Martin Luther King Jr.'s Son to Steve Bannon: No, My Dad Would Not Be Proud of Trump

The eldest son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Steve Bannon's assertion that his father "would be proud" of President Donald Trump and what the administration has done for black people.

Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and Trump 2016 campaign chief, made the claim on the U.K.'s BBC Newsnight program, citing record-low unemployment rates for black and Hispanic people as the reason.

But King Jr.'s son Martin Luther King III told Newsweek that Bannon's suggestion is "not accurate" and that he lacks understanding of what his father stood for.

"People sometimes say things and really don't necessarily have a full understanding," said King, a human rights activist. "I'm certainly sure Steve Bannon means well, but what he's saying is not accurate. I think my father would, as he always did, challenge President Trump tremendously. He challenged all presidents."

Martin Luther King III at a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Statuary Hall, at the U.S. Capitol, on April 12. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

King said President Trump is "tone-deaf when it comes to communities of color. What I mean by that is we have to go back to Charlottesville, where he talked about the neo-Nazi and hate groups who were demonstrating.

"It seems to me that when you characterize that group of people as 'good' people, that is certainly not an understanding of who Martin Luther King Jr. was and what he represented. That's just one of many things."

King continued, "The question I have is, is the president a uniter, or does he do things that create division? Thus far, a lot of what he has said created division. Around issues of immigration, around issues even of things like housing."

The unemployment rate for black people hit a record-low 6.6 percent in April 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hispanic unemployment was at its record-low rate of 4.8 percent in the same month.

Both rates have been in steady decline since peaking around 2011, and that fall has not accelerated alongside Trump's presidency, which is partly defined by a vaunted crackdown on illegal immigration.

Bannon, who has been touring Europe to learn from populist and hard-right parties winning in places such as Hungary and Italy, told the BBC, "Donald Trump has the lowest black unemployment in history. Donald Trump has the lowest Hispanic unemployment in 25 years.

"If you look at the policies of Donald Trump, OK, anybody—Martin Luther King would be proud of him and what he's done for the black and Hispanic community for jobs."

The self-described "economic nationalist" went on to suggest that King would be happy that Trump "finally stopped the illegal alien labor forces coming in and competing with them every day and destroying the schools and destroying the health care."

"There's nothing wrong with conservatism," King told Newsweek. "I think sometimes conservatism is good. But the problem is we are beyond extremely conservative, as opposed to figuring out how we move forward as a nation. How we move forward in a unified way and not a divided way. So I certainly could not agree with Steve Bannon's characterization.

"And I think my father on many fronts would challenge this administration. The administration has got to do better. We've got to become a united nation. United we stand, divided we fall.

"I don't know if that is [Trump's] nature, to be a uniter. His nature is to feel a sense of winning. But what will change that is in November, if he loses the House and the Senate."

King said that many people, including elected officials, invoked his father's name for their causes, "but they don't necessarily have a true understanding of who Martin Luther King was."

For example, some on the right argue that King was opposed to affirmative action because in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech he said he wanted his children to "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

However, King's son said his father was actually a supporter of affirmative action "because historically, communities of color had been excluded from the process.

"So they choose little tidbits of what he said and not the full message in its totality," he said. "The good thing is at least they're talking about him. I think we have to work to help them understand and interpret truly what he said and what he meant."

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at age 39 on April 4, 1968, after a long and successful nonviolent campaign for black civil rights.