News Release

40 Years After: King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech


Following are excerpts from the “Beyond Vietnam” speech that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination. He was addressing the group Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam:

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. …

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. …

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing Clergy and Laymen Concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. …

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. 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. … True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

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A journalist and activist, Nelson said today: “King’s speech seems more important today than it did 40 years ago — the ‘radical revolution of values’ that he spoke of has not occurred. As a nation — and a war-making nation — we are worse off than we have ever been in many ways — witness the rise of the right wing and of corporate culture. To listen to King’s speech now is to be educated, enraged and heartbroken; not only by the issues we have failed to confront as a culture, but also the lack of leadership that is intellectual, inspirational and transformative.”

Nelson is author of Straight, No Chaser: How I Became a Grown-Up Black Woman and editor of the anthology Police Brutality.

Marable, a professor at Columbia University, was master of ceremonies at a commemoration of King’s speech at the Riverside Church this past Sunday.
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Professor of communication studies at Morgan State University, Ball said today: “Our government’s policies in Iraq and elsewhere are a continuation of what King was trying to get us to deal with 40 years ago. It adds insult to injury that people who were either opposed to or abandoned King’s work are now involved with planning the National Memorial to him.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020