King in the Wilderness
“the fierce urgency of now” – Martin Luther King
The Center for Global Justice celebrates the birth date of Martin Luther King by looking at the last years of King’s life and his moral boldness that many preferred to ignore. This is recounted in the film “King in the Wilderness.”
Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” address was without a doubt one of the great speeches of our times. It was a powerful expression of the aspiration for racial equality that still rings in our ears today. But there is another King speech, less well known, but equally relevant for our times. It was an April 4, 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City, where he spoke out against the triple evils of our country: racism, materialism and militarism. In a resounding condemnation of the US war on Vietnam, King said “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world is my government.” He warned that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
While the truth of those statements may be widely recognized today, in his own day King was vilified for publicly opposing the Vietnam war. The media and politicians said he should stay in his civil rights silo. But in the last years of his life his calling to oppose violence brought him to speak out and organize against the moral corruption of the country. He took the civil rights struggle to the cities of the North, highlighting the uncomfortable reality that racism was not unique to the backward South. He pointed to “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long,” decrying the way the US had put itself into opposition against the poor and oppressed people of the world who were struggling for justice and a better life.
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
“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 the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”
And King brought that perspective home by launching the Poor People’s campaign that brought him to Memphis where he was assassinated April 4, 1968 –one year to the day after his Riverside Church speech. This campaign is now being renewed under the leadership of Rev. William Barber.
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