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Martin Luther King Was a Man of Non-Violence: Let Us Celebrate That Creed

Jan. 21, 2008 — On April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was killed, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech to a meeting of concerned clergy and lay people at the Riverside Church in New York City. The focus of the gathering was the Vietnam War. The speech, one of King's lesser known, is chillingly pertinent today in light of the continuing debacle in Iraq.
It is a Source tradition to run this speech every year on Martin Luther King Day.
This is the fifth year. The violence and brutality of war in Iraq have continued unabated, leaving 3,905 U.S. troops dead, and 28,822 wounded as of Jan. 2. The numbers do not reflect the tens of thousands of those who are left psychologically damaged by the insanity of this unprecedented conflict – or the millions of Iraqis displaced by this unnecessary "war." It does not include the hundreds of troops killed from other countries and it does not include the Iraqis both military and civilian who have died. Some estimates put the number of civilians at 600,000.
The connection King made between war and the poor is particularly trenchant given the enormous gap between rich and poor that has grown exponentially in the United States over the last eight years. The rich have gotten richer from it, while the poor have died in this invasion –- as was the case in the Vietnam conflict King pointed out.
"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and 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. Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem."

— Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967

(To read the entire speech, click on the title: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.)
Poverty, the breakdown of public education and the attendant hopelessness have continued and worsened since that day nearly 41 years ago. The young and not-so-young men and women of the Virgin Islands have been yanked from their homes and families to serve in a chaotic war halfway around the world.
Meanwhile, at home, King's message of non-violence has been drowned out by the cacophony of rage, greed, and substance abuse that reverberates through our community.
How have we lost this courageous man's message?
How is it our young people seek solutions with guns and knives and fists?
How do we turn this around?
We turn it around in our own lives. This year, let us consider making the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday a personal turning point for each of us.
In offering this reminder — this memory of a man whose courage and intelligence, whose commitment to non-violence and love literally changed the world — we hope that we can find inspiration, renewed faith and energy to pick up where King left off and say no to violence as a solution for anything.
Understanding that before changing the world we must change ourselves, we could begin with keeping our temper in check every day –- in traffic, in government offices, with our neighbors and in our homes. It's a beginning.
The next best tribute to Dr. King we can provide is to offer the words of the man who stood — far above the crowd — in his commitment to peace and an end to poverty and ignorance.

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