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On April 4, 1967 one year to the day before his assassination Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made a major address on the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York. It was the first time King would tell the world why he opposed the war, saying that his “conscience [left him] no other choice.”
We rarely hear about King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in the mass media, and glossy retrospectives on network television often fast forward from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, to the Voting Rights Act victory of 1965, to the image of King dead on the balcony of a Memphis motel in 1968. What about King’s call for the United States to get on “the right side of the world revolution?” Or, his denunciation of what he called the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism?
On this special edition of Making Contact, we take a look at Martin Luther King’s stance against the Vietnam war and its relevance today.
In the mid-1960s two major social movements were underway in the United States. One, the civil rights movement, was reaching a crescendo with civil and voting rights legislation in the works. The other, the anti-Vietnam war movement, was just taking shape. It was also a time of domestic upheaval, as frustration among urban blacks spilled over into riots. The message of non-violence advocated by Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders seemed to be losing its appeal.
Excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967:
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government…. There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, “Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,” but will curse and damn you when you say, “Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children!” There is something wrong with that press….” Listen to clip (mp3)
“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values….When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered….”Listen to clip (mp3)
“Don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as His divine messianic force to be — a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America: ‘You are too arrogant! If you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power””Listen to clip (mp3)
For more information :
Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda –Atlanta, GA
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) –Los Angeles, CA
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project –Stanford, CA
Montgomery Transportation Coalition –Montgomery, AL
Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ –Washington, DC