A Time to Break the Silence—Again: A Reflection on the 40th Anniversary of M.L. King’s Riverside Speech

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Published online at www.wordandworld.org. 8 pp.

Four decades ago Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech at Riverside Church in New York City.1 Not only was this his most consequential address (King was assassinated exactly one year later); I believe it represents the most signifi- cant public oration in U.S. history. In it King was prophetic in both senses of that word— speaking truth to power and anticipating the historical consequences of our collective choices. Indeed, his analysis remains disturbingly resonant today.

With others I have come to see this discourse as a sort of “hermeneutic key” for our faith and our politics. It was more than a bold critique of the Indochina War; it was a deep ar- chaeology of public culture and identity—perhaps the culmination of King’s lifetime strug- gle “for the soul of America.” King connects the dots between what he called the “giant triplets” of racism, militarism and materialism, and then calls us to take back the world from those “who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

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by Ched Myers

All articles on this site were written by Ched Myers unless otherwise specified.