In 2016, The National Council of Elders decided to commemorate 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic antiwar speech, delivered April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York City. Others, including Riverside Church also honored the speech. Originally sponsored by Clergy and Laity Concerned, the speech has special resonance for the NCOE because it was drafted by one of our founders, the late Vincent Harding.
The Breaking Silence project was a success. In New York, the UN Ambassador from Viet Nam joined the reading. In Detroit, the Homrich 9 water rights protesters read the speech in front of the courthouse where they were scheduled to go on trial. In Richmond, California, a Lutheran Bishop linked Dr. King’s speech to the 500-year anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. On Tax Day, April 18, the speech was read in front of the Federal Building in Oakland, California. On April 29, climate protesters in New Mexico used the speech as a point of reference. On April 30, the anniversary of the end of the Viet Nam war, the San Francisco chapter of Vietnam Veterans for Peace held an event at which the participants reflected on the speech.
Riverside Church, where Dr. King’s speech was originally delivered, was packed for a conversation between Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and Rev. Ruby Sales. Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center held a day-long workshop at New York Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, followed by a vigil at the White House. Beyond the Moment organized at least 30 events for April 4. These events were followed with actions on May 1 in support of the Fight for 15. The Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee organized multiple programs that contributed to the nationwide observance of the relevance of the speech to today’s political struggles. A Lenten season webcast sponsored by Radical Discipleship, a joint project of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and Word & World, provided a daily meditation on the speech.
These are examples of over 150 events and actions sponsored by many organizations throughout this country and abroad. We are aware that there were readings of the speech in Viet Nam, Cuba, and Quebec. Each action or program inspired, connected and energized readers and listeners. In almost every case, the participants resolved to use Dr. King’s speech as a reference point for actions continuing through April 4, 2018.
Media highlights of the project included op-eds in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Enquirer; a week of coverage by Tavis Smiley on his PBS TV show, an hour-long special by Margaret Prescod on her national webcast radio program, Sojourner; an AlterNet article by Elder Frank Joyce, and many other references, news stories and columns, including those by Leonard Pitts and Jim Wallis. (Expanded media list to come.)
Reports and additional information are available on the following websites:
We offer special thanks to Jovan Julien of Project South and Leah Lomotey-Nakon, a research assistant based at Vanderbilt University, who gave us invaluable assistance with the Breaking Silence website. Thanks also to Ash-Lee Henderson, co-director of the Highlander Center, Carol Been and Sherri Maurin, Western Elders’ allies.
The following NCOE Members helped to organize the project and/or participated in actions or readings:
Gloria Aneb House
Joyce and Nelson Johnson
(Apologies if we have missed anyone.)