“I have worked too long now and too hard to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to turn back to the point of segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And wherever I see injustice, I’m going to take a stand against it whether it’s in Mississippi or in Vietnam.”
— Martin Luther King on “Face to Face,” July 1967
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the heroic leader of the Civil Rights struggle, whose birthday is honored with a federal holiday on Jan. 18, was put under tremendous pressure to stay silent on the imperialist war against Vietnam. He was told that the only way that the political establishment of his time would pass progressive legislation would be for him not to object to the brutal war against the Vietnamese people. King absolutely refused.
Infamous Birmingham, Ala., cop Bull Connor, who ordered the brutal assaults on Civil Rights demonstrators with dogs, fire hoses, clubs and guns in the early 1960s, is long dead. However, young Black women and men still remain victims today of a racist war by cops from Ferguson to Cleveland, from Chicago to New York, from Oakland to Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
Certainly, the brave activists of the Black Lives Matter movement carry forward King’s legacy to this very day.
And King would have been proud of activists linking the Black Lives Matter struggle with that for immigrant rights, particularly with the current Gestapo-like ICE raids and deportations targeting Central American immigrants who have fled the U.S.-caused turmoil in their home countries.
King said that the conditions faced by African Americans, who were denied voting rights; equal employment and pay; equal rights to housing, education and hotel rooms; and who were trapped in a life of poverty, were linked to the death and devastation caused by the U.S. military adventure in Vietnam. King was coming to the conclusion that the struggle of workers and the oppressed for justice knew no borders before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968.
An excerpt from his historic April 4, 1967, Riverside Church address in New York City reads: “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 this 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.” (nationalljournal.com, Jan. 20, 2014)
U.S. imperialism has never ceased its relentless war drive, whether by open invasion, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or proxy war, as in Syria, Yemen or Libya. Trillions are spent to feed the war machine, and millions are killed or driven from their homes, while workers and oppressed communities here face stagnant or starvation wages, evictions, huge college debts and never-ending cutbacks to social programs like food stamps.
In the face of the heroic rebellions against the racist oppression of the Black communities that broke out in Watts, in Newark, in Detroit and elsewhere, King pointed to the true cause and the true target of many struggles.
King went on to say at Riverside Church: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
King is gone now, cut down by an assassin’s bullet just twelve months after he spoke those words. But his vision of linking all the different struggles against injustice offers a stirring example for us today and many lessons.