Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”

(1967)

On April 4, 1967, one of America’s greatest orators gave a speech on a subject he had previously been reluctant to address. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the preeminent civil rights leader of the 1960s, but as he stood in the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City his topic was the Vietnam War. King had been an eloquent advocate of African American civil rights and a fearless opponent of racial bigotry. His words and deeds helped secure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King, however, had said little in public about the Vietnam War, where large numbers of Americans troops were fighting and dying during 1965 and 1966. When he raised questions about the war or called for peace talks, critics replied that he was not qualified to speak about foreign policy. Friends counseled him to keep his distance from the controversies over the war lest he jeopardize support for the civil rights movement. By 1967, however, King felt compelled to...

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Martin Luther King, Jr. (Library of Congress)

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