Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s Radical Leadership

by Peggy Faw Gish

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 85th birthday, let’s honor his refusing to limit his work to racial equality and reconciliation, but seeing the interconnection between racism and the violence of racism with the violence of U.S. military aggression in the world and the violence of oppressive economic systems. He was not just trying to tweak the system to make it a little better, but called for radical change.

In King’s April 4, 1967 Riverside Church speech, King answered his critics who didn’t want him to include an anti-war message, when he said, “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….These are revolutionary times. All over the globe [people] are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression. We in the West must support these revolutions.” (link for complete text of speech: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html). Shortly after the speech he and Dr. Benjamin Spock went to Cambridge, Mass, to launch an active movement against the Vietnam War.

Interesting also is the little known “Ten Commandments on Vietnam,” that King planned to present at a large anti-war rally in New York on April 27, 1968. This was found in his pocket after his assassination.

1. Thou shalt not believe in a military victory.
2. Thou shalt not believe in a political victory.
3. Thou shalt not believe that the Vietnamese people love us.
4. Thou shalt not believe that the Saigon government has the support of the people.
5. Thou shalt not believe that the majority of the South Vietnamese look upon the Viet Cong as terrorists.
6. Thou shalt not believe the figures of killed enemies or killed Americans.
7. Thou shalt not believe that the generals know best.
8. Thou shalt not believe that the enemies victory means communism.
9. Thou shalt not believe that the world supports the United States.
10. Thou shalt not kill.

Woven through his speeches and actions, including his planning the “Poor People’s Campaign,” was King’s call to change America’s economic system. King said, “One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, abut a greater distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalist economy and to ask questions about the whole society.” In 1966, when he spoke to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization of the Committee on Government Operations, he spoke, among other things, of the “Economic Restructuring of society.”      http://college.cengage.com/history/ayers_primary_sources/king_justice_1966.htm

Many who have studied King’s thinking, believe his evolving views were cut-short by his tragic death, but that they were pointing to a democratic form of system beyond both traditional capitalism and traditional socialism and to a very different role for the U.S. in the world.

Peggy Faw Gish has worked in Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams since Oct. 2002 and has recently published the book:  Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade, 2013). Her blog is https://plottingpeace.wordpress.com/


1 thought on “Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King’s Radical Leadership

  1. Hey Peggy,

    Thank you for writing this article and sharing Dr. King’s “10 Commandments on Vietnam”. I think it is important to present the economic message of King because that is the part that often seem to get swept under the rug the fastest. Anyway, thank you for writing this article, I found it helpful.


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