Date of Award

5-22-2011

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

American Studies

First Advisor

Cotten Seiler

Language

English

Abstract

This paper argues that conservatives have invoked the memory of Martin Luther King in the decades since his death to several crucial ends: to shed the conservative movement’s associations with opposition to popular ‘60s civil rights measures, to frame the American civil rights movement as having conformed to narratives that justify the aims of the conservative movement, to obscure the true ideological diversity of the civil rights movement, and to remove from the contemporary political consciousness the radical challenge civil rights made to fundamental structures of American politics and life.

Using Stuart Hall’s theory of articulation, and the concept of cultural hegemony, this analysis considers the right’s attraction to King’s image specifically, the radical challenge that was King’s late career, the telling behind-the-scenes struggles in establishing the King national holiday, and conservative politicians and thinkers’ frequent fusion of King’s words with their own in advocating for a variety of specific policies, particularly attacks on affirmative action, following that holiday’s creation. The paper concludes with an examination of the larger meaning of King’s appropriation in terms of public understanding of the civil rights movement and representations of change, protest and the left in today’s American political discourse.

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