"Martin Luther king Jr. was a preacher and a liberator," she says. "It's natural for what's called conservative values to align with who he was because he was a pastor. He was not so much a fiscal conservative, but more so a moral conservative."
King's original civil rights message was also conservative because he preached self-help to beleaguered black communities, argues Joel Schwartz, an author of an essay entitled "Where Dr. King Went Wrong."
Schwartz says King grew up in a household where his father taught hard work and self-discipline. King championed these virtues, he says. He even criticized black schoolteachers who couldn't speak proper English.
In his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community," King said if blacks practiced thrift and wise investment "the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation."
King preached self-help so much because blacks didn't have other options in the early stages of the movement, says Schwartz, author of "Fighting Poverty with Virtue: Moral Reform and America's Urban Poor, 1825-2000."
"He was not in a position to say to blacks 'vote the scoundrels out of office and elect people who benefit you' because blacks couldn't vote, " Schwartz says. "The only thing they could possibly control was their own behavior and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities available to them."
King "went wrong" when he abandoned his self-help message during the last years of his life as he took the civil rights movement North, Schwartz says. He and some of his aides were so disheartened by the dysfunction of the black underclass in the North that they had to look for another solution.
"How could self-help be the road to success for people who," King and his aides had concluded, "seemed bent on destroying themselves," Schwartz writes.
"The only answer the later King could see to these economic and social problems was for government to step in and make things better."
King talks about redistribution of wealth
King took the movement to the North starting in 1966 when he led a campaign against urban poverty in Chicago. The evolution of his message is evident in his books and speeches.
Most historians think King was getting more radical, not conservative, at the end of his life.
King concluded that racism wasn't the only problem: War and poverty were the others. He came out against the Vietnam War. He called for the nationalization of some industries and a guaranteed annual wage.
His most audacious plan was a forerunner of today's Occupy Movement. By 1968, King was preparing to lead a "Poor People's Campaign" to Washington. A coalition of poor blacks, Native Americas, Latinos and whites from Appalachia would occupy Washington and force the government to take money spent on Vietnam and use it instead to combat poverty. The campaign muddled on after King's assassination, but quickly fell apart without his leadership.
In a documentary entitled "Citizen King," the leader is shown speaking to a church audience as he prepared his nonviolent army of poor people for Washington.
"It didn't cost the nation a penny to open lunch counters. It didn't cost the nation a penny to give us the right to vote," he said. "But it will cost the nation billions to feed and house all of its citizens. The country needs a radical redistribution of wealth."
King's aides defend leader's record
Some of King's closest aides are baffled at the argument that King opposed affirmative action policies. They say the public record is clear: King openly supported such policies.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group he led, created a program called Operation Breadbasket that called for companies to hire a certain number of blacks. In King's book "Why We Can't Wait," he recounts his travels to India where he expressed approval for that government's attempts to remedy the historical discrimination of "the untouchables" through compensatory programs.
King also argued that just as the nation had given preferential treatment to soldiers returning from World War II through the GI Bill, it should do the same for blacks in the realms of jobs and education.
"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro," King wrote in "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community."
Conservatives don't like to talk about that version of King, says those who knew the civil rights leader.
"This is just an attempt to hoodwink people about who Martin Luther King Jr. was," says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, part of King's inner-circle at the SCLC.
"He would have never advocated that people should be judged by their color," Lowery says. "He never advocated that. What he advocated was that people should not be discriminated against because of their color. That's entirely different."
The notion that self-help and liberal politics can't co-exist is wrong as well, Lowery says. They've existed for years in the black church, the institution that spawned King.