We are writing to thank the Hastings-on-Hudson committee for putting together the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast. This year’s celebration was especially important, coming as it did at a time of intense national conflict over issues that dominated Dr. King’s time and message: the scourge of white supremacy and the surge of a black liberation movement.
By way of a friendly amendment, we would like to point out that missing from the program was any acknowledgement of Dr. King’s strong opposition to the Vietnam War. We are acutely aware of this omission, in part, because Concerned Families of Westchester has held a rally each Saturday for almost 20 years, advocating on behalf of Dr. King’s core message of peace and justice. This message was expressed forcefully in April 1967, when Dr. King delivered one of his greatest speeches, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” “No one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war,” he said. “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.’” And he went on to call for “a true revolution of values” against “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” he continued, “is approaching spiritual death.” No one in the civil rights movement or among the political elite spoke as strongly as he did against the Vietnam War.
We raise this concern precisely because it is always omitted in commemorations of Dr. King. It is as if the nation is now ready to confront the legacy and present-day reality of racism and segregation, but is not yet ready to face the horrors of war and empire that engulfed both Dr. King’s time and now our own. To suppress Dr. King’s bravery in speaking out so powerfully against the Vietnam War is to fail to acknowledge his whole legacy; for Dr. King, the plague of war was inseparable from the plagues of racism, poverty, and inequality. With a new administration in the White House, and with the possibility of a progressive renaissance in sight, we hope that next year’s MLK birthday breakfast will finally raise up Dr. King’s leadership in the fight against war.
Frank Brodhead, Hastings
Susan Rutman, Yonkers
For Concerned Families of Westchester