Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The family of Martin Luther KIng, Jr. and others denounced attempts by the military and Vice President Mike Pence to co-opt the civil rights leader's message. (Photo: Three Lions/Getty Images)

Critics to Mike Pence, US Marine Corps, and the CIA: Sorry, Martin Luther King Jr. Does Not Belong to You

"If MLK Jr. was alive today, Trump would say he wasn't born here and Mike Pence would find a way to justify the criminalization of his work."

Julia Conley

The family of Martin Luther King Jr. was among those who pushed back Monday amid the annual sanitization of the civil rights leader's message, as the nation marked what would have been King's 90th birthday—with Vice President Mike Pence drawing particular rebuke for attempting to co-opt his legacy.

Martin Luther King III, King's son, denounced Pence for invoking King's words in an interview on CBS the previous day. Calling it his favorite line by the civil rights leader, Pence quoted King by saying, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy," and argued that is what Donald Trump is doing by trying to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The original quotation was from King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, in which he called for racial equality and for the same education and job opportunities to be afforded to black Americans as were given to their white counterparts.

King's son noted that his father had been "a bridge builder, not a wall builder," while others condemned Pence's use of the phrase to push Trump's xenophobic, anti-immigration proposal as "grotesque" and "wicked"—especially since the vice president has gone out of his way to make clear the administration's hostility toward the kinds of non-violent demonstrations for racial justice that King promoted. 

Pence was joined by the U.S. Marine Corps in co-opting King's message, as the military arm tweeted his quote,  "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live"—another use of King's words that incensed critics, who noted King's embrace of non-violence and his harsh criticism of the U.S. government for continuing "year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift." 

In response to the Marines' message, The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill tweeted:

Jon Queally (jon@commondreams.org)

Even the CIA got into the act on Monday:

To which social media users mostly responded with images and gifs. For example:

On social media, racial and economic justice advocates issued reminders that King's work went far beyond his memorable speech at the 1963 March on Washington and his work alongside President Lyndon B. Johnson—and was characterized in his final years by his push for workers' rights, his denunciation of the U.S. government's assault on Vietnam, and the Poor People's Campaign, which demanded the "radical redistribution of economic and political power"—which today's progressives continue to face attacks  for pushing.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·


Health Minister Says 'Highly Transmissible' Omicron Hitting Young Children Hard in South Africa

In South Africa's worst-affected province, children under the age of five now make up the second-largest group being admitted to hospitals.

Julia Conley ·


Groups Tell UN Food Agency to Ditch 'Toxic Alliance' With Pesticide Association

"This partnership with CropLife is in direct conflict with FAO's mandate as a U.N. institution to fulfill human rights to health, adequate food, clean water and environment, and safe working conditions."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo