Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. King's most prophetic speech was not I have a Dream

Dr. King knew--as we all need to know--that his overriding message came in this speech, a speech that went deeper into his dream than the one that gets center stage on the King National Holiday.

One year--to the day and the hour--after speaking these words at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King was dead from an assassin's bullet.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
Click for text of the rest of the address/or to hear the original recording

"Silence is betrayal..."

We betray the legacy of Dr. King, by not repeating and amplifying this message. I am persuaded that--had Dr. King survived until today--his speeches would be addressing Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel; drones and collateral damage; the unconscionable conduct of indiscriminate war--war that targets "terrorists" and kills non-combatant civilians--throughout the last decade. He would tell us, once again, that silence is betrayal.

The Riverside Church address greatly impelled the tidal wave of revulsion that pushed LBJ to abandon his pursuit of a 2nd term as president. President Lyndon Johnson had pressed (as only he could press) the Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act, Head Start, the Job Corps, Medicaid, Medicare, the War on Poverty and so much more in his first four years in the White House.

Yet, Dr King refused to give LBJ a pass--and was berated and abused by many of his followers in the civil rights movement for doing so--because of all the President had done. King spoke on the issue that challenged the existence, the very soul, of the Dream he had described to us in 1963.

I have--we all have--the cadences, the powerful imagery, the emotion of I Have A Dream, in 0ur heads.

We still need the challenge of A Time to Break Silence as a goad to our hearts, and our shared conscience.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.