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. hmmm...

    I guess I'm in the minority (pun intended – since I literally and figuratively am) but I can understand why he voted no and can appreciate when someone is willing to take an opposing view in the face of potential ridicule or detriment to his political career.

    I am very fortunate for the things that Martin Luther King Jr. did for the Civil Rights movement and as a Black woman recognize that my existence would be that much harder without the efforts of those that came before me, but I don't need one particular day to honor those people. I do it every day. So for those that are peeved because McCain gave fiscal thought to his decision at the time, get over yourself. (except for the Public Enemy reference, that was kinda clever)

    April 4, 2008 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  2. Sarah

    Oh sure. Its simple: He voted against it, because he is against it.

    April 4, 2008 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  3. J, North Carolina

    Why aren't we off for PRESIDENT'S Day? Or any of our fomer President's Birthdays?

    April 4, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  4. Sonia CA

    It only took McCain SOME YEARS to realized "he made a mistake" who are you kidding Mc? your kids? your barbie? Let's face it........... you did not and do not care about African Americans just like the rest of the Republicans! LET'S BE DIRECT! OK?

    April 4, 2008 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  5. demo craxy

    mmm.............. just like he is wrong to go for the war!!!!

    wrong wrong and wrong

    McCain and Clinton one and the same

    soon Clinton will say, it was wrong to say: Obama can not win.

    these people are sad cases

    April 4, 2008 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. Jim, Mpls

    McCain is going to be steamrolled in November. Obama will destroy him by double digits.
    Period. The end.

    April 4, 2008 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  7. I used to be a Democrat

    This is exactly why Americans elect older Presidents. They are wiser than younger people and learn from their mistakes.

    Obama has no chance of beating McCain.

    April 4, 2008 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  8. Spider


    You probably shouldn't hope for your messiah, Obama, to debate. When it comes to debating he is a masterdebater.

    "Ummm....er...umm. I agree."

    Unless Barack has a prepared speech and a teleprompter he cannot speak.

    April 4, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  9. Kaci

    This is a joke, right? He was not aware of King's legacy? And you want to be my president? King's legacy and his prominence in the civil rights movement was cemented long before you became a POW Mr. McCain. Where were you? You should be ashamed of yourself.

    April 4, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  10. Unshrub

    He was wrong about MLK, he was wrong about Keating with the Savings and Loans, he was wrong about Iraq... He seems to have a record of being wrong.

    April 4, 2008 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  11. Jason

    McCain was a prisoner for five and a half years when MLK was killed.
    McCain's adopted a minority baby. McCain supports affirmative action. McCain is not a racist. He was against all holidays back then. He is a small government conservative.

    April 4, 2008 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  12. Ben

    This guy will not be the next president! His personal life is enough to tell us his not a conservative...his WILD!!

    April 4, 2008 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  13. peter

    Everyone who is bashing McCain can quit it. He clearly states he was a junior senator at the time he made this mistake and rightfully has admitted it. And yes he was unaware of his legacy because he was stuck in a jail being tortured in Vietnam at the time which he also states so why don't you all actually read the article instead of just the headline before you comment. 10 yrs of history is a lot to read up on aftre getting back from being tortured for 10 yrs so get off your high horse

    April 4, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  14. ART in TX

    Obama pays tribute to Dr. King all the time. I'm sure he didn't skip the event in disrespect. After all, Dr. King is the reason Obama is able to run for prez today. I'm sure he knows that.

    April 4, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  15. Ian

    If he wasn't aware of something so important, such as MLK's legacy, then how could he possibly be aware of what's happening outside the U.S.?

    I'm still voting for Ron Paul, the man who wanted to donate his own money towards a medal for Rosa Parks.

    April 4, 2008 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  16. Nick D

    What American wouldn't want to honor a guy who cheated on his wife and his taxes?

    April 4, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  17. kevin

    Flip Flop....sure I can understand he would change his mind. I somehow wonder though if it came from the heart or political posture. I was a hell of a lot younger then. I knew his greatness then. I knew his dedication to peaceful civil disobedience. McCain...too late for my respect on this and many other issues.

    April 4, 2008 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  18. Chris in Va.

    While I am not a John McCain fan I do admire his honesty. Takes cajones to admit your mistakes. Hillary Clinton could take lessons from him.

    April 4, 2008 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  19. Charlotte

    All republician politicians are against a paid day off for workers. It has nothing to do with recognition. If they had their way we would work on Christmas. Some of us have, but thanks to unions it's usually for double time and a half.

    April 4, 2008 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  20. Dashingdiva73

    P-A-N-D-E-R-I-N-G. And I am tired of it.

    April 4, 2008 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  21. Tyrone Brown, Seattle, WA

    I am an Obama supporter (one the 400,000 first-time / small donors supporting his campaign) and I have to say that I am shocked. Not that McCain vote against the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday back in the 1980's. No, shocked that he is enlightened enough to see and admit the he made a mistake.

    How very un-Republican of him. Jesse Helm's is probably rolling in his grave, while Dr. King is looking down smiling.

    Obama '08

    April 4, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  22. Craig in Texas Democrat and supporter for Obama

    Well im not gonna even say jack about that cause he probably thought he was just another blackman why should we have a day to celebrate him. Thats a republican for you.

    April 4, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  23. kim j

    Thanks Senator McCain. I think it takes a real person to admit there mistakes. If Obama doesn't win you have my vote.

    April 4, 2008 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  24. Patty Atlanta GA

    Just sickening!

    Stop the lying you adulterous loser. Just go into retirement with you drug addicted milionairess wife at you side. Bring Back HUCKABEE

    April 4, 2008 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  25. JO

    Oh yes, MLK ranks right up there with Washington, Lincoln and JFK....right!

    April 4, 2008 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13