…when he expanded his message to oppose US militarism.
The King of the March on Washington is encased in amber, his still-deferred dream reduced to a harmless platitude, its endless repetition a proof of virtue.
But the King who declared from the pulpit of Riverside Church on April 4th, 1967, that his beloved country had become “the greatest purveyor of violence on earth” cannot be resurrected for the cameras or deployed as a spokesman for American redemption. For that King might wander off the stage into the street, might occupy Wall Street and the Pentagon, or insist on reminding us that “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
When he publicly declared his opposition to the Vietnam War in April 1967, King earned few friends in the administration, the press, or even among the civil rights establishment. FBI surveillance and harassment was ordered intensified. He was relentlessly attacked from all sides for straying out of his “area” in criticizing the foreign policies of a President who had been so strong a Negro ally. But if King hadn’t made pellucid the undeniable connection between the “giant triplets” of “racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” in his speech at Riverside, he doubled down a few days later at a massive peace rally at United Nations Plaza. “The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam, making the poor—white and Negro–bear the heaviest burden.”