sure maybe he did do good for civil rights. I'll give him credit for that. But he does not deserve a holiday. My Gosh we have so many people that have done so much more for our country and they didn't get a holiday. Audie Murphy for one. George Patton for another, Gen Icenhower for another Etc. But anyway when a man moral's standards fall to the scale of Martin Luther King's he is not worthy of any holiday. You crucified for and adulterous affair Bill had and it was a fleeting thing. But King had a long lasting Mistress. You want to award him for this. Not me buddy. I condemn character's of this double standard. He has proven out just like the Rev Wright who uses God's name in vain inside of a church. Obama's men. Christians they are not. Praise them by voting for him and that will make you no better.

    April 4, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  14. Nashville Cat

    For the MANY people asking "What was McCain doing during the 60's that he was not aware of MLK?" You seem to have forgotten – he was in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. King was shot in 68, McCain was not released until after the war. Why is this hard?

    April 4, 2008 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  15. Rich

    I don't plan on voting for McCain, but I do admire people in power who will admit when they were wrong. I think this is absolutely essential for a commander-in-chief to be able to do. This is one of the reasons why I would very seriously consider voting for McCain if Clinton somehow gets the democratic nomination.

    April 4, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  16. Bayou Joe

    McCain was not the only one opposed to a MLK holiday. He should not have to aplogize for his opposition. This is a small list of Americans that don't have a Holiday in their honor: Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Davey Crockett, Sam Houston, Booker T. Washington, Abraham Lincoln, etc, etc. Everyone more deserving of a Holiday than MLK. Or how about Christopher Columbus and all the Spanish and French Explorers that discovered this Country.

    April 4, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |

    Mc Cain had to be living under a rock to not know of Dr. Kings legacy. He should be ashamed to even admit this in public.

    April 4, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  18. Remembering Dr. King LA, CA


    Why is McCain wooing the blacks where Dr. King got shot? Why weren’t they there long before now. It's really sad to see McCain can only do something for blacks when he need their votes and when he gets into office he go right back to doing Washington as usual.

    Shame on you McCain, Shame on you...

    April 4, 2008 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  19. McCain is a racist........

    Like Robert E Lee was a racist to not draw his sword against his native Virginia when Virginia chse to secede from the Union in 1861, sorry all you liberal biased, BUT, fact and truth is, the Clinton Obama Feud is only HELPING MCCain,
    McCain Hutchinson '08. PS Good to see the comments back at CNN.com as they were prior to the the war.

    April 4, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  20. Rev. Jenkins

    I respect Mr. McCain apologizing for something he now believes was wrong. This is something HRC doesn't understand. I really do respect his decision to speak out on this subject before November. Saving state money wasn't such a bad reason to vote against the measure.

    Obama 2008

    ABC (Anybody But Clinton)

    April 4, 2008 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  21. The Devil Made Him Do It

    But at the time he didn't think he was wrong, it was probably straight from his heart. I think Arizona was the last state not to recognize Dr. King.

    I'm not buying this admission. He did exactly what he wanted to do, vote against the holiday. And I will do exactly what I want to do, vote against him. But I was going to do that anyway. Now it will feel so much better.

    This country owes a lot to Dr. King. Some people don't think so, but that's there worries, they'll understand someday.

    Obama 08

    April 4, 2008 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  22. Gnosticman

    here's the abbreviated edition in case the first one is too much

    total primary votes for McCain: 5,384,398
    total primary votes for Obama: 11,127,137

    total primary votes for Republicans: 12,658,384 about an average of 372,305 per state
    total primary votes for Democrats: 22,310,661 about an average of 656,195 per state

    total forecasted popular vote in general election for McCain: 37,975,152
    total forecasted popular vote in general election for Obama: 66,931,983

    I don't know how anyone can look at this data and still say Obama has no chance with a straight face!!

    April 4, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  23. Andrea

    While recognizing and appreciating Mr King's efforts, this controversy about the blacks in America is really too much now. Is this race only about the blacks, or the Americans of this country? The blacks are NOT the only folks that have suffered. Many others races have as well. This is plain ridiculous and we need to concentrate on the issues. This is precious time wasted.
    Open your eyes, people, not everyone knows about history. The man was brutally honest and should be commended for that.

    God Help This Country

    April 4, 2008 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  24. CC

    Mary said "Don't feel bad McCain, Obama would not even stop campaigning today to honor MLK."

    If you had a single clue as to what Dr. King was about, you'd know there was no better way in the world for him to honor Dr. King than to campaign as a viable candidate for President.

    April 4, 2008 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  25. Ned, Ok

    I'm an Obama supporter, but I'm actually concerned about John's health. I mean he's had to deal with his health and he's standing in the rain, running around giving speeches. It was a nice jesture, but not necessary. Those folks know the score, it's political posturing.

    You could have sent a nice letter John, and everyone would understand.

    April 4, 2008 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
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