As we prepare to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week on the annual observance of his birthday, we lift up a timely resource that connects one of Dr. King’s most important (yet under-recognized) speeches in the context of the current conflicts in the Middle East.
“Continuing to Break the Silence: Learning and Reflection on Vietnam, Palestine, and Beyond” (PDF) is a free learning resource written by Sarah DeBolt Badawi and published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It seeks to help community groups, educators, and faith congregations wrestle with such questions as:
- What are the parallels between these global injustices and Dr. King’s and Michelle Alexander’s breaking of their silences on them in the United States?
- What can we learn by examining Dr. King’s speech and Alexander’s op-ed together?
- Where do Dr. King’s lessons and warnings endure?
- And how does Alexander bring his call from 1967 into today?
Excerpted from “Continuing to Break the Silence: Learning and Reflection on Vietnam, Palestine, and Beyond”:
On April 4, 1967 – one year to the day before his assassination – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a landmark sermon-speech at The Riverside Church in New York City. “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” was arguably one of his most important, and easily one of his most controversial, speeches.
In the wake of the speech, Dr. King was widely denounced by policy makers, other civil rights and social movement leaders, and the press. Over 160 newspapers published editorials criticizing him, as well as the facts and arguments he had laid out.
On January 19, 2019, civil rights lawyer, legal scholar, and New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander published an op-ed that explicitly built on the lessons of Dr. King’s 1967 speech. Her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” insisted the time had come to follow his example on “this grave injustice of our time.” The response to her call echoed the condemnation of King. She, too, came in for widespread condemnation.