REMEMBERING Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a better day
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Martin Luther King Jr’s. letter from the Birmingham Jail ~ April 16, 1963
The following are quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. interspersed with a few excerpts from Harry Belafonte who was a good friend:
from page 319 – My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race and Defiance – by Harry Belafonte
Ever since America had become fully engaged in Vietnam, a fierce debate had raged in Martin’s inner circle. Poor blacks were being drafted in disproportionate numbers, and sent straight to the front lines, where a lot of them were dying. Didn’t our fight for civil rights obligate us to fight this institutionalized racism? But Martin’s dismay with the war went deeper than that.
As a pastor and a pacifist, he viewed it as a terrible abomination for all involved: for white soldiers as well as black, for Vietnamese as much as Americans. Yet to speak out against the war carried serious risks for him. He would lose support. How much, no one could predict, but in 1967 a lot of media were pro-war, Time magazine famously so, as were a lot of church congregations. President Johnson would be furious, and likely become a political foe. Was all this worth it? In my talks with Martin, I said I thought it was, and so did others. But still I was surprised when Martin began drafting his anti-war speech in my apartment…
What fascinated me most about the speech, when I heard it, was its depth of detail. Martin had read deeply on its origins. – Harry Belafonte
Speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: short excerpt
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” …This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
[Please put links to this speech on your respective web sites and if possible, place the text itself there. This is the least well known of Dr. King’s speeches among the masses, and it needs to be read by all. It is important today with continued American led world gun and war violence, it is as important today as it was the day MLK was assassinated by such a weapon, 50 years ago. The text of the full speech can be found here. Or the full 53 min. audio recording here]
“And I’m sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit… God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war, as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We have committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it…”
In Belafonte’s book a few pages later, 326 to 329, he tells of the depth of Martin Luther King Jr’s frustration and anger with what happening in America:
Harry Belafonte –
“Martin’s plan for a gathering of poor people in Washington, D.C., had taken shape… Instead of a one day march, he would bring thousands of poor people, both black and white, along with Mexican- American farm labourers from California, Native Americans, and more, to build a shantytown near the White House. There the protestors would remain until Congress passed an economic rights bill to alleviate poverty in America.
Bobby Kennedy had declared for president at last, and said his first goal was to erase “material poverty.”… Martin called his circle together in my home, and with Stan Levison and the rest of us, pondered long and hard, deep into the night, about what our options were, along with what the consequences would be. We concluded we would have to move ahead as planned. Martin spoke to large and excited gatherings around the country about his Poor People’s Campaign.
On March 27, a week before his assassination, he came up to New York for a big party at my apartment, one of the biggest we had held. As usual Martin was late. He always packed too much into his schedule, trying to do it all. This time, a stop in Newark, New Jersey…”
After the guests had left, King and some of his closest colleagues stayed and talked about the conditions in the country and the state of the civil rights movement. Among those present, in addition to King and Belafonte, were King’s lawyer, Clarence Jones, his secretary and bodyguard, Bernard Lee, and Andrew Young, who would later become a congressman, the mayor of Atlanta, and also the US ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter.
This passage in Belafonte’s book deserves careful examination. The political establishment had reacted with fury to King’s denunciation of the Vietnam War. The ghetto rebellions had erupted in nearly every major northern US city over the previous four summers. King was intensely affected by these conditions.
In the midst of the discussion Belafonte asked King why he was in such a surly mood. King exclaimed:
“Somehow, frustration over the war has brought forth this idea that the solution resides in violence. What I cannot get across to these young people is that I wholly embrace everything they feel! It’s just the tactics we can’t agree on. I have more in common with these young people than with anybody else in this movement. I feel their rage. I feel their pain. I feel their frustration. It’s the system that’s the problem, and it’s choking the breath out of our lives.”
Belafonte continues, “In the pause that followed, Andy [Young] replied, ‘Well, I don’t know, Martin. It’s not the entire system. It’s only part of it, and I think we can fix that.’
“Suddenly, Martin lost his temper. ‘I don’t need to hear from you, Andy,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard enough from you. You’re a capitalist, and I’m not. And so we don’t see eye to eye—on this and a lot of other stuff.’
“It was an awkward moment. Martin was really angry. But I understood the subtext. Deep down, Andy was ambivalent about the Poor People’s Campaign…
“The tension peaked. ‘The trouble,’ Martin went on, ‘is that we live in a failed system. Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level…That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we’re going to have to change the system.”