“I’m afraid that the administration of our nation is more concerned about winning an unwinnable war in Vietnam than about winning the war against poverty right here at home.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking May 17, 1967, at U.C. Berkeley
We shall overcome. Not skin color, but the content of our character with little Black boys and little White girls walking together, declaring free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.
Deplorable misrepresentations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can be expected with the observance of the King Holiday on Jan. 17. President Biden may issue a statement, send Vice President Kamala Harris to perform some symbolic act and those who want to strip Black people of their rights will misquote Dr. King to justify perpetrating evils the civil rights leader fought.
Don’t let the magicians transport you back to the 1963 March on Washington this year. Learn the truth of the man, what he stood for and why he was murdered.
“Beyond Vietnam” was a major message Dr. King delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. He condemned the war and called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Major media condemned him. Other civil rights leaders and onetime allies abandoned him. Agents with the FBI stalked him and tried to drive him to suicide. A year later, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot to death.
We don’t hear about the hell the drum major for justice endured in 1967 and 1968 after he took that unapologetic stance against the Vietnam War. Not only did Dr. King speak out against the war, he organized against it—and planned to make ending the war a major issue for 1968 national elections.
In a speech titled “America’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” delivered on Sproul Plaza at the U.C. Berkeley in California, Dr. King declared: “It was estimated the other day that we spend $500,000 to kill every enemy soldier in Vietnam. When you look at the other side it’s tragic, we spend only $53 a year for every person that’s considered poverty stricken. Half of that goes for salaries for those who are not poor.”
“I never intend to adjust myself to racial segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism,” vowed the freedom fighter, despite the pressure, the threats and the isolation he faced. Public opinion polls showed him out of favor and nearly 200 newspapers denounced him after the speech in New York. President Johnson rescinded an invite to the White House.
“Johnson, leaders of both parties, and most of the political establishment react with predictable fury and condemnation, not just at Dr. King’s opposition to the war but even more so to his placing the war in a broader context of colonialism that directly challenges the anti-Communist premise of Cold War foreign policy,” said the Civil Rights Movement Archive online.
“FBI Director Hoover tells the president that ‘Based on King’s recent activities and public utterances, it is clear that he is an instrument in the hands of subversive forces seeking to undermine our nation.’ Carl Rowan, head of the U.S. Information Agency and one of the highest-ranking Afro-Americans in the Executive branch, publishes a red-baiting article in Reader’s Digest—the most widely-read magazine in the nation—calling King an egomaniac under the sway of Communist agents.”
“Committed to the Democratic Party and its Cold War liberalism, NAACP and Urban League leaders rush to reaffirm—once again—that they do not stand with Dr. King. The NAACP Board of Directors adopts a resolution labeling any attempt to merge the civil rights and peace movements, ‘A serious tactical mistake.’ Ralphe Bunche, the highest ranking Afro-American in the United Nations, a fellow Nobel laureate, and previously a King supporter, endorses the NAACP position and declares that King cannot be both a civil rights leader and an antiwar spokesman—he should ‘give up one role or the other.’
Former NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall who is now LBJ’s Solicitor General and soon to be Supreme Court appointee, acknowledges King’s right to dissent on foreign policy, but ‘not as a civil rights leader.’ During a personal encounter, Whitney Young of the Urban League accuses King of abandoning the poor for the antiwar movement. King retorts, ‘Whitney, what you’re saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won’t get you into the Kingdom of Truth,’ ” according to the Civil Rights Movement Archive.
So as your favorite politician, pastor or corporate community friend maker tries to spin you into King Holiday happy talk, reject it.
Look at your president’s spending: “Biden didn’t deliver a firm number on military spending on the campaign trail, but the strongest indication he gave was that he would keep spending flat. But Biden’s military budget request ended up being about $12 billion more than Trump’s last, bringing total ‘defense’ spending to $753 billion for FY2022. Congress proceeded to add about $25 billion on top of that,” said analyst Stephen Semler. “So what we’re left with is almost $40 billion more than Biden campaigned on for military spending, and nearly $650 billion less than what he campaigned on for physical and human infrastructure.”
Billions of dollars feeding war machinery is totally opposed to the disarmament and end to war spending Dr. King called for and organized for. The same problems Dr. King wanted solved, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, inferior education, Black deprivation and the suffering of the poor are still with us.
“That beautiful image of Dr. King now on the Washington Mall looking out at us, in stone: That expression on his face will not ‘change’ because the condition of Black people in America has not changed. And for us to think and to say that Dr. King would be proud of the strides that America has made, when these statistics have not changed, in fact they have gotten worse; so, I don’t think that any American has the right to use Dr. King to put a ‘good face’ on an ugly situation that is getting more ugly by the moment,” wrote the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in an article titled, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Not a ‘Dreamer,’ but a Man Evolving Toward a Common Goal For His People.”
Honoring a man means honoring the truth of who he was and what he lived for, the enemy will never do that. We must define and honor our heroes ourselves.