Dispatch 40: African American Peace Leaders and MLK's "A Time to Break the Silence"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Source: By Nobel Foundation ( http://nobelprize.org/ ) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Source: By Nobel Foundation (http://nobelprize.org/) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

17 years ago I had the privilege of collaborating with my doctoral advisor, Dr. Marvin Berlowitz, and African American History scholar and mentor, Dr. Eric Jackson, on a project designed to bring to life documents written by African American peace leaders of the twentieth century. While some were well-known, a majority either had generally not been seen since their original publication or had been transcribed and boxed away. 

The process of securing rights to many of these powerful pieces at times proved incredibly difficult given the consolidation and elimination of many publishing houses across the country. We struggled with attorneys, got bounced around publishing house bureaucracies, and often discovered when we thought we had it all “in the bag” another round of permissions was needed. 

In the end, the struggle to get these documents was well worth the end result of bringing out voices of men and women who - through non-violence - wielded the weapons of peace and the written word to advance basic human rights and civil rights. 

To this day, one of the most powerful pieces in the book is Dr. Martin Luther King’s “A Time to Break the Silence”. While this was one of the easier documents to obtain as it was one of his more famous speeches, it served as a vital concluding source for our book showing the historical arc as relates to peace and justice among numerous African American leaders. His speech was important on so many levels, including his full-on critique of the Vietnam War. Though there were many who were speaking out against the conflict, King’s speech became central to raising greater consciousness linking class, race, and the machinations of war. His powerful observation in which he pointed out that our government was essentially sacrificing poor families to guarantee liberties in (Vietnam) while not solving for the lack of freedoms in "Southeast Georgia and Harlem" brought a truth to power that only Dr. King could deliver given his national prominence. 

When I first read these words, I was transformed by his clarity, his steady determination to shed a bright light on the hypocrisy of fighting a war that was predicated on advancing freedom halfway around the world while our country could not - in many cases would not - ensure basic liberties for all of its citizens. As King noted: "A time comes when silence is betrayal…we are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls (the) enemy.”

15 years ago, when the book was published, YouTube was not yet an idea. Now, with this technology, we have the words as articulated directly by Martin Luther King. If you have an opportunity today or sometime this week, I urge you to take time to listen to this powerful speech given by a man who truly was this country’s moral conscience.