Time to Break Silence

April 4, 2017 will be the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.  In confronting the deeply rooted racism,  militarism and materialism of the United States,  Dr. King described the United States as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.

Delivered to an overflow crowd at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4,  1967, Dr. King’s challenge to engage in a radical revolution of values encountered ferocious opposition.  Fifty years later,  however,  it is clear that his analysis and his call to action is as relevant now as it was then.

  • Today the United States has a multi-trillion dollar permanent war economy, the costliest deployment of weapons and military personnel in the world and at home a vast system of mass incarceration,  a hideous homicide rate and endemic violence against women and LGBTQ people.
  • Today as a result of our society’s virulent racism, people of color are subjected to unrelenting state violence through police brutality, police murder and massive incarceration rates,  while suffering gross disparities in income, education, employment, military service, housing and health care.
  • Today materialism dominates our culture and our economy to the peril of all life on earth. It pollutes our values, our souls and the natural world.
  • Today we know that the struggle against sexism and patriarchy is intrinsically linked to overcoming racism, militarism,  materialism and environmental catastrophe.

These truths are too rarely discussed. We are too often silent, too often ruled by despair or indifference.

The National Council of Elders (NCOE) is resolved to join with others to break this deadly silence.  We will organize group readings of the Dr. King’s speech on April 4,  2017.  We ask schools,  churches,  civil rights groups,  labor organizations,  museums,  community organizations and others to join us in building this movement to break silence,  promote dialogue and engage in non-violent direct action.

The National Council of Elders (NCOE) was founded by Rev James Lawson, Jr,  Rev Phillip Lawson and the late Dr. Vincent G. Harding.  It was Dr. Harding who wrote the draft of Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence.  We are defined in our mission statement as “20th Century Organizers committed to the theory and practice of nonviolence, united to engage with organizers of the 21st century.”

Silence is no longer an option!

The Reverend Dr. William Barber II marked the beginning of activities around the country reflecting on the 50th anniversary of  Martin Luther King’s call for a radical revolution in values in “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” On Sunday morning, April 2, he spoke at Riverside Church in New York City from he same pulpit where Dr. King stood to speak to Clergy and Laity Concerned.

Dr. Barber is no stranger to struggle. Pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina he became a leading voice in the Forward Together Moral Movement that carried out weekly protests against the repressive in actions of the North Carolina Assembly.
Drawing on Dr. King’s theme that there comes a time when silence is a betrayal to all we value and love, Dr. Barber pressed today “Silence is no longer an option.”

Statements from the Elders

Statement of Mission and Purpose

We are 20th century organizers committed to the theory and practice of nonviolence, united to engage with organizers of the 21st century.

We are urgently called to this mission by the escalation of all forms of violence and the rise of anti-democratic forces.

We are working toward a United States free of the domination of racism, sexism, militarism, materialism, economic inequality, and the destruction of the natural world.


In November, 2009, James Lawson, his brother Phil Lawson and their civil rights co-worker, Vincent Harding, called a handful of veterans from 20th century social justice movements to begin organizing a (U.S.) Council of Elders whose members would offer their insights and support to leaders and activists of the 21st century.

Already the National Council of Elders has grown to include veterans of a wide range of 20th century civil rights, justice, environmental, LGBT, and peace movements.

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