News Release

Since MLK: 40 Years in the Wilderness?


Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis 40 years ago, on April 4, 1968. After his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, King accelerated and broadened his activism, emphasizing economics and militarism as well as racism. The following analysts can speak to the many aspects of King’s work and legacy in today’s context:

Executive editor of Black Agenda Report, Ford wrote the piece “Giving Candidates the MLK Test,” in which he writes: “Dr. King said the ‘triple evils’ of his day were militarism, racism, and economic exploitation. In his brilliant April 4, 1967 speech at New York’s Riverside Church, Dr. King showed the interaction of all three ‘evils’ in the world; that these evils worked together against the interests of humanity. King declared that the Vietnam War, and other U.S. wars in the Third World, were evil manifestations of American militarism and an attempt to prevent other peoples from making ‘their arrival as full men’ in the world — a reference to the underlying racism and economic exploitative nature of U.S. foreign policy.

“In addition, Dr. King said he was ‘compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor’ in the U.S. King noted the ‘shining moment’ when, after years of struggle, President Johnson became a collaborator with the Civil Rights Movement, pushing through Congress both civil rights and anti-poverty legislation. But then ‘came the buildup in Vietnam,’ and King knew, in his words, ‘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.'”

Muhammad is author of a just-released study, “The Unrealized American Dream,” from the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. Muhammad said today: “In 1967, African Americans earned 54 cents for every dollar white Americans made per capita. In 2005, African Americans earned 57 cents on every dollar earned by white Americans. In other words, African Americans have made only 3 cents of progress in four decades. At this rate, it will take over 537 years before income parity is achieved.”

Muhammad also recently wrote the piece “U.S.: 40 Years in the Wilderness,” which states: “In the late 1960s, Dr. King recognized that the next phase in the quest for civil rights and equality would focus on the economic divide. Dr. King recognized that this next step would not just require nonviolent action and the blood of civil rights martyrs, but also billions of dollars of investment. King proposed such bold initiatives as the Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged and supported the proposed Freedom Budget of 1966.

“These proposals called for mass federal investment into the poor and working class of America to secure jobs, housing, and the opportunity to build wealth for all Americans.”
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Background: A year to the day before his assassination, on April 4, 1967, King gave a speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” at the Riverside Church in New York City: “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. …

“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.”

Audio and text are available online.

After this address, he was widely criticized, including by the U.S. media. He responded on April 30, 1967 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church: “There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward [segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’ There’s something wrong with that press! …”

Audio and text are available online.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167