Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
On 4 April 1967 Martin Luther King delivered his seminal speech at Riverside Church condemning the Vietnam War. Declaring “my conscience leaves me no other choice,” King described the war’s deleterious effects on both America’s poor and Vietnamese peasants and insisted that it was morally imperative for the United States to take radical steps to halt the war through nonviolent means (King, “Beyond Vietnam,” 139).
As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael challenged the philosophy of nonviolence and interracial alliances that had come to define the modern civil rights movement, calling instead for “Black Power.” Although critical of the “Black Power” slogan, King acknowledged that “if Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights workers, and he has seen it go unpunished” (King, 33–34).
Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche contributed to the African American freedom struggle and peacekeeping efforts worldwide through his involvement with the United Nations (UN) and several civil rights organizations. Bunche had great admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr., writing in 1956, ‘‘You and our fellow Negro citizens of Montgomery are doing heroic work in the vineyards of democracy. Your patient determination, your wisdom and quiet courage are constituting an inspiring chapter in the history of human dignity’’ (Papers 3:134).
Credited by Martin Luther King with initiating the Children’s Crusade during the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, James Bevel emerged as a civil rights leader from the ranks of the Nashville, Tennessee, student movement. Bevel was at King’s side during many of the major campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was at the Lorraine Motel at the time of King’s assassination in 1968.
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.
Following the 1955 merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the AFL-CIO became an ally of civil rights organizations. Martin Luther King spoke of the shared goals of the civil rights and labor movements, noting in his 1961 address to the fourth AFL-CIO national convention that both African Americans and union members were fighting for “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community” (King, 11 December 1961).
I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this morning, to have the opportunity of standing in this very great and significant pulpit. And I do want to express my deep personal appreciation to Dean Sayre and all of the cathedral clergy for extending the invitation.