Martin Luther King, Jr (1929-1968) was an American preacher, orator and political activist. History knows King best as a campaigner for African-American civil rights, however he was also an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of a Baptist minister. He was educated at Morehouse, a private college for black men, before entering a seminary. King became an ordained Baptist minister in 1947 then completed a doctorate at Boston University. During the late 1950s and 1960s King emerged at the forefront of the civil rights movement. He oversaw the Montgomery bus boycott, was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and organised protests and sit-ins against racial segregation. In August 1963 King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech to more than a quarter million people in Washington DC.
Though King’s main focus was on civil rights, he occasionally expressed misgivings and criticism of the Vietnam conflict. King considered American involvement there an imperialist act that denied the Vietnamese the right to self determination. He was also critical of the US draft regime, which pressed a disproportionate number of African-Americans into service in Vietnam. By 1967 King was delivering entire speeches on Vietnam and calling for a full scale American withdrawal. In April 1967 he addressed a congregation at Riverside Church in New York City, delivering his well known ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech. In his oration King called on Washington to end all bombing, to negotiate with Hanoi and the Viet Cong and work towards a full withdrawal from South Vietnam. King’s militant stance on Vietnam alienated some of his supporters and caused fractures in the civil rights movement. He came under close surveillance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and was smeared as a communist sympathiser. King prepared to escalate his anti-war activities in 1968, an election year, but was shot dead by a lone gunman in Memphis, Tennessee.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “Martin Luther King”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/vietnamwar/martin-luther-king/.