By Sheryl Estrada
A controversial photo on the Instagram account of “students4trump” at the University of South Florida (USF) is gaining massive attention. The university’s bust of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is pictured wearing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” red cap, with the caption, “MLK KNOWS … #Trump 2016.”
The photo appears to be a screen grab from Snapchat. The student political group posted it on Instagram the same week asthe anniversary of King’s death on April 4.
So far, the picture has gotten almost 2,700 likes and more than 1,300 comments, such as “This is egregious,” “He would be ashamed” and “The image is the epitome of contradiction. Martin Luther King Jr. fought to actually make America great.”
The debate spilled over to Twitter on Sunday:
@Steph_Lynn_C You can’t control how another person feels. Even if you think it’s just a joke. It’s extremely offensive to someone else.
Rena (@SimplyJustRena) April 11, 2016
According to the NY Daily News, USF spokesman Adam Freeman said administrators do not know who placed the hat on the bust, and it’s no longer there.
In 1982, the Black Student Union and USF Student Government collaborated on establishing a plaza on campus dedicated to Dr. King. Ten years later, the original bust of MLK was placed in the plaza.In 1996, the bronze bust was recast to include a neck and shoulders and was mounted on a granite pedestal. Since then it has been subject to vandalism.
According to the USF website:
In 2002 the bust was removed from its granite pedestal by a vandal and thrown into the reflecting pond. The fortunate aspect is that the bust wasn’t damaged and could be set back in place. Unfortunately, the following year someone tried to pry the bust off the granite, bending some of the supporting rods. They only managed to lift it about a quarter of an inch off the platform. But it still took two months to make the repairs.
USF, located in Tampa, currently has 30,376 undergraduate students. The student body is 55 percent white, 20 percent Latino, 11 percent Black, 6 percent Asian and less than 1 percent American Indian.
“I think it’s pretty disrespectful, considering it’s MLK,” a student said to WTSP regarding the hat being placed on the MLK bust. “I’m kind of disappointed in the student population if it was a student that did this.”
Another student added, “I think that also MLK and Donald Trump had two very different political prerogatives. So I think you have to respect both of their views separately.”
Perhaps Students for Trump are buying into the popular myth that Dr. King was a Republican. That wasn’t the case.
“Dr. King never believed in any kind of party identification,” Rev. Lewis Baldwin, an expert on King and a professor emeritus of religious studies at Vanderbilt University, said in an interview with CNN in January. “He never allowed himself to become closely aligned with partisan politics. He occasionally said that that both the Democratic and Republican Party had betrayed his people.”
In the early to mid-20th century, many Blacks were Republicans, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., as then the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Liberator. But as Democratic presidents began championing civil rights in the mid- to late 20th century, that party identification started to change.King Sr. publicly shifted allegiance to the Democrats when President John F. Kennedy advocated for his son.
King said in a 1958 interview at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., “I don’t think the Republican party is a party full of the almighty God nor is the Democratic party. They both have weaknesses And I’m not inextricably bound to either party.”
Dr. Alveda C. King, MLK’s niece, wrote in a 2013 article, “Uncle M. L. was an independent, who in his own words tended to vote Democrat.”
King did speak out against the Republican Party as he was critical of the selection of Barry Goldwater, an archconservative, as its 1964 presidential candidate. In chapter 23 of “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” he wrote:
The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right
Dr. King described Goldwater’s perspective as “narrow nationalism, a crippling isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
He urged Americans not to vote for him:
In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
Trump’s rhetoric, such as building a wall to keep out immigrants and condoning violence at rallies, doesn’t coincide with Dr. King’s perspective.
“Dr. King was a thoughtful defender of freedom and liberty,” DiversityIncCEO Luke Visconti wrote.”We can give full credit to him for two of the most important pieces of legislation that buttressed and clarified our Constitution’s intent in the last 100 years, the Civil Rights Act and The Voting Rights Act.”