Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (2024)

Martin Luther King III, the son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. said his father “would be gravely disappointed” by North Carolina’s potential first Black governor.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s firebrand GOP gubernatorial candidate, has made waves for controversial comments on a range of issues, including endorsing antisemitic conspiracies and calling hom*osexuality “filth.”

Robinson has also referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as an “ersatz pastor” and “communist” in past Facebook posts.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (1)

Martin Luther King III, 66, a human rights activist himself, is speaking out against the current North Carolina lieutenant governor in a new series of ads.

“But it’s not the petty insults that bother me,” King said in one thirty-second video. “It’s his outright rejection of the Civil Rights movement my father and so many other lived and died for.” Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 in the midst of the civil rights movement and growing anti-Vietnam War protests.

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Robinson claimed previouslythat “so many freedoms were lost” during the civil rights movement, during an appearance on a 2018 podcast first reported by CNN.

“As my father said,” King’s eldest son said in response, “nothing is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (2)

'Nothing like my father'

The videos spotlighting Martin Luther King III are part of a seven-figure campaignby Progress NC Action, a liberal-leaning advocacy organization that has come out hard against Robinson's gubernatorial bid.

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In response, a spokesman for Robinson's campaign criticized the group as "another far-left, partisan group pushing extremist priorities."

"They’re completely out of step with North Carolinians and desperate to cover up the racist smears from Joe Biden, Josh Stein and the Democrats," said Mike Lonergan, the campaign's communications director, referring to Robinson’s opponent and North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.

If elected in November, Robinson would be the state's first Black governor.

Running on social media, streaming television, online and print media, the ads launched on Father’s Day Sunday and ahead of Juneteenth, a federal holiday honoring the events of June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas when the last enslaved Black Americans were ordered free.

King told USA TODAY he felt called to weigh in on what is expected to be the most contentious race for governor in 2024.

“Mark Robinson's history of racist, hom*ophobic, and bigoted comments show that he is unfit to lead in North Carolina,” King said in a statement, adding that he and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, "felt that it was necessary to speak out against his—and the former President's—usage of my father's name to promote hatred.”

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (3)

Former President and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has given Robinson his full endorsem*nt. And in the process referred to the North Carolina conservative as “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

“I told that to Mark,” Trump said at a rally in North Carolina days ahead of Super Tuesday and the state’s primary elections March 5. “I said, I think you’re better than Martin Luther King. I think you are Martin Luther King times two.”

King called the remarks an insult to his father and family’s name.

“We have spent our lives fighting against the hate that Lt. Gov. Robinson propagates on a daily basis,” he told USA TODAY in a statement, “and we want to be clear: My father would not support Mark Robinson, and Mark Robinson is nothing like my father.”

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (4)

Raleigh Pastor Mitch Summerfield, who said he was “100% appalled” by Robinson’s statements on the civil rights movement, said watching the videos of King “brought chills.”

“I was like, wow, that was so eloquently said, but so true,” Summerfield said. “That just spoke volumes to me.”

Stakes are high in the Tar Heel State

Robinson and Stein’s contest stands to be 2024’s marquee gubernatorial race, while their state is being closely watched as the electorate that could help decide the presidency.

North Carolina – once reliably red for Republican White House contenders – is now a southern battleground Democrats believe they have a shot at taking this November.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (5)

Trump carried the state in 2020, but by 1.3%– his smallest margin of victory that election. In 2016, Trump won in North Carolina, defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 3.6%.

Still, the former president leads current President Joe Biden by five percentage points in a poll published earlier this month by East Carolina University Center for Survey Research.

And in that same survey, Robinson and Stein are neck-and-neck, with the Democratic nominee leading by just a point.

Summerfield, who put together a hard copy collection of Robinson's past comments to share with his congregation, has been encouraging people to get out and vote. He believes the new campaign with King will get people’s attention.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (6)

“The things that he's been saying,” Summerfield said of Robinson. “These are the things that, you know, a religious leader and political person should not be making, these are statements that should not come out of their mouth.”

Robinson, identifying himself as an evangelical Christian,has addressed church congregations and Christian audiences on multiple occasions.

“A huge percentage of Americans today go to church, especially African Americans,” Summerfield said. “If he can get in front of them, I mean, it can really be detrimental ... I do believe that he uses his theology as a weapon.”

Robinson goes back and forth on civil rights movement

Democrats in the state, including Stein, have sought to use Robinson’s past statements against him, particularly with North Carolina’s high share of unaffiliated voters.

Many of those controversial remarks come from Robinson’s pre-politics days.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (7)

Robinson first captured attention in 2018 speaking as a resident during a Greensboro City Council meeting. His fervent defense of gun rights went viral and soon after Robinson rose to fame in conservative circles.

His first foray into politics followed, and in 2020, Robinson became North Carolina’s first Black lieutenant governor.

Robinson has since softened some of his public rhetoric, even contradicting his past claims.

In his 2018 podcast appearance, Robinson called the 1960 Woolworth lunch counter sit-in protests in Greensboro – his hometown – “a ridiculous premise.”

“You go down there, and you sit at the lunch counter, and you demand for these people to take your money. How crazy is that?” he said at the time.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (8)

Robinson visited the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum, the site of the former lunch counter and protests, last August. While there, the GOP candidate called it "an honor to be called a citizen of Greensboro."

"I think it's great that this cityholds the distinction for starting the movement that changed the face of the entire nation," Robinson said then.

Robinson has also earned the endorsem*nt of one of the sit-in participants, Clarence Henderson.

“I tell you what, I couldn’t be more proud of what you did in the past,” Robinson told Henderson in a video of the pair posted to social media last May.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s son blasts North Carolina Republican Mark Robinson (2024)

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