Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
Martin Luther King, Jr., made history, but he was also transformed by his deep family roots in the African-American Baptist church, his formative experiences in his hometown of Atlanta, his theological studies, his varied models of religious and political leadership, and his extensive network of contacts in the peace and social justice movements of his time. Although King was only 39 at the time of his death, his life was remarkable for the ways it reflected and inspired so many of the twentieth century’s major intellectual, cultural, and political developments.
Whitney Young served as the executive director of the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971, the critical years in the civil rights movement. Although the National Urban League was not involved in direct action protests, Young often collaborated with Martin Luther King, who appreciated that each leader played a different role in the movement and praised Young’s “creative vitality” (King, 31 July 1963).
On the morning of 14 October 1964, Martin Luther King, sleeping in an Atlanta hospital room after checking in for a rest, was awakened by a phone call from his wife, Coretta Scott King, telling him that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Although many in the United States and abroad praised the selection, segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor called it “scraping the bottom of the barrel” (“Cheers and Scorn”). Presenting the award to King in Oslo, Norway, that December, the chairman of the Nobel Committee praised him for being “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and he has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races” (Jahn, “Presentation,” 332).
The Trumpet of Conscience features five lectures that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered in November and December 1967 for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Massey Lectures. Founded in 1961 to honor Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada, the annual Massey Lectures served as a venue for earlier speakers such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Goodman. The event, sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Massey College, is broadcast each year on the CBC Radio One show “Ideas.” Prior to King’s assassination, the book was released under the title Conscience for Change, through the CBC. After King’s death in 1968, the book was republished as The Trumpet of Conscience, and included a foreword written by Coretta Scott King. The book reveals some of King’s most introspective reflections and his last impressions of the movement.
Four years after President John F. Kennedy sent the first American troops into Vietnam, Martin Luther King issued his first public statement on the war. Answering press questions after addressing a Howard University audience on 2 March 1965, King asserted that the war in Vietnam was “accomplishing nothing” and called for a negotiated settlement (Schuette, “King Preaches on Non-Violence”).
Jackie Robinson, the ﬁrst African American to play major league baseball, used his prestige as a star athlete to garner support for the civil rights movement. Following his retirement from baseball in 1957, Robinson often appeared with Martin Luther King at rallies, fundraising events, and demonstrations. King told Robinson, “You have made every Negro in America proud through your baseball prowess and your inﬂexible demand for equal opportunity for all” (King, 14 May 1962).
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.
In line with his belief in nonviolence, Martin Luther King worked closely with the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), often sponsoring the organization’s statements. He told a journalist in 1961, “I am a strong believer in disarmament and suspension of nuclear tests” (King, 29 October 1961).
While vacationing in the Caribbean in January and February 1967, King wrote the first draft of his final book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Accompanied by Coretta Scott King, Bernard Lee, and Dora McDonald, King rented a secluded house in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with no telephone.
A renowned Christian pacifist and a leading member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Abraham Johannes Muste was one of the foremost proponents of nonviolence in the United States. Muste was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement, as well as a leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement. At the end of Muste’s life, Martin Luther King said that without Muste, “the American Negro might never have caught the meaning of true love for humanity” (Robinson, 137).