The campaign that was created to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement initially faced major opposition from members of the Republican party. When a bill was proposed to create a holiday honoring King, Ronald Reagan, who was president at the time, strongly opposed the idea. Reagan believed that believed that creating a holiday for King would cause other racial groups to request holidays of a similar nature.
In addition to Reagan’s opposition, other Republicans like Dick Cheney and Ron Paul voiced their opposition to the holiday as well. Former Republican Senator Jesse Helms even led a campaign against the holiday, which centered around the fact that he believed King was a “communist sympathizer.” During the 1980s, the bill was debated in Congress. Republicans continued to voice their concerns, saying that the rest of the country had been brainwashed into believing that King was a hero.
Today, certain states with a Republican majority only observe King’s holiday jointly with Robert E. Lee’s birthday and do not consider Martin Luther King Jr. Day a celebration of its own. There are even nine current Republican members of Congress who voted against the creation of the holiday back in 1983. These opposing members from the Senate include, Richard Shelby, Chuck Grassley, John McCain, and Orrin Hatch. Those who opposed the bill from the House include, Jim Sensenbrenner, Hal Rogers, John Culberson, Steve Scalise, and Johnny Isakson.
Some Republican politicians who originally opposed the holiday have grown to accept it, stating that their opposing beliefs would be out of fashion today, so they choose to side with the majority. Both Reagan and Cheney ended up supporting the bill in 1983 after they realized that the overwhelming majority of voters were in favor of it. Additionally, Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch say that, if given the chance, they would have voted differently. Other Republicans, like Steve Scalise, remain steadfast in their original opposition to the holiday. Certain Republicans also still oppose major civil rights issues, which hinders African Americans who are still fighting to be treated as equals.