The FBI were plainly happy that he died, seeing as how they tried to get him to commit suicide
In death, there was a push to make sure he wasn't a martyr by making him, "a Ghandi-type figure," and strip him of anything remotely revolutionary so that he could fit snuggly in central political thought, and today, be reimagined as a right-wing reactionary that would (for some reason) violently oppose his disciples that all worked with him. He was, so the National Review typical of many very conservative elements say:
The National Review wrote:Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of this at the time. They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. Those principles weren’t wrong, exactly; they were tragically misapplied, given the moral and historical context. It is a mark of the success of King’s movement that almost all Americans can now see its necessity.
Another mark is the decrepitude of today’s civil-rights movement. The evils the movement fought — state-sponsored segregation, pervasive racial discrimination — have been vanquished. In their place are evils that are, alas, less amenable to marches. And so King’s heirs flail about. Where he spoke of a “bank of justice,” they just trade in grievances. Today Al Sharpton, whose chief political success has been to foment enough racial hatred to yield arson and murder, can present himself as a civil-rights leader without much fear of contradiction. We will have to look elsewhere for answers to the evils that now afflict Americans, and especially blacks: lousy schools, a thriving drug trade and a misguided governmental response, the collapse of marriage.
On anniversaries like this one, left-wingers sometimes lament that King is not remembered in full. They say that he was hostile to capitalism and to the Vietnam War. It is a historically accurate point, and it is a historically irrelevant point. King is a national hero because of the American ideals he championed and brought much closer to realization. It is the march of those ideals that we commemorate this week.
Which is essentially saying, "A lot of reactionaries, like us, were worried about what civil-rights might do to white privilege. His actual program was never implemented, so I guess things are fine. His colleagues that are still alive are dangerous lunatics that must be stopped. Sure history may be against us, but that doesn't actually matter because we won anyway. And that's why we remember Martin Luther King so fondly on the right!"
And what were these things never implemented that the right feels they can try to celebrate?
1. A national program that would make employment a right of every American, meaning the federal government would employ every unemployed person
2. He was opposed to capitalism (though as a social democrat instead of a Leninist).
MLK wrote:I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz., to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. So I think Bellamy is right in seeing the gradual decline of capitalism.
I think you noticed that Bellamy emphasized that the change would be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. This, it seems to me, is the most sane and ethical way for social change to take place.
MLK wrote:[In opposition to the bills passed before and in beginning a campaign for, "a redistribution of economic power"[ We are now making demands that will cost the nation something. You can't talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can't raalk about ending slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You're really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk them. You are messing with the captains of industry...New this means that we are treading in difficult wanters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong...with capitalism...They must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.
3. Even though he was a minister, he was an ardent advocate of Planned Parenthood, serving on one of its committees
, and was an advocate of "family planning."Awards in his life received by Planned Parenthood
. The acceptance speech in the link is a stinging rebuttal to conservative attempts to try and rewrite reality so Planned Parenthood is somehow creating a black genocide
And there are other things that have been revised to try and make MLK fit into one form of contemporary thought or another. So to get back to the OP, what did whites think at the time in the US, it depended on the age, region, and place.
My grandparents were saddened. While they had nothing against blacks per se, my grandmother especially voted upon ethnic lines. She would only vote for someone that was Irish and wouldn't do so for someone that was German, Indian, British, Black, whatever. My grandfathers and other grandmother would have voted straight down the Democratic ticket as good Northern New Dealers. As immigrants themselves, they were upset by injustice and sympathized with MLK in the main. Perhaps more than anything, they very much disliked the movements opposed to King. Further, losing Kennedy just before (especially my Irish grandparents) underlined the unfairness of it all and made them sympathize with him.
Northerners younger than my grandparents, and my own (much younger) parents had a lot more sympathy for King. The South was pushing laws and a culture long since past its prime because of political institutions and compromises made. By the time King was out there, virtually everyone my parents' age already agreed with him that there needed to be a lot of reform for some of that stuff. It is roughly comparable to how young people feel about sodomy. Hetrosexual people do it, homosexual people do it, or you don't have to do it, and it's no big deal. Whereas my grandparents would have found sodomy, of any kind, such an affront to nature that they wouldn't even be able to understand what you were talking about. I know this as my grandmother asked my mother, apparently, what sodomy was and she couldn't grasp it at all.
So far as Mad Men, a bunch of wealthy youngish people in New York would have been sympathetic to Martin Luther King. Older ones, I feel confident in saying, would have not liked that someone was going around the country with a rifle and shooting people. It would be different in the South and maybe other rural areas.
Alis Volat Propriis; Tiocfaidh ár lá; Proletarier Aller Länder, Vereinigt Euch!