Billboards claiming iconic civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr was a Republican last week appeared in the black neighbourhoods of three Texas cities, angering local residents.
The advertising hoardings erected in Dallas, Houston and Austin by a conservative organisation to encourage African-Americans to ‘Vote Republican!’ have been branded ’disrespectful’ by one Dallas resident.
The Democrats traditionally attract a far higher proportion of black voters than the Republican party.
But Claver Kamau-Imani, the founder of RagingElephants.org, claims he has the documentation to prove Dr King, who was assassinated in 1968, voted Republican.
And he believes his billboards – which proclaim ‘Martin Luther King Jr was a Republican. Vote Republican! – will encourage other African-Americans to join the party.
He told CBS Dallas: ‘The use of Dr King, because of him being an icon in the community, we feel would be most effective. That’s why we used it.
‘We have the documentation to back the claims we’re making on the billboard.’
However, in 2008, Dr King’s son Martin Luther King III said: ‘It is disingenuous to imply that my father was a Republican. He never endorsed any presidential candidate, and there is certainly no evidence that he ever even voted for a Republican.
‘It is even more outrageous to suggest he would support the Republican Party of today, which has spent so much time and effort trying to suppress African-American votes in Florida and many other states.’
One local resident in Dallas, where the billboard has been put on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, criticised the move as ‘disrespectful’.
Aaron Carswell said: ‘It’s a bit disrespectful for what Martin Luther King stood for, and who he was. To use his name in a political fashion, is a bit disrespectful.’
Amid the country’s shifting demographics, Republicans have focused more on reaching out to Hispanics than black voters, who have supported President Barack Obama in overwhelming numbers.
Black Republicans have long been scarce in Congress. Of 26 black Republican House members since 1870, the vast majority served during the post-Civil War Reconstruction days.
In her bid to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, Mia Love is her party’s face of diversity this campaign year.
She is reluctant to embrace the role, saying she doesn’t let race or gender define her politics.
‘I was elected mayor not because of my race or gender, not because I wear high heels, but because of the policies I put in place,’ Ms Love, 36, said in a recent interview.
Polling shows Ms Love with a slight lead over a six-term Democratic incumbent in Utah.
In a party that has struggled for decades to attract black voters, the daughter of Haitian immigrants included subtle nods to civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks in her speech to the Republican National Convention in August.
Ms Love’s parents immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970s. She says her father – who has worked as a painter, janitor and school bus driver – taught her never to ask for a handout. Her parents became U.S. citizens in 1984.
A married mother-of-three, a Mormon and a favourite of the small-government tea party movement, Ms Love is the only woman among 11 black Republican House candidates in the November 6 election.
Republicans have focused more on her conservative values and agenda than her race.
‘We need a party that is diverse based on our issues and not based on simply trying to find greater variety in the complexion,’ said Rep Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of the two black Republicans now in the House.