Today marks the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by a rabid racist at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a year to the day that he gave a speech that is lesser-known, but infinitely more powerful than, the often-mentioned but woefully mis-quoted “I Have a Dream” speech. The “Beyond Vietnam” speech, given at Riverside Church on 4 April 1967, caused his relationship with the Johnson administration to deteriorate:
“King had been a solid supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society, but he became increasingly concerned about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and, as his concerns became more public, his relationship with the Johnson administration deteriorated. King came to view U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia as little more than imperialism. Additionally, he believed that the Vietnam War diverted money and attention from domestic programs created to aid the black poor. Furthermore, he said, ‘the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home…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.’” King maintained his antiwar stance and supported peace movements until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, one year to the day after delivering his Beyond Vietnam speech.”
That deterioration is prime evidence of the way white people expect Black people to toe the line of “respectability politics” by “taking the high road” while demanding that we “know our place.” If we dare speak out about our personal experiences in an open, honest fashion, whites close their ears, turn their backs, and accuse us of being “unreasonable” and “racially charged” – the same accusations which were levied against Dr. King during even the most peaceful marches he organized.
Dr. King was instrumental in advancing the cause for equality, even in the face of segregation, Jim Crow laws, and personal attacks on both himself and his family. He accomplished much in just under 13 years:
“Some of Dr. King’s most important achievements include:
~ In 1955, he was recruited to serve as spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a campaign by the African-American population of Montgomery, Alabama to force integration of the city’s bus lines. After 381 days of nearly universal participation by citizens of the black community, many of whom had to walk miles to work each day as a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transportation was unconstitutional.
~ In 1957, Dr. King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization designed to provide new leadership for the now burgeoning civil rights movement. He would serve as head of the SCLC until his assassination in 1968, a period during which he would emerge as the most important social leader of the modern American civil rights movement.
~ In 1963, he led a coalition of numerous civil rights groups in a nonviolent campaign aimed at Birmingham, Alabama, which at the time was described as the “most segregated city in America.” The subsequent brutality of the city’s police, illustrated most vividly by television images of young blacks being assaulted by dogs and water hoses, led to a national outrage resulting in a push for unprecedented civil rights legislation. It was during this campaign that Dr. King drafted the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the manifesto of Dr. King’s philosophy and tactics, which is today required-reading in universities worldwide.
~ Later in 1963, Dr. King was one of the driving forces behind the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the “March on Washington,” which drew over a quarter-million people to the national mall. It was at this march that Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which cemented his status as a social change leader and helped inspire the nation to act on civil rights. Dr. King was later named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”
~ In 1964, at 35 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His acceptance speech in Oslo is thought by many to be among the most powerful remarks ever delivered at the event, climaxing at one point with the oft-quoted phrase “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
~ Also in 1964, partly due to the March on Washington, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, essentially eliminating legalized racial segregation in the United States. The legislation made it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation, areas which at the time were still very segregated in many places.
~ The next year, 1965, Congress went on to pass the Voting Rights Act, which was an equally-important set of laws that eliminated the remaining barriers to voting for African-Americans, who in some locales had been almost completely disenfranchised. This legislation resulted directly from the Selma to Montgomery, AL March for Voting Rights lead by Dr. King.
~ Between 1965 and 1968, Dr. King shifted his focus toward economic justice – which he highlighted by leading several campaigns in Chicago, Illinois – and international peace – which he championed by speaking out strongly against the Vietnam War. His work in these years culminated in the “Poor Peoples Campaign,” which was a broad effort to assemble a multiracial coalition of impoverished Americans who would advocate for economic change.
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s less than thirteen years of nonviolent leadership ended abruptly and tragically on April 4th, 1968, when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King’s body was returned to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where his funeral ceremony was attended by high-level leaders of all races and political stripes.”
It’s a shame that the political landscape is returning to those days. The Voting Rights Act has been virtually stripped by the same people who most likely cheered and celebrated Dr. King’s assassination. People tell themselves the lie that racism is over, simply because the U.S. had a Black president, and use that as an excuse to denigrate the Civil Rights Act and claim that discrimination simply doesn’t happen to non-white people anymore. That is a load of rubbish that raises huge red flags to me whenever I see or it claimed anywhere, by anyone. I look at his words and actions as a whole and in context. Cherry-picking two quotes from one speech, as many are prone to do, is limiting and insulting – but it is the modus operandi of the covert racist, a group that has come out of the woodwork over the past couple of years. They have been emboldened and empowered as of late, so vigilance and resistance is a necessity – more so now than ever.