On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in New York City on the occasion of his becoming co-chairman of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (subsequently renamed Clergy and Laity Concerned).
Titled “Beyond Vietnam,” it was his first major speech on the war in Vietnam—what the Vietnamese aptly call the American War. In these excerpts, King links the escalating U.S. commitment to that war with its abandonment of the commitment to social justice at home. His call for a “shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society” and for us to “struggle for a new world” has acquired even greater urgency than when he issued it decades ago.
The speech concludes:
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain …
Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.
MLK: A Call to Conscience. An examination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stand against the Vietnam War and the influence of his legacy today. Tavis Smiley spoke with scholars and friends of King, including Cornel West, Vincent Harding (who co-wrote Beyond Vietnam), and Susannah Heschel. The interviews were conducted at the historic Riverside Church.
Text and audio of Beyond Vietnam online at AmericanRhetoric.com.