Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a multifaceted, multidimensional and multitalented man. However, because so many fail to study the great works written about African American people, we often find ourselves the victim of 30-secons sound bites on the six o'clock news where excerpts of his omnipresent "I Have A Dream" speech are played over and over again.
Thus, a great many persons fail to come to the realization that there were at least two periods to King's life. The second period was in sharp contrast to the Martin Luther King many in America are familiar with and celebrate as a national holiday the third Monday in January.
Period One began with the Montgomery Bus
Boycott of December 1955 and culminated with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This period is replete with marches like the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama trek and writings like King's "Letter From A Birmingham Jail."
Period Two is more obscure and seldom discussed, perhaps as a result of its sheer poignancy. This period began in the fall of 1965 and continued to King's brutal assassination on April 4, 1968. Ironically, it was a speech that King made exactly one year earlier (April 4, 1967) that would irrevocably change his life and, many believe, hasten his death.
That audacious and uncompromising stand was his decision to deliver a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam" - a speech said to have been heard around the world.
Not a consensus leader
King saw the war America was waging against the people of Vietnam as an "unjust, evil and futile war." King, a self-proclaimed pacifist, stated he would have fought against Hitler but did not see the Vietnam War as being like World War II.
King said, "I agree with Dante-that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, during a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." Followers of King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) importuned him to keep silent about the war because he risked alienating President Lyndon Johnson and the financial supporters of the S.C.L.C.
King's response to those who asked him to be quiet was, "I'm sorry, you don't know me. I'm not a consensus leader. I don't determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by taking a Gallup Poll of the Majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus."
When Whitney Young of the Urban League cornered King and publicly castigated him for his views on Vietnam, King responded sharply, "Whitney, what you're saying may get you a foundation grant, but it won't get you into the kingdom of truth."
Martin Luther King, once having decided to do what was morally correct, if not politically correct, began to unleash a barrage of vituperations at his white allies in government and the media. They supported his stand on nonviolence during sit-ins and freedom rides and embraced his civil-disobedience in cities like Birmingham and Selma but rejected his position on Vietnam:
"They applauded us in the sit-in movement when we nonviolently decided to sit in at lunch counters. They applauded us on the freedom rides when we accepted blows without retaliation, They praised us in... Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause and... praise when I would say, ‘Be nonviolent toward Bull Connor,' ‘be nonviolent toward Jim Clark.' There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,' but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children!'"
Not just songs of passivity
Many may have wondered why elected officials like Senator Jesse Helms, D-NC, and others closer to home voiced vigorous opposition to making King's birthday a national holiday. Supporters of the acknowledgement could not understand why there would be so many objections to a man who simply wanted to hold hands and sing "We Shall Overcome."
But King did more than just sing songs of passivity. During the last three years of his life he began to provide a very analytical perspective on the evils of militarism, racism and economic exploitation; a tune that was and still is dismissed as so much harmonic dissonance.
Ahmad Daniels, M.Ed., is a transformation facilitator, life coach and founder of Creative Interchange in Phoenix. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org