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When Martin Luther King Came Out Against Vietnam

Dr. King’s Riverside Church address exemplified how, throughout his final 18 months of life, he repeatedly rejected the sunny optimism of his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech and instead mourned how that dream had “turned into a nightmare.” But the speech also highlighted how for Dr. King, civil rights was never a discrete problem in American society, and that racism went hand in hand with the fellow evils of poverty and militarism that kept the country from living up to its ideals.

Finally, in early 1967, he had had enough. One day Dr. King pushed aside a plate of food while paging through a magazine whose photographs depicted the burn wounds suffered by Vietnamese children who had been struck by napalm. The images were unforgettable, he said. “I came to the conclusion that I could no longer remain silent about an issue that was destroying the soul of our nation.”

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