Martin Luther King often criticized nationalism, whether in the guise of Adolf Hitler’s tyranny or Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks against un-American activities. In 1953, when King was still in graduate school, he preached a sermon against nationalism, saying, “One cannot worship this false god of nationalism and the God of christianity at the same time” (Papers 6:133).
Throughout his life, King wrestled with the religious and moral meaning of nationalism. King believed that Christianity championed internationalism, describing a truth for all men: “Not some white and not some black, not some yellow and not some brown, but all flesh shall see it together” (Papers 4:166). Notes from his readings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and other biblical verses show that he interpreted passages to refute “nationalistic teachings” and to demonstrate that “God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all people” (King, 22 September 1952–28 January 1953). King’s internationalism did not preclude loving one’s own country, however, and he felt that “no other nation can mean to us what our nation means,” but King thought loving one’s nation need not turn into “chauvinism and isolationism” (Papers 6:133).
When King spoke out against the Vietnam War, he urged Americans to move beyond narrow nationalism. On 4 April 1967 at an event organized by Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam he told an audience at Riverside Church in New York City: “I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation” (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 141). He claimed that the soul of America was being poisoned by the war in Vietnam. King stated that he felt compelled to speak for the suffering and helpless in Vietnam as well as the poor in the United States: “Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood.… This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties ... broader and deeper than nationalism” (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 145–146).
King, “Beyond Vietnam,” in A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.
King, “The Birth of a New Nation,” Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 7 April 1957, in Papers 4:155–167.
King, “The False God of Nationalism,” 12 July 1953, in Papers 6:132–133.
King, Notecards on topics from Isaiah, 22 September 1952–28 January 1953, CSKC.
King, Where Do We Go from Here, 1967.
King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1964.