Monday, January 20, 2014

The Forgotten King

The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Everyone knows that we are away from school today because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is commemorated by name with a national holiday. And just about everyone alive is familiar with King's "I Have A Dream" speech. However, as we wrap up the semester, we invite you to think about what you have previously learned about Dr. King when you were a younger student, in light of this particular speech. The subject of the talk was the Vietnam War, in an excerpt from a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, on April 30, 1967. During that very perilous time, consider the public response to his words back then:

...after giving the speech...King was dropped from Gallup’s annual list of the most admired Americans and was ridiculed by the New York Times, among too many others. Soon after, he was murdered (Robert Scheer,

Although it is over 20 minutes long, you are encouraged to listen to as much of it as you can (it's audio only). We know what amazing multitaskers you are. Press PLAY and have it on in the background as you message your friends and surf the net ;) Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Why is this post titled, "The Forgotten King"?
  2. Why don't we Americans celebrate this speech?
  3. How does it relate to our course themes?
  4. Can you make connections to today?


Erik L. said...

I think this post is titled "The Forgotten King" because it brings to light some of MLK's views and opinions that America has chosen to forget. The media will talk plenty about King's momentous contributions to the civil rights movement but will chose to ignore some of his more controversial opinions, such as his opposition to the vietnam war, because many Americans disagree with that opinion.

Us Americans don't celebrate this speech for a number of reasons. One being, that history is written by the winner. In his speech, King talks about America needing, "A genuine revolution of values." Unfortunately, he was only able to change America's values regarding race, not war. Thus, we remember him for his contributions to our new value of racial equality, and sweep his contributions to the anti-war effort under the rug. Because, after all, we still fight very brutal and very expensive wars.

This speech relates to our course themes because it is an example of expressing one's civil liberties during wartime. What's interesting about this example is that while we normally focus on the government punishing citizens for expressing their civil liberties, this is an example how Americans can punish fellow Americans for expressing their civil liberties. Although, Americans may punish other Americans because of propaganda and influence from the US government. The quote that is front and center on this blog illustrates this very point.

While there are certainly connections between MLK's speech and today, I would like to first focus on the very strong connection between this speech and a speech given six years earlier. In President Eisenhower's farewell address, given on January 17, 1961, he warns us of a new phenomenon called the "military industrial complex". MLK shows us that the military industrial complex is in action now when it causes the deaths of Vietnamese citizens and perpetuates the cycle of poverty for American citizens. It seems that even today, the warnings of these two American icons have not truly been heard. We still fight violent wars and still spend a massive portion of this nation's budget on "defense".

I actually wrote a blog discussing how much our country spends on defense, and the effects of this on lower-income citizens. If this topic interests you, the link is posted below.

William E. said...

@Eric L. I think you really hit it on the nose when you said that history is written by the winner; mostly because it is, but thats another topic for debate.

"Forgotten King" seems to show that we as Americans, didn't listen to everything that MLK said and seemed to tune out the parts that we didn't hear, or "brush them under the rug" like Eric said. People only want to listen to want they want to and in a time when the US and Russia were still amidst the Cold War, being anti-war and anti-Vietnam made people look in the other direction. In wars like the Quasi war and even World War 1, it was a, "your either with us or against us", mentality and that same ideal can be seen today and in the past century.

Another reason MLK could have been forgotten in ones mind is the fact that public schools don't have class today. The reason I think this is bad because although its nice to have a day off from school, learning about MLK for a day at school would be a much more beneficial day to promote his ideals whether they are his racial equality or anti-war opinions and then allow the student to think for himself and really get a complete understanding of who MLK was and what exactly his beliefs are.

Josh Sussman said...

I definitely agree with Erik and Will that the post is called "The Forgotten King" because people often want to remember Dr. King as a civil rights leader, not one who opposed the Vietnam War. Some historians may have decided that they did not want to "blacken" King's name by associating him with anti-war sentiments, so his opposition to the war is not very widely known. Another possible reason for this forgotten side of King is, as he put it in his speech, because it confused people because civil rights and peace seemed to contradict each other.

