1965 August 12

Dr. Martin Luther King Opposes Vietnam War


Civil rights leader Martin Luther King delivered a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, on this day opposing the Vietnam War. Many other civil rights leaders, along with many Democrats, criticized him because they felt his opposition to the war would split the civil rights movement and alienate President Lyndon Johnson and other leading Democrats. King resisted pressure to drop his opposition to the war, however. The Vietnam War deeply divided the Democratic Party, and the entire nation, regardless of King’s position.

The Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

King: “There is no need to place blame, and I certainly do not intend to argue the military or political issues involved. Neither the American people nor the people of North Viet Nam is the enemy. The true enemy is war itself . . . .”

Read King’s speech: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/6508_mlk_vietnam.pdf

Hear the speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b80Bsw0UG-U

Learn more about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964–1968 (1973)

Visit the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC: http://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm

Read the monumental Three-Volume biography of Dr. King by Taylor Branch: Parting the Waters (1988); Pillar of Fire (1998); At Canaan’s Edge (2006)

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