April 4 is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s best speech “Beyond Viet Nam”
“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. ….”I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered. ….
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching
— Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967
it’s about 30 megabytes and about 50 minutes long
The text of the speech can be found at
King was killed exactly a year to the day after his greatest speech – against the War on Viet Nam (in case anyone missed the symbolism). It is sad that many leaders of the civil rights movement and the peace movement stay silent on this, since it suggests that the empire does not play by democratic rules.
When King was killed, the crime was blamed on James Earl Ray, who was said to be a lone gunman motivated by racism. However, the facts show hat Ray was framed as a patsy, and was railroaded into pleading guilty to avoid a death sentence. Ray spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, and was repeatedly denied the right to have a trial to evaluate the evidence against him. It is little known that the King family publicly stated that the federal
government killed Martin and that James Earl Ray was just a patsy who was framed (Dexter King even met with Ray in his prison and they sought, without success, to get Ray the trial he never had).
In 1967, a young journalist named William Pepper showed photos he had taken in Viet Nam to King, who was shocked and disgusted by the racist atrocities. This material spurred King to publicly oppose the war. After King’s assassination, Pepper dropped out of politics and eventually became a lawyer. Pepper became the attorney for James Earl Ray, and spent years trying to get him a trial. Pepper wrote extensively about the truth of the assassination in two books: Orders to Kill and An Act of State: the execution of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1999, after Ray’s death in prison, the King family won a federal lawsuit against some of the perpetrators of the assassination. This astounding jury verdict is rarely mentioned by the media, even by the liberal alternative media that opposes most federal policies.
One sad lesson of the murder of Dr. King is waiting for a charismatic leader to inspire social change that challenges the status quo is a mistake. These people are easily turned into martyrs, and a movement dependent on such leaders is easily squashed. A better structure would be to emulate mycellium threads (they form mushrooms), which spread widely without a definite center. A more just society would be less hierarchical by definition, so social justice efforts need to be
more decentralized than the model offered by our celebrity obsessed culture. In theory, the internet has this pattern, although the world wide web does include central computers that control allocation of DNS numbers and routing (when you type in a website address these computer translate it into a 12 digit number that is actually the location of a specified server hosting a website).
The best way to celebrate King’s legacy is not to name large swaths of concrete after him, or whitewash the crimes of Empire (at home and abroad), but to work for a world beyond militarism, for non-violence and economic justice.
It is bizarre to have a Federal holiday named for someone who was assassinated by elements of the Federal government.