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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s False Statement about the Civil Rights Act

Continuing in her relentless career of not knowing things, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the course of making an grotesque implicit comparison of herself with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., advised the noted scholar Stephen Colbert that important activism is bound to be unpopular. She said: “If you think activism is inherently divisive — I mean, today is Martin Luther King Day. People called Martin Luther King divisive in his time. We forget he was wildly unpopular when advocating for the Civil Rights Act.”

No.

As a matter of fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — and the people supporting it — were pretty popular in their time. From Pew Research:

A Gallup poll in October 1964 reported that the public approved of the new law by nearly two-to-one (58% to 31%). And in April 1965, Gallup found a whopping 76% in favor of a then-proposed equal rights voting law.

What’s more, following the events in Selma:

By a 48% to 21% margin, a Harris poll in May 1965 found its respondents saying they sided more with the civil rights groups involved than with the state of Alabama.

King himself polled pretty well during his advocacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with his favorable ratings reliably outpacing his unfavorable ratings. That changed toward the end of his life, when King took a more radical turn on economic issues, with that loose talk about “democratic socialism.”

Which is to say: King was in reality far from “wildly unpopular” when he was working for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for the more general cause of desegregating public institutions. He grew unpopular when he starting indulging the kind of batty tomfoolery with which Representative Ocasio-Cortez associates herself.

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