Skip to main content

Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham jail.
Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail.
On some positions a coward has asked the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.Martin Luther King Jr., November 1967

For decades, ever since Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis, commemorating his birthday anniversary has always been occasion, formally and informally, for reprising his most famous speech given 50 years ago this year, and rightly so. For many of us who are not African American, that was a transformative speech, sending us down a path that we had not previously imagined ourselves going. On the annual commemoration, we also are reintroduced to his quietly powerful 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail. These words deserve the attention they receive.

But we rarely hear about some of his other words. Those words were widely hated when he gave them because they stepped outside the boundaries of the civil rights role that America's powers-that-be had granted to him. They wanted and still want us to forget the full name of the 1963 event where he declared, "I have a dream." It was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." It wasn't just breaking the color line as important as that was. Dr. King had a broad view of what America was and should be. And he spoke to that vision repeatedly. It can be seen in his labor speeches, like the one he gave to the state convention of the Illinois AFL-CIO on Oct. 7, 1965:

"The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society."

His broad vision can be seen in the speeches about Vietnam he gave on Feb. 25, 1967, at the Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, and the one he delivered on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Baptist Church in Manhattan.

These were costly speeches for him. When he said in Los Angeles that “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America,” he angered many who had hailed his leadership in the civil rights movement, including members of the NAACP who felt he was seeking to merge the antiwar movement with the civil rights movement. Others, including heavyweights in the media, criticized him for going beyond his supposedly acceptable role in American politics. In other words, he was “uppity.” Didn’t know “his place.” How dare this black man speak out against the war? There remain today many who believe people of color have no business engaging in certain conversations.

While the February 1967 speech deals specifically with Vietnam, it is filled with the universal, timeless ideals with which King always framed his words, including these:

Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession. When it is not our security that is at stake, but questionable and vague commitments to reactionary regimes, values disintegrate into foolish and adolescent slogans.

It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill, while we spend in the so-called war on poverty in America only about $53 for each person classified as "poor. And much of that 53 dollars goes for salaries of people who are not poor. We have escalated the war in Viet Nam and de-escalated the skirmish against poverty. It challenges the imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing.

Happy birthday, Dr. King. We miss your voice. May we never lose your clarity of vision and may we ever emulate your fearless willingness to speak out against injustice. Let us never remain silent based on whether what must be said is safe, or expedient, or politic, or popular.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 10:14 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

a gilas girl, GainesT1958, JekyllnHyde, Trix, Bill in Portland Maine, Chi, jotter, teacherken, tiggers thotful spot, TrueBlueMajority, Powered Grace, Shockwave, billlaurelMD, Andrew C White, cotterperson, Vico, eeff, rubyr, willyr, RFK Lives, gjohnsit, hubcap, Heart of the Rockies, bronte17, missLotus, sponson, Agathena, Pithy Cherub, jaysunb, shanikka, oceanview, navajo, Eric Blair, Eyesbright, johanus, HeyMikey, BMarshall, Steven Payne, betson08, JayBat, zerelda, Curt Matlock, randallt, lyvwyr101, rapala, ExStr8, blueyedace2, Independent Musings, caliberal2001, YucatanMan, Laurence Lewis, cfk, Burned, Ekaterin, Over the Edge, begone, kishik, snazzzybird, BachFan, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, Gorette, AoT, luckydog, blueoasis, gpoutney, DSPS owl, MBNYC, justiceputnam, shaharazade, slksfca, Eryk, BentLiberal, BeninSC, AdamSelene, ColoTim, offgrid, Mary Mike, Dave in Northridge, dclawyer06, LamontCranston, Unbozo, aliasalias, davehouck, US Blues, AnnArborDem, SeaTurtle, jnhobbs, leonard145b, gizmo59, jwinIL14, MKinTN, mconvente, amyzex, zerone, Sixty Something, Foundmyvoice, Deep Harm, Cassandra Waites, Gemina13, sagansong, maggiejean, greengemini, LinSea, janmtairy, earicicle, shopkeeper, Denise Oliver Velez, MichiganChet, jfromga, rebel ga, citisven, collardgreens, cassandraX, FogCityJohn, p gorden lippy, Proud Mom and Grandma, jakedog42, Lost and Found, hepshiba, JoanMar, paradise50, Egalitare, Publius2008, Betty Pinson, ericlewis0, nosleep4u, annieli, kerflooey, allenjo, slowbutsure, lady blair, BlueJessamine, Ebby, marleycat, redacted stew, smoothnmellow, midnight lurker, randomfacts, bakeneko, jolux, DRo, anodnhajo, The Lesser Gazoo, Citizenpower, a2nite, peachcreek, doroma, arizonablue, Glen The Plumber, DarkLadyNyara, SwedishJewfish, Lily O Lady, nomandates, Panacea Paola, smokey545, remembrance, SanFernandoValleyMom, aresea, Yo Bubba, Mannie, ApatheticNoMore1966, Kay Observer2, LilithGardener, bontemps2012, Grizzard, CalLawyer817, ialonelady, 2014, eagleray

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site