“The Vietnam War and The Black Freedom Struggle King`s Beyond Vietnam Speech and Its Aftermath.”

“The Vietnam War and The Black Freedom Struggle: King’s BeyondVietnam Speech and Its Aftermath.”

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his seminal speech thatcondemned the Vietnam War1.King asserted that his conscience left him no other choice other thanto give voice for the voiceless. The speech highlighted the war’sharmful impacts on both the Vietnamese peasants and the American poorcaught up in the crisis.2As an option to the violence, King suggested that the United Statesof America would seek more diplomatic and non-violent means to findsolutions to the Vietnam problem. However, Dr. King had used theevents in Vietnam and linked them to the Black freedom struggle inAmerica. He intended to push the message to the public that thegovernment was using resources wastefully in war, instead of helpingthe black community out of poverty by healing the deterioratingeconomy. Additionally, he meant to fight for the rights of the blacksin the war, who he said suffered the most casualties. His speechreceived widespread acknowledgment, both from the supporters andcritiques. This paper looks to demonstrate how the speech-shaped the“Vietnam War” as wells as the struggle for Black freedomfollowing the war.

Foreign and Local Politics Environment

During the 1960s, there were frosty relationships between foreign andlocal politics.3Martin Luther King highlighted how the government had lost focus onimproving the Black people’s economic status by the use of the “Waron Poverty” program. According to King, it “seemed there was areal promise of hope for the poor—both black and white—throughthe poverty program”.4Luther meant that the government was just doing experiments withoutfocusing on the results. On the other hand, the government lost itsfocus on building its nation’s people by over-indulging in foreignpolitics. Additionally, by saying that the government would neverinvest the necessary funds in rehabilitating the poor, King impliedthat the poverty program remained a mystery.

His stand was, therefore, clear, that no matter the justification thegovernment was looking for its misdeeds, and its efforts wereconcentrated on investing in a crisis, which was armed combat. Thiswas a period of high suspicion amongst nations, and the cold war hadtaken the entire globe by storm. Given this, America wanted to ensurethat it maintained the position it had taken as a world superpowerafter the Second World War.5The Poverty Program was, therefore, sacrificed for the government’sselfish political ambitions in the global stage. Even after the war,there was high suspicion that the American government would notinvest the necessary funds in the rehabilitation of Vietnam, as wellas refusing to support the country in its economic and socialendeavors. 6Surprisingly, the U.S President had cut the funds to the war onpoverty so as to fund the war in Vietnam.7The government’s support of the war on poverty evidently decreasedas the war in Vietnam picked pace.

Before the war began, the American government wanted to spreadpolitical propaganda amongst the Vietnamese. They opted to useairborne leaflet propaganda method, which was then a highlyrecognized psychological warfare in which leaflets were supplied inplenty through aircraft.8King draws remarkable controversy by saying that the Americangovernment gave the Vietnamese leaflets for the wrong reasons. Theseleaflets were given to the Vietnamese in order to gain their publicsupport for the American course. However, what the Vietnamesereceived were bombs, which destroyed their property and killed them.

The War, Racism, and Politics

King showed a great similarity between the war and racism.Additionally, he provided an assessment on how the war cultivatedracism, instead of resolving problems that led to the war. First,King and his supporters argued that his war was being fought by adisproportionate number of Black men, who were picked through aprocess he termed as “racially exclusive”. 9King therefore meant to say that besides making the situation worsefor the Black People back in America by discontinuing the povertyprogram, the government made things worse by discriminately selectingthe soldiers who went to the battlefield in Vietnam. Puttingpatriotism aside, King said that the President and the Congress werefrustrating the Negroes by asking them to fight for all their life atstake for a nation, which provided partial homage for them.10

The war created a connection racism and politics too.11While speaking out against the war, King introduced elements ofracism, which he implied could not be left outside of the debate,given their significance. During the anti-war campaign, King calledout to “all white people of goodwill” to boycott the war byre-considering their military service.12Noting that King had earlier raised issues about the disproportionatenumber of Black soldiers in the war, he hoped to reach out to usepolitical means to reach out to the very white people who wereagainst discriminant government policies to join him. However, asKing was being personally involved in condemning the war, he was verycareful about its political implications. During the struggle forpassing civil rights legislation, President Lyndon B. Johnson hadbeen very instrumental and was considered by many as a friend toKing. Therefore, King did not want to spoil the President’spolitical image by criticizing the United States foreign policy. Thiswas the political dilemma that King found himself in while advocatinghis course.

The movie “No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger” is a documentarythat highlights racism and the cold war. Two of the three soldiersinterviewed narrate how the government racially discriminates theBlack service members in the war. One of them, a trained andqualified air traffic controller, is given a lesser job than hedeserves, primarily because of his race.13The other one says that despite the theory that all service membersshould have better jobs back at home due to their experience in themilitary, only soldiers receive that privilege.

King’s Support and Opposition

King received almost equal measures of criticism as he did support.One of the most vocal supporters of King’s was the Negro community.They come out strongly opposing the government’s militaryinvolvement in Vietnam.14After Dr. King’s speech, polls showed that a huge number of theNegro population was switching to the anti-war side. The foremostintention is that most of the blacks considered Dr. King as a moralexample to follow and that his ideology was for the good of thesociety, especially the Black society in America. Additionally, twoother factors can be attributed to King’s support from the Blackcommunity. King had earlier told the nation that the government hadwithdrawn the poverty program to fund the war. Secondly, he said thatthe number of Black soldiers in the war was disproportionate. Thesetwo arguments gave King the support he sought from the Americanpeople.

