WHY BREAKING THE SILENCE?
April 4 is the date Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 while he was in Memphis, Tennessee to support sanitation workers. Exactly one year before, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King gave one of his most consequential speeches titled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. This speech was the first time he publicly called for an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam and for unity and action to end the triple threats of militarism, racism, and extreme materialism.
By April 1967 over 1 million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians and 16,000 U.S. military personnel had died in the Vietnam war. The countryside and cities in the south and the north had been devastated by combat, bombing, and use of toxic defoliants like Agent Orange. In the U.S. the anti-war movement had mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in local and national demonstrations plus tens of thousands who had challenged the draft. As Dr. King explained, many of those drafted and dying were young, African American men while the demand for justice at home was accelerating, bringing new levels of repression. The connections between the wars abroad and the wars at home were becoming increasingly clear. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was one of the first organizations to denounce the war and emphasize the hypocrisy of the U.S. government claiming to defend democracy abroad while denying democracy at home. Rev. Dr. King’s address at Riverside Church built upon the work of activists and projected a powerful call to unite these struggles conceptually and strategically.
Virtual Gathering: APRIL 4 at 7:15 PM EDT
With Live ASL Interpretation + Spanish Translation
Many organizations have come together to promote national and local readings of Dr. King’s “Breaking Silence” speech in communities across the country to study the lessons of this speech and to convene local coalitions working for justice. Click here to see this intergenerational and intersectional coalition of organizations.
Please plan to join us online to watch our virtual gathering where well-known advocates will be joined by grassroots organizers who will read the speech. It promises to be an inspiring program. A moderated panel discussion will follow the readings offering perspectives about the relevance of Dr. King’s speech to peace and justice work today.
The 2022 Panel
Facilitator: Dr. Stephen Ward
• Dr. Stephen Ward is an historian and activist. He is a professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan where he teaches social theory and practice. His work explores African American political thought and the development of Black Power, especially as it has evolved in urban centers. He chronicled the early works of James and Grace Lee Boggs in his acclaimed book, In Love and Struggle. He is president of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center in Detroit.
• Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley is a scholar activist who has written extensively on the African American struggles for freedom. He is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA and author of several books and articles exploring African and American culture, history, and the struggle for justice. His writing influences our understanding of the African Diaspora, black intellectuals and the role of music and visual culture in fostering freedom dreams. He is a regular contributor to Monthly Review, Souls, Color Lines, Counterpunch and The Black Scholar.
• Andrea J. Ