In that essay, published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, she writes: "King's primary aim was not to change laws, but to change people, to make neighbors of enemies and a nation out of divided races. King led with love, not racial hatred."
Raney says King's message was conservative because he believed in a fixed moral law. She quotes from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which King says a just law was "a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God."
"Conservatives tend to be more deeply religious, to hold to fundamental truths appealing to higher principles and appealing to the founding of America," Raney says in an interview. "More liberals seem to embrace the idea of moral relativism."
Those who argue for King's conservative credentials include a member of the civil rights leader's family.
Alveda King, a niece of King, is an author and activist who has talked often about her uncle's message at conservative rallies. She says he was a believer in traditional values who went on record criticizing homosexuality, defending the traditional family and opposing abortion.
"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.