Breaking the Silence: 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 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. 

“Continuing to Break the Silence: Learning and Reflection on Vietnam, Palestine, and Beyond” 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? 

“Continuing to Break the Silence” is a free PDF resource written by Sarah DeBolt Badawi and published in March 2022 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Photos: Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference in Washington DC on March 26, 1964 (Library of Congress); Michelle Alexander at the Miller Center Forum, December 3, 2011 (Miller Center/ Creative Commons).

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