The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was called a communist, an outside agitator, and a drum major for righteousness.
But now a growing number of people are calling King something else: A conservative icon.
As the nation celebrates King's national holiday Monday, a new battle has erupted over his legacy. Some conservatives are saying it's time for them to reclaim the legacy of King, whose message of self-help, patriotism and a colorblind America, they say, was "fundamentally conservative."
But those who marched with King and studied his work say that notion is absurd. The political class that once opposed King, they argue, is now trying to distort his message.
King's most famous words are the crux of the disagreement.
"He was against all policies based on race," says Peter Schramm, a conservative historian. "The basis of his attack on segregation was 'judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.' That's a profound moral argument."
Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of a trilogy on King, says some conservatives are invoking a phantom version of King to avoid dealing with contemporary racial issues.
"They want to claim they understand Dr. King better than Dr. King did," says Branch, author of "Parting the Waters."
A quick look at King's books and speeches, Branch and others argue, reveals that his message was not conservative, but radical.
The man who started calling King a conservative