There were also notable individuals who opposed King’s campaign.These included Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of theUrban League. The two supported complete Negro citizen support forthe United States’ role in the war.15According to Young, if the American Black community decided to sidewith King and oppose the war, they would only end up making theirlives even miserable. They two critics contended that King’sapproach was of no good for the Black community and that he did notvisualize the end of the matter. Roy Wilkins, the NAACP director,bitterly attacked King and his fellow peace leaders for allegedly“downgrading” the Negro cause.16Wilkins was of the opinion that Dr. King was not supposed to mix upthe civil rights fight with the Vietnam issue. The main reason forthis was that he feared that King would lose focus, and put the civilrights fight, which was of priority, at jeopardy. Additionally,King’s critics’ stand on the Vietnam War asserted that it was notwrong for the black people to back up other fighters on thebattlefield. For instance, Wilkins stated “When an American Negrosoldier kills a Viet Cong, he is not killing a black brother.”17This showed that not all the Black people supported King’s campaignagainst the Vietnam War based on defending the rights of the Blacksoldiers. Additionally, other individuals such as Ralph Bunche andWalter Reuther questioned King’s ideas by also stating that itwould weaken the Civil Rights Movement. However, in his defense, Kingasserted that he and his supporters did not believe in any merger orfusion either, but thought that they could not sit back and pretendthat the existence of the war did not affect the Civil RightsMovement’s progress.18

Thecontroversy speaks volumes about the relationship betweenAfrican-American politics and the cold war. The cold war influencedthe race relations. For instance, King and his fellow activistsprovided empirical evidence that showed that the African Americanswere still racially discriminated during the course of the cold war,as they formed the most casualties on the battlefield. Additionally,black Americans, headed by civil rights activists, were primarilyinvolved in the connection between the tussle for liberty and parityin the U.S and the battlefield.19It was observed that racial prejudice in the country contradicted thepurpose of the cold war. The Government found itself in a hardposition while trying to convince the world and its own people thatit was fighting for freedom in Asia and Africa, while at the sametime its citizens faced discrimination based on their skin color.

Recap of the Impact

In general, Martin Luther’s speech changed the manner in which theAmerican people chose to engage in foreign and domestic relations. Itcan be argued that through his speech and activism, the Americanpeople became more involved in important government decisions, asthey provided their voice in influencing critical internal andforeign political policies. Following his speech, human rightsactivism increased in the United States, and governmentaccountability to its people and the entire globe took a substantialturn.20Domestically, the speech created some divide amongst some Blackpeople, especially those who thought that King’s actions of mixingthe Vietnam fight and the Black people’s freedom fight would weakenthe Civil Rights Movement.


Dr. King’s Vietnam War speech created an impact on the awarenessconcerning all the wrong doings of America in Vietnam. For instance,it highlighted how the government had stopped it War on Povertycampaign to focus all its financial and logistical efforts during theVietnam War. The speech also brought to light the government’sdiscriminate selection of soldiers to join combat, revealing howunusually high number of Black service members were deployed to thebattlefield. It also engaged the government in the tactics it used tofight the Vietnamese, and its general foreign policy. At the end ofit all, King showed how the Americans were not interested in thewellbeing of the Vietnamese, and how badly the country relayed itsimage to the rest of the world.


Davies, Lawrence. “Dr.King’s Response”, TheNew York Times. 13April 1967.

“Dr. King Supported inWarning on War”, TheNew York Times, 15April 1967.

“Dr. King’s Error.” TheNew York Times, 7April 1967.

Dudziak, Mary L.&nbspCold War civil rights: Race and the image ofAmerican democracy. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Herbers, John. “Dr. King’sAides Score Asia War”.The New York Times.31 March 1967.

King. Martin l. Jr. “BeyondVietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” (New York, NY.). 1967.

Marable, Manning.&nbspRace,Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America,19451990. Univ.Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Sherry, Michael S.&nbspInthe shadow of war: The United States since the 1930s.Yale University Press, 1997.

Washington, Sam. “NegroOpinion on Viet is Shifting.” TheChicago Defender, 22 April 1967.

Weiss, David. NoVietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, directedby David Loeb Weiss (1968), DVD.

Wilkins in BitterAttack on Dr. King’s Peace Stand”, “ChicagoDaily Defender, 20 April 1967.

11. Martin Luther King. Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” (New York. 1967) 1

2 2. Ibid, 139

3 3. Michael Sherry.&nbspIn the shadow of war: The United States since the 1930s. Yale University Press, 1997.

44. King., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

5 5. Michael Sherry. In the Shadow of War, 285

66. King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

77. “Dr. King’s Error,” The New York Times, 7 April 1967.

8 8. Marable, Manning.&nbspRace, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 19451990. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1991.

99. John Herbers, “Dr. King’s Aides Score Asia War”. The New York Times. 31 March 1967, 1.

1010. Herbers, “Dr. King’s Aides Score Asia War”.

11 11. Dudziak, Mary L.&nbspCold War civil rights: Race and the image of American democracy. Princeton University Press, 2011.

1212. “Dr. King Supported in Warning on War”, The New York Times, 15 April 1967, 13.

1313. David Weiss. No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, directed by David Loeb Weiss (1968), DVD.

1414. Sam Washington, “Negro Opinion on Viet is Shifting.” The Chicago Defender, 22 April 1967, 1.

1515. Washington, “Negro Opinion on Viet is Shifting.”

1616. “Wilkins in Bitter Attack on Dr. King’s Peace Stand”, “Chicago Daily Defender, 20 April 1967, 2.

1717. Chicago Daily Defender, “Wilkins in Bitter Attack on Dr. King’s Peace Stand.”

1818. Lawrence Davies, “Dr. King’s Response”, The New York Times. 13 April 1967, 32.

19 19. Dudziak, Mary L.&nbspCold War civil rights: Race and the image of American democracy. Princeton University Press, 2011.

20 20. Herbers, John. “Dr. King’s Aides Score Asia War

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