“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”
These are the words, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during his first public antiwar speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in front of 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York City.
During his speech, King proposed five solutions for the government to do: stop all bombings in North and South Vietnam, declare unilateral cease-fire to create an atmosphere for negotiation, take steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia, accept the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam, and set a date to remove all foreign troops from Vietnam.
On April 4, 1968, one year after King delivered his historic speech, he was assassinated. This month, civil rights leaders, government officials and the public reflect on the impact of Dr. King’s speech, his legacy, and the political and social lessons that are applicable in present day.
This week, NewsOne Now guest host Monique Pressley spoke with the President of North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in North Carolina Rev. Dr. William Barber II about the 50th anniversary of the, “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
“Dr. King, in that speech, took on the ‘isms’: he took on racism, materialism, and militarism,” said Barber. “In our culture right now, we have persons literally who want to lead and run and who are elected for office who promote modern day systemic racism by refusing to address the issue of voter suppression, for instance, and by lying about voter fraud.”
Barber went on to discuss the increase of poverty and classism.
“There are people that are willing to deny living wages and attack the poor. And then we look at militarism,” said Barber. “We’re talking about [adding] 54 billion dollars to an already bloated military budget. And what could we do with 54 billion dollars? We could end child poverty in America, we could provide everybody with health care. We are in a moral crisis, just like Dr. King said then. We need a moral resolution of values. We need a moral revival.”
In the interview, Pressley also spoke with former NAACP General Counsel Secretary Kim Keenan regarding her thoughts on the speech and the impact of society today.
“He could have written this speech yesterday. Now, there’s no more party, really, there’s just people fighting against red and blue and they’re not worried about the people,” said Keenan. “I just feel like they’re not on the side of the people- they’re so caught up in ‘We have to win because we’re the Dems’ or ‘We have to win because we’re the Republicans’ and nobody’s worried about where they’re leaving the people in these arguments that leave us with racism, militarism, and poverty.”
Whether the words of Dr. King’s speech are compared to politics, modern day discrimination or classism, Americans have the right to take a stand, speak up, continue King’s legacy and make the right choice.
“And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace,” said King in his “Beyond Vietnam Speech.” “If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
To watch the NewsOne Now segment on Dr. King’s Vietnam speech visit Ronald Martin’s YouTube Channel. For the transcribed version of ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,’ visit www.lasentinel.net