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Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam (CALCAV)

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October 25, 1965

In October 1965, 100 clergy members met in New York to discuss what they could do to challenge U.S. policy on Vietnam. Believing that a multi-faith organization could lend credible support to an anti-war movement often labeled as Communist, they created the Clergy Concerned about Vietnam. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the few black members and the only member from the South. After the group opened its membership to laypeople and changed its name to National Emergency Committee of Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam (CALCAV), King used the organization’s platform in April 1967 for his widely acclaimed “Beyond Vietnam” speech that condemned the war in Vietnam.

In February and April 1967 King delivered two speeches devoted entirely to Vietnam. On 25 February 1967, King delivered “The Causalities of the War in Vietnam.” He was eager to ensure his message would not be distorted and approached CALCAV to organize a public event where he could situate his position within the broader religious opposition to the war. CALCAV hired a publicist exclusively for the event, which was held at Riverside Church in New York City on 4 April 1967. King’s speech, which drew over 3,000 people, provided his most significant endorsement of the anti-war movement to date. CALCAV published and distributed 100,000 copies of the Riverside speeches and King accepted an invitation to be co-chair of the organization.

Later that month, CALCAV endorsed “Vietnam Summer,” a campaign promoted by King and the noted pediatrician Benjamin Spock to mobilize grassroots anti-war activists in preparation for the 1968 elections. Throughout the summer and fall, CALCAV chapters engaged in civil disobedience by protecting draft resisters, a departure from their more moderate tactics, such as petitions and vigils. The organization’s second national mobilization was timed to coincide with the February 1968 release of a study commissioned by CALCAV documenting American war crimes in Vietnam. At the gathering, King led 2,500 CALCAV supporters in silent prayer at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns.

Following King’s assassination, CALCAV increased civil disobedience activities, protesting against Dow Chemical (producer of napalm) and Honeywell (maker of anti-personnel weapons). By 1971 CALCAV had turned its attention to several other social justice issues, dropping “about Vietnam” from its name to become simply Clergy and Laymen Concerned (CALC). During the subsequent decades, CALC supported sanctions against South Africa, a nuclear weapons freeze, and the end of U.S. military involvement in Central America.


Hall, Because of Their Faith, 1990.