It’s the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) born on this day in Atlanta (1929). He is best known for his work as a leader during the civil rights movement and his commitment to nonviolence. On April 4th, 1967, King delivered a speech called “Beyond Vietnam,” in which he strongly denounced America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was concerned that the war was recruiting poor and minority soldiers, that it was draining resources from much-needed social programs at home, and that it was an unjust war anyway, targeting the poor people of Vietnam. He said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Throughout the next year, he continued to speak out against the war, and said that the civil rights movement and the peace movement should come together for greater strength. He began a “Poor People’s Campaign” to fight economic inequality. On April 4th, 1968, exactly one year after his first anti-war speech, King was assassinated while he was standing on the balcony of his Memphis motel room. He was preparing to lead a protest march in solidarity with garbage workers who were on strike.
He said, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
And he said: “Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.” ( from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac)