On the day before the federal holiday honoring his memory, Vice President Mike Pence tried to channel civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to justify President Donald Trump’s attempts to get funding for a border wall at the U.S. southern border.
“One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,'” Pence said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Pence went on to say that King “changed America,” according to reporting from NBC News.
“He inspired us to change through the legislative process, to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on Congress to do — come to the table in the spirit of good faith.”
Some have been critical of Pence using King’s words to justify building a border wall. If we take a look back at history, there’s a compelling reason why: King spoke vociferously against building walls.
In 1964, just three years after a wall was built by Soviet-aligned East Germany around all of West Berlin, King was invited to give a speech in the west side of the divided city, at an event to honor former President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated less than a year prior. He was also invited to speak in East Berlin as well, a move that would be dangerous considering the Soviet Union’s (and their allies’) severe crackdown on free speech at the time.
Pence says Trump is acting “exactly like” Martin Luther King in demanding a border wall and quotes the “I Have A Dream” speech. pic.twitter.com/twZvIKzn7V— Waleed Shahid (@_waleedshahid) January 20, 2019
King agreed to speak in both sides of the city, a move the U.S. State Department tried to prevent by taking away his passport. Yet he still managed to get across the checkpoint by flashing his American Express card to the guard, reported Time magazine. He delivered a speech there that left no doubt in anyone’s mind how he felt about the Berlin Wall.
“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”
King added within his speech, quoting the Bible from the book of Ephesians, “wherever reconciliation is taking place, wherever men are ‘breaking down the dividing walls of hostility’ which separate them from their brothers, there Christ continues to perform his ministry of reconciliation.”
Although news media in the U.S. gave scant coverage of King’s speeches in Berlin, his words are credited by many as giving inspiration to East Berliners seeking political freedoms in the decades ahead. Indeed, in the 1980s as East Germans were clamoring for more rights, they frequently sang “We Shall Overcome” — an African-American spiritual commonly sang by King himself during his protests in the 1960s.
King is not able today to lend his ideas about the present debate in America about a border wall. But given his past statements on walls, some see it as a big stretch to say he’d be on Trump’s side of the argument. Indeed, King’s son was critical of Pence for invoking his father over the weekend, per reporting from the Hill.
“The vice president attempted to compare the president to Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a bridge builder, not a wall builder,” said Martin Luther King III on Monday.