CONTACT: Ira Arlook, Fenton Communications, c: 202 258-5437

Terry Provance, Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee,, 202 686-7483

Famous MLK Anti-War Speech Draws New Attention 50 Years Later

The prophetic anti-war speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1967 is drawing attention from today’s activists young and old. Sponsored by Clergy and Laity Concerned and delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City to an overflow crowd, Dr. King’s controversial “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence,” marked a turning point in bringing together the civil rights, anti-poverty and antiwar causes.


The speech is now being used to call attention to the ongoing reality of the racism, materialism and militarism triplets and other issues identified by Dr. King in the speech given 50 years ago. His profound challenge to the status quo domestically and internationally led to 200 critical editorials, including in the New York Times and Washington Post.

“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. … We are confronted by the fierce urgency of Now.” 

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church

An array of events rooted in the message of the speech will continue through the year until April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. Sponsors include the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee, The National Council of Elders, Riverside Church, and The Shalom Center.


They include events as varied as 40 days of Lenten devotions which began March 1, to an April 18 tax day protest in Oakland CA, and many other observances.


On April 2d “Finding Common Ground: Linking the Struggles against Poverty Racism and War” will be discussed at 4 p.m. in South Bend, Indiana by representatives from Kroc Institute, Civil Rights Heritage Center and South Bend Heritage Foundation. In Detroit, Congressman John Conyers will participate in the reading of the speech. Speaking at the Chicago Temple at 1:30 is Sherri Bevel, co-founder of the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training and the daughter of civil rights legends James Bevel and Diane Nash.

On April 3, in Detroit, Michigan, defendants charged with various offenses for impeding the shut off of water to poor Detroiters will read the speech in front of the 36th District Courthouse where they await trial or verdicts.

Riverside Church will live-stream a discussion about the speech between Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow and longtime activist Ruby Sales on April 4 beginning at 7 PM EDT.

“I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. ” 

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church

From 1:00 – 2:30 PM, April 4, a program at the Church Center for the United Nations will discuss the relevance of the speech to the UN. The program includes Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations. It is sponsored by the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations and the Chaplain’s Office, Church Center for the UN.


The speech will also be the foundation of interfaith, intergenerational dialogue and workshops at New York Ave. Presbyterian Church in Washington DC on April 4, from 12:30 -5 PM organized by The Shalom Center. The day will culminate with a multireligious Call to Prayerful Action, including talks by Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Bishop Dwayne Royster (Political Director, PICO National Network), and Congressman Jamie Raskin. At 5 p.m. participants will March to the White House where they will hold a vigil.


A panel of experts at Stanford University will discuss the speech at 7 p.m. on April 4th sponsored by The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Included are author and television personality Tavis Smiley, King legal advisor Clarence B. Jones, and King Institute director Clayborne Carson.

“Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours. “

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church

Veterans for Peace Chapter 61 is doing a reading of the speech in St Louis and installing a Peace Pole at the Tomas Dunn Learning Center in a local public park on April 4. Former staff of the Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam are hosting a reading in their home in Harrisonburg, VA.

Chicago will witness King linked events on April 4th organized by Teachers for Social Justice with a rally at Federal Plaza at 3:30 and a teach-in at the Teachers Union at 5:30. Veterans for Peace is co-sponsoring a community reading followed by hands-on art development and discussion at 7:30 pm at the First Unitarian Church in Hyde Park.


In Cincinnati the King program will be sponsored by the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Greater Cincinnati with the Faith Community Alliance and the Cincinnati Branch of the NAACP.


The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency) is sponsoring a day of creative action across the U.S. on April 4th, collaborating with many partners. including Alternate ROOTS; Arts & Democracy; Barefoot Artists; The Dinner Party; Forecast Public Art; Hollaback!; Native Arts & Cultures Foundation; New Economy Coalition; New Poor People’s Campaign; Spark Movement; WomenArts; and #100DAYS100DINNERS.


The Grass Roots Movement for Social Justice has called upon its 50 local groups to organize or join April 4th events linked to their agenda for “Indigenous Sovereignty, Self Determination for Black and Brown communities, visions for expanded sanctuary, Just Transition, grassroots feminism, LGBTQIA rights and economic justice for workers, renters, the unemployed and the poor.”


“If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. ” 

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church

In Des Moines, on April 9, at 3 p.m. a procession led by a donkey will start from Grace United Methodist Church, 38th & Cottage Grove and end with a prayer service at First Christian Church, 25th & University. Actor Aaron Smith will reenact Dr King’s sermon.


A six week Lenten study series based on King’s address takes place on Wednesday evenings at Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville, North Carolina.


April 18th, Tax Day, a broad spectrum of California Bay Area citizens will read Dr. King’s speech at 12 noon, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. from the steps of the Federal Building in Oakland, CA.


The 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days of the National Council of Churches of Christ in Crystal City, VA on April 21 will use the speech to “analyze the Christian foundations of their common work to create the ‘Beloved Community’ where the social, political, and economic rights of all are respected and people are able to realize their full potential as children of God.”

Also on the weekend of April 21-23 the Cape Cod Council of Churches and university programs at Cape Cod Community College and Boston University will undertake readings, music and potluck meals. King did his post-graduate studies at Boston University.


Many other events are taking place in classrooms, churches, community centers and other locations.

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church


The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee came together in 2015 to encourage an accurate portrayal of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam war and of the role of the peace movement in ending it. VPCC grew out of a broadly supported challenge to the Pentagon’s one-sided commemoration of the war and the May 1-2, 2015 conference in Washington, “Vietnam: The Power of Protest”. Its perspective on the speech anniversary can be found here


The National Council of Elders was born out of a vision shared by Dr. Vincent Harding, Rev. James Lawson and his brother Rev. Phil Lawson to engage 20th century organizers committed to the theory and practice of nonviolence with organizers of the 21st century. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

The contacts below can supply additional details and arrange interviews.

Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee–Terry Provance:, 202 686-7483

National Council of Elders–Frank Joyce:; 313.825.1117

The Shalom Center—Rabbi Arthur Waskow:; (215) 844-8494

Riverside Church

U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, #RevolutionOfValues–Arlene Goldbard:; 415-690-9992 (updated list of programs nationwide)

Video excerpts from a 2016 reading of the speech at Central Methodist Church in Detroit are here:


A PBS documentary by Tavis Smiley on King’s speech and the controversy it generated can be seen here


The full text of the speech can be read here