Fifty-five years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an impassioned speech addressing the evils of militarism, materialism and racism. While many cite his “I Have a Dream Speech” as his most influential speech, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time To Break Silence” showed strength and courage in a moment that mattered.
While many remember Dr. King’s speech as a necessity amid a horrible war waged abroad while communities struggled at home, he received a lot of backlash for being against the war. Dr. King delivered the speech at Riverside Church in New York, exactly one year before his assassination.
A few weeks after the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Dr. King would continue with the anti-war theme by explaining to his home congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church, “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.”
On Saturday, April 2, Bernice A. King joined a commemoration of her father’s historic anti-war speech at Riverside Church. The event included a collective reading of the seminal speech followed by a panel discussion.
Dr. Bernice King noted that her father was not entirely alone in his stance. She described her mother, Coretta Scott King, as not only her father’s life partner but also a great motivator “who stood with him and, over and over again, encouraged him to lend his moral voice to the peace movement.”
She said that his courage at the moment was not automatic but that he made a choice and didn’t back down.
“Today, we are being called to make the same choice,” Dr. Bernice King explained. “To be in agreement with and in alignment with our conscience. This is a call to conscience all over the world because oftentimes people agonize in places of influence and leadership to break their silence.”
As previously reported by The Guardian, Coretta Scott King was a co-founder of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy in 1957. In 1965, the mother of four stood firm in her principles and continued to speak out against the Vietnam War prompting Dr. King to correct the record and explain that his wife had “educated him” on the issue. (Read the full article here).
Three weeks after her husband was violently taken away from his family, Coretta Scott King again challenged the American conscience by taking Dr. King’s place at an anti-war rally in Central Park.
“My husband always saw the problem of racism and poverty here at home and militarism abroad as two sides of the same coin,” she said. “It is even very clear that our policy at home is to try to solve social problems through military means just as we have done abroad. The interrelatedness of domestic and foreign affairs is no longer questioned. The bombs we drop on the people of Vietnam continue to explode at home with all of their devastating potential.”
Their words calling for nonviolent co-existence still ring true today. The willingness to speak the truth regardless of the social and political cost has never been popular.
Arguably, Dr. King and Coretta Scott King’s outspokenness paved the way for Rep. Barbara Lee’s stance against the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) a week after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Lee was the only person out of 535 members of Congress to vote against the action that was set in motion 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
Whether funding the Vietnam War or contemporary military expenditures, the excess spending on violence at home and abroad continues to outpace financing of domestic ventures. Courage to act may not be automatic but is nevertheless necessary.
The continued military excess and funding of neverending wars and military intervention abroad, with billions poured into the militarization of policing in our communities across the country comes at the expense of the general welfare and wellbeing of the nation.
“I’m saying to all of us that we in that season now that we have to Break our silence is not just in this regard, but in every arena of American life and the world,” Dr. Bernice King said.
Watch the full event below: