One of the most moving anti-war speeches during the war in Vietnam was given by Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. The title of his speech was “Beyond Vietnam – A time to Break Silence.” He spoke one year to the day before his death in Memphis.
This was a time when Dr. King’s speeches centered on civil rights. As he said in this speech:
“Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: ‘Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?’ ‘Why are you joining the voices of dissent?’ ‘Peace and civil rights don't mix,’ they say. ‘Aren't you hurting the cause of your people,’ they ask?”
He went on to say:
“Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”
The entire speech is available for reading here or heard here. If you have time on this MLK holiday, please take a few minutes to listen to his Riverside Church speech. It represented an important historic point in American history.
Dr. King’s words still ring true in regard to our wars of today.