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Cameron gets panned

Quoting Dr. King is one thing. Living like Dr. King is something else entirely.

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On the recent 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream" speech, Daniel Cameron posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he hoped the country will “continue  to work toward [King’s] … vision of a nation where we judge a person, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Cameron, a conservative Republican and Kentucky’s first Black attorney general, wants to be the Bluegrass State’s first Black governor. He’s challenging incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear, a moderate.

It seems that Cameron never misses a chance to burnish his MAGA creds. On his X page, he bills himself as “Trump-Endorsed Republican Candidate for Kentucky Governor.”

Cameron probably expected his post would reap plaudits aplenty. But most commenters panned him, often pointedly: “Martin would be disappointed in you.” “A person of character would be ashamed of Trump’s endorsement. Not bragging about it.” “You can't be a Trumper and be for the principles that MLK stood for.” “You do realize you are in the party of hate!!! The GOP doesn’t stand with Dr. King.” (Click here to see all of the comments.)

Murray State University historian Brian Clardy wasn’t surprised at the mostly negative responses Cameron collected.

He said the AG, like many conservatives, quotes King out of context. “Yes, King called for a colorblind society and called for an end to racism. But he always talked about restorative justice. King stressed policy solutions to end racism.”

Elsewhere in King’s speech — which Cameron posted in its entirety — he said that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation “the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.”

On The ReidOut, Joy Reid’s MSNBC show, Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer also called out conservative Republicans for “cherry-picking” King’s legacy. She said King “understood this idea that we will never be free until we help emancipate all people in this country, especially Black people, but all people who are living under the thumb of patriarchy, anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and capitalism, and that’s the larger message of Dr. King that Republicans absolutely don’t want to address, and they are doing their best to try to ignore the … reality of so many of his writings and teachings.”

Clardy challenged conservatives: “Look at [King’s] ‘Letter from the Birmingham Jail.’ Look at his speech at Selma. Look at his Nobel Prize speech. Look at his final speech in Memphis.”

In his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, which he gave the night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, King said, “we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

“That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.” 

Clardy also said that Cameron represents only a tiny fraction of Black opinion. “He is not a spokesperson for the Black community. He is a useful puppet for the white power structure. Whites can say, ‘See, we’re not racist. He’s one of them who agrees with us.’”

Clardy’s words echo a 2020 Baptist News Global column by Texan Alan Bean, a former Baptist pastor who is executive director of Friends of Justice, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform. 

Bean, who earned a Ph.D. in church history from Louisville’s Southern Baptist Seminary, wrote his column after Cameron’s Republican National Convention speech in which the AG blasted Black Lives Matter protesters as “anarchists” guilty of an “all-out assault on western civilization,” and after he “announced that no one would be indicted in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor.”

Bean wrote that “Cameron is a smart guy, a gifted speaker, and a savvy politician. But he would never have advanced so far, so fast, if he didn’t understand his role: The Black Guy Who Loves Donald Trump. (In 2022, former State Rep. Charles Booker, who is also Black, ran for the U.S. Senate as a liberal, anti-Trump Democrat against hard-right Trump Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Booker got only 38.2 percent of the vote.)

Bean added, “To be persuasive, Kentucky’s first Black attorney general has to remain in character at all times. A sweeping criticism of the Louisville police department probably wouldn’t have mollified Breonna’s supporters, and it would have horrified Trump, McConnell, and the white electorate that placed the AG in office. Cameron did what he had to do.”

Bean proposed a pair of explanations for Cameron’s willing role as The Black Guy Who Loves Donald Trump: “Maybe Cameron never was introduced to the ugly details of Black chattel slavery, the gruesome legacy of lynch law, or the unsavory relationship between Confederate statuary and the canons of white supremacy.

“Alternatively, Cameron is fully briefed on these abominations, but has decided to play to the sensitivities of his white constituency. The first option is the most charitable. And the most appalling. You can’t be a sell-out if you have nothing to sell.”

Clardy thinks the second explanation best fits Cameron. “He knows better, but he doesn’t care.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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