Pediatrician and author Benjamin Spock used his fame to bring attention to the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation. In 1965 he encouraged Martin Luther King to join him in criticizing United States policy in Vietnam. King participated in his first anti-war demonstration in March 1967, alongside Spock.
Born in 1903, Spock trained as a pediatrician and psychoanalyst. His influential book, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, sold over 50 million copies and helped revolutionize parenting. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Spock taught child development, wrote extensively, lectured around the world, and had his own television program. In 1963 he became the co-chair of the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy.
Coretta Scott King joined Spock as a featured speaker at a major demonstration against the war in Vietnam in Washington, D.C., in November 1965. There, Spock urged her to pressure her husband to join the peace movement, arguing that “he could become the most important symbol for peace in this country, as well as for world peace” (Scott King, 293). King, Jr., admired Spock’s dedication to the peace movement, even suggesting to the World Council of Peace that Spock be awarded the organization’s Frederic Joliet-Curie Award.
In January 1967 Ramparts magazine published a photo essay on the impact of the war on Vietnamese children, with an introduction written by Spock. The essay deeply affected King; just three months later, he made his most public and comprehensive address against the war, “Beyond Vietnam,” at Riverside Church. Three weeks later, both men led a march to United Nations Plaza in New York. King and Spock collaborated on “Vietnam Summer,” a project to mobilize grassroots peace activists in preparation for the 1968 elections.
Members of the peace movement encouraged Spock and King to compete in the 1968 presidential race on a third-party ticket. Although they declined, Spock did run for president in 1972. In January 1968, Spock, William Sloane Coffin, and three others were indicted for conspiring to counsel young men to violate the draft laws. Spock asked, “What is the use of physicians like myself trying to help parents bring up children, healthy and happy, to have them killed in such numbers for a cause that is ignoble?” (“Baby Doctor for the Millions Dies”). King submitted a statement of complicity supporting those who had been indicted. Spock was tried and found guilty, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. Spock continued his writing and political activity throughout his life. In 1985 he and his second wife wrote a memoir, Spock on Spock. He died at the age of 94.
“Baby Doctor for the Millions Dies,” Los Angeles Times, 17 March 1998.
King, “Beyond Vietnam,” in A Call to Conscience, ed. Carson and Shepard, 2001.
(Scott) King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1969.
William F. Pepper, “The Children of Vietnam,” Ramparts (January 1967): 44–67.
“What Are You Doing during Vietnam Summer 1967?” New York Times, 30 April 1967.