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A Time to Break Silence: Dr. King and the Struggle for Peace

By Naomi Nakamura

For this year’s holiday honoring Dr. King, we are printing 3 commentaries on King’s political thinking that are important for understanding today’s situation – Fight Back! editors

In 1967, exactly one year before Dr. King was assassinated, he made an impassioned plea to stop the War in Vietnam. “Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor in Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hope at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”

Dr. King saw the war in Vietnam as a part of a larger problem, saying, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy and laymen concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.”

Dr. King also supported worldwide revolution when he said, “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.’ We in the West must support these revolutions.”

Drawing on his famous “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963, Dr. King made a call for economic justice, racial equality, and peace. “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring our eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when ‘every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.’”

(All quotations are from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “ A Time to Break Silence,” delivered to a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated.)

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