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What We Do Not Hear About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
In honor of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, unprecedented numbers of Americans served their communities today in beautiful ways. And President-Elect Obama’s Renew America Together service forged new means of connecting Americans (and Los Angelenos) with local volunteering opportunities.
However, Dr. King’s honorable work and messages to America have been somewhat romanticized and Americans are quick to recall Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his peaceful ways. We often forget that his messages encompassed much in the way of transformative social justice and anti-war sentiments - lessons that are timely and appropriate for us today, given the increasingly unpopular preventive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recent events in Gaza, among other world events. By 1967 Dr King had become America’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War and imperialism. He called us to action against imperialism and war in a way that is eerily imperative today. Above is a powerful video by SleptOn featuring activists sharing their views on MLK’s somewhat forgotten legacy.
Dr King’s message is romanticized in a similar way that Rosa Parks’ actions are retold. It is not taught in school textbooks or news shows that Rosa Parks was just the face of a larger movement; on the contrary it is taught that Parks’ just decided one day to take a stand. She and her husband were part of a larger organizing structure of hundreds of organizers who had for weeks planned what Parks would do and a subsequent bus boycott afterwards. The strength of the organizing behind Parks’ actions is diluted and romanticized by rewriting her actions as a peaceful woman making an individual decision on a whim, and it erases the historical significance of what a people can do when organized.
In honor of “struggling not to lose” Dr Martin Luther King Junior’s message, we present the following speeches and videos.
Below is an excerpt of Dr King's prophetic last speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop", delivered April 3rd, 1968, the night before he was murdered in Tennessee (full text of the speech). He speaks of protest and challenging our government (he also speaks as if he knows his murder is near):
Also, about a year ago, video blogger Jay Smooth posted a vlog “Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said” featuring some quotes we do not hear as often from Dr MLK Jr::
At a peace march three weeks after Dr King’s assassination, his wife Coretta Scott King read from papers she found in his coat pockets from the night of his murder (you can listen to her speech here). She said:
I come to New York today with the strong feeling that my dearly beloved husband, who was snatched suddenly from our midst, slightly more than three weeks ago now, would have wanted me to be present today. Though my heart is heavy with grief from having suffered an irreparable personal loss, my faith in the redemptive will of God is stronger today than ever before. As many of you probably know, my husband had accepted an invitation to speak to you today. And had he been here, I am sure he would have lifted your hearts and spirits to new levels of understanding in his customary fashion. I would like to share with you some notes taken from my husband's pockets upon his death. He carried many scraps of paper upon which he scribbled notes, or his many speeches. Among these notes was one set which he never delivered. Perhaps they were his early thoughts for the message he was to give to you today. I am sure he would have developed and delivered them in his usual eloquent and inspired fashion. I simply read them to you as he recorded them. And I quote, Ten Commandments on Vietnam.
Number one: Thou shalt not believe in a military victory.
Number two: thou shalt not believe in a political victory.
Number three: thou shalt not believe that they, the Vietnamese, love us.
Number four: thou shalt not believe that the Saigon government has the support of the people.
Number five: thou shalt not believe that the majority of the South Vietnamese look upon the Vietcong as terrorists.
Number six: thou shalt not believe the figures of killed enemies are killed Americans.
Number seven: thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.
Number eight: thou shalt not believe that the enemy's victory means communism.
Number nine: thou shalt not believe that the world supports the United States.
Number ten: thou shalt not kill.
And lastly, Dr King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” was given exactly one year before his assassination at New York’s Riverside Church, and was met with harsh criticism from mainstream media sources - Time Magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi” and the Washington Post declared that King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” However, his speech has meaningful lessons for our country and the world today, and is worth listening to or reading in its entirety. Below are the seven pieces of his speech, and the text of the speech is available online.
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 1)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 2)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 3)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 4)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 5)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 6)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to break silence (Part 7)