Today we look back at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a post from our founder and director, Laura Hassler. This blog was first published in 2019.
Today celebrates the day that Martin Luther King was born. And I remember so well the night he died.
I was a 20 year-old college student. My best friend, Martha, and I were on our way back to the dorm, after watching a disturbing movie about the war in Vietnam, when we heard that Dr. King had been shot.
Across the world, Martin Luther King is celebrated for his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963, and I remember that day too, because I was there at the Lincoln Monument, a 15-year old who had joined hundreds of thousands to march on Washington for equality, civil rights, and social justice, so excited to be part of a huge wave of people coming together to bring about a ground-shifting change.
Tonight, I have listened, once again, to one of Dr. King’s lesser known speeches, delivered in New York one year—to the day—before his assassination. On April 4, 1967, King came out publicly against the war in Vietnam. He stood alone: most of his colleagues and associates, worried about losing credibility with political leaders, had opposed a public statement against the war. “Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say,” he says at the beginning of that speech in April 1967.
They were wrong. But he stood alone. He spoke openly about ‘the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism’. He had come to understand those connections. If he were alive today, I’m sure he would also be talking about climate change, xenophobia, indigenous and gender rights.
Many believe it was this speech that led to his assassination. Single issues could be dealt with, assuaged, bought off. But understanding the inter-connections and activating people to stand for both justice and peace—that was a threat.
Dr. King was 39 when he died, a year younger than my youngest child today. But I hear that voice and remember being 15 in Washington, remember that ‘other’ speech when I was 19, and remember the grief at 20, walking back to the dorm.
At the end of that speech, as he often did, Martin Luther King used the words of a song. He said, “And I don’t know about you…I ain’t gonna study war no more.”