Ross: The MLK speech you hardly ever hear about
Martin Luther King Jr. worked closely with President Lyndon Johnson during the Civil Rights movement. They’d discuss how to change minds and hearts about southern states denying black people fundamental rights.
LBJ: “If you can find the worst condition…shove through in the end.”
And what they “shoved through” was the voting rights act of 1965. Johnson was calculating that more black voters would mean more support for his anti-poverty programs.
That conversation was in 1965. But by 1967, the two would have a falling out – over Vietnam. A war which Dr. King felt was undermining the campaign for racial justice at home. So King gave a speech title “Beyond Vietnam.”
MLK in 1967: “Then came the war in Vietnam…I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
It was April 4, 1967 – at an event at Riverside Church in Manhattan organized by a group called “Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam.”
MLK: “We were taking the black young men — which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”
He also embraced the idea of a Brotherhood of Man – which prompted some people to label him a communist.
MLK: “It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries…This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.”
The speech split his supporters.
The Washington Post called it “A tragedy” and said King’s speech had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people.”
The New York Times ran an editorial titled “Dr King’s Error.”
Even the NAACP criticized the speech.
But King’s prediction was correct – by 1968, even as back and white soldiers fought side by side in Vietnam, Congress couldn’t bring itself to pass the Fair Housing Act – which some members of Congress feared would let black people live side by side with white people.
It was only after King’s assassination – a year to the day since that Riverside Church speech – that President Johnson would use the outpouring of grief to get the act passed – one day after King’s funeral.
MLK: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
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