Martin Luther King Jr.: 8 peaceful protests that bolstered civil rights

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. believed that nonviolent protest is the most effective weapon against a racist and unjust society. But it required rallying people to his cause. Here are some of the most revolutionary peaceful protests King led.

7. Vietnam War opposition, 1967

John Littlewood/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Against a backdrop of the United Nations headquarters in New York, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told an estimated 125,000 peace marchers on April 18, 1967, that the US should end the bombing campaign against North Vietnam. He also urged students to organize against the war.

Dr. King, an opponent of the Vietnam War, denounced America's involvement in a series of speeches at rallies and demonstrations. His first speech on the war itself, in 1967, was called “Beyond Vietnam” and was delivered exactly one year before his assassination. In it, he criticized the US government, insisting it was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” 

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ ”

Later that year, King commented on the “cruel irony” of black Americans dying for a country that treats them as second-class citizens.

“We were taking the young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties, which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” he said. “We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them in the same schools.”

King’s opposition to the Vietnam War cost him many white allies, including President Lyndon Johnson and many members of the media. Criticizing one of his speeches, Life magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post also said King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

In January 1968, the day after President Johnson’s State of the Union address, King called for a march on Washington to protest what he called “one of history’s most cruel and senseless wars.”

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