During the second half of the 1960s, American society grew increasingly divided over racial problems and violence spread through many of the urban black communities. The interracial coalition that fought for the passage of the significant civil rights laws in the mid-1960s began falling apart. The members disagreed over which policies would bring about civil rights reforms and over the implications of the Vietnam War.
This episode highlights King's position on the war. While some applauded his commitment to nonviolence, others condemned King's antiwar sentiment as unpatriotic and damaging to the movement.
Initially, King felt reluctant to publicly speak out against the war, fearing it would damage his relationship with the Johnson administration and alienate many of the SCLC donors. But as America's involvement in this controversial war intensified, and antiwar demonstrations multiplied, King decided to take a stand. On April 4th, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York City, King made a public statement about his views on the Vietnam War. Steadfast in his commitment to nonviolence and consistent with his social gospel ministry, King saw the Vietnam War as a betrayal of American values and aggressive expansion of western colonialism. As a civil rights leader, King pointed out the misguided priorities of the U.S. government devoting resources to the battlefields in Vietnam, rather than to impoverished black neighborhoods at home. King's public disapproval of the Vietnam War cost him sharp criticism, yet he refused to back down.