I think the theme of dissent during perilous times, which we have been presenting on in class directly relates to King's speech. One of the main questions we have been trying to address with our Perilous Times project is: Is dissent during wartime disloyal or loyal?

Based on Dr. King's speech, he believed that dissent is the greatest form of loyalty because "the truth must be told." I think King's belief that we must be able to speak our minds, especially during times of war may have made him hated by many Americans who knew people who died in the war. In the end, King was always fighting for equality of all people whether it be in his wage against the war or against unfair treatment of blacks at home. He will always be remembered as a great hero, which he certainly was.

Callie Walsh said...

Wow, Eric and Wii, your comments are a tough act to follow! I agree with a lot of what you have both said.

One line that really stuck out to me was in the beginning of the speech when King said "There comes a time when silence is betrayal".

This line made me think about what we've been discussing in our Perilous Times presentations which is that DISSENT MAY BE SEEN AS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTISM. To silence ones voice and blindly follow the governments rule may actually one of the most unpatriotic thing an American can do.

To be silent during the Vietnam War, meant to not oppose or question the governments decisions. I think that many people were silenced during the Vietnam War, and felt that they could not speak out against the government because if they did they risked being called the worst possible thing at the time... "a communist". I think King believed that American citizens' extreme anti-communist ideology was blinding them from the severe amount of violence they were bringing into Vietnam.

King broke this silence by speaking out against such extreme anti-Communist views and the governments actions in Vietnam because he wanted America to be a better nation. A nation that proclaimed equal justice for all people independent of race, religion, and political ideology. I think that King saw racial injustices in America as being very similar to the injustice abroad, where in both cases Americans were using violence to instill dominance.

Griffin Powell said...

Calllie I had the same thought as you in the "dissent can be seen as the highest form of partiotism". Loving your country doesn't simply mean loving your government or the choices they make, in fact often it is the opposite.

Sadly many people are afraid to speak out, fearing they may seem unpatriotic, yet MLK realized it's up to the people just as much as it is the government to change this country, and that is why we recognize MLK day, he should be a role model to all.

Shannon said...

I feel like this is called "The Forgotten King" because when someone does something unfavorable in the midst of all their accomplishments,we feel the need to pretend it never happened.
I do agree with the other commentors that MLK was totally in his right to speak up about the Vietnam War. However, his dissent has been ignored for i think one of two reasons.
The first is to preserve his memory as the ultimate american hero. It wouldn't look good to name a day after a man who had openly opposed the choices of the U.S. government.
The second reason relates a bit to our final question about the Texas law. This speech has been wiped off of history because we teach and construct the civil rights movement and MLK's involvement in a certain way.
When I was first taught about the civil rights movement, I was taught about three things: protests, Rosa Parks being awesome, and Martin Luther King was the Ghandi of the whole thing. If we were to talk about MLK speaking against the government's decisions,his image as the holy grail of the CRM and the perfect american man in the eyes of students could be tarnished.(unless of course the students were older and in agreement about the Vietnam war in which case, King was pretty cool.)

William E. said...

As i read through the transcript of the speech there was one particular sentence that really fascinated me. King decides to agree with Dante, the writer of Dante's Inferno, in which a man travels throughout the depths of hell.

King says, "Now i've chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because i agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality." To paraphrase, he is saying that if you are not constantly fighting for what is morally right ,then you belong in hell. Many parallels can be drawn here. For example, on the eve of the war on terror, Bush said something along the lines of, "if your not with us, your are against us"; but it doesn't just stop there. In the Crucible, the town members treat people in a "you are either with us or against us" mentality and thats what MLK seems to be going for here. He goes onto say that if you remain silent, you are committing an act of betrayal and in my opinion he seems to be right. By keeping your mouth shut, you become a bystander, someone who isnt aiding the cause so then by default he is against. Although Vietnam was a very controversal war, MLK's "Dante's Inferno" reference, seems fascinating but also true.

To all the other people reading this comment, how do you decipher what MLK is saying in the lines quoted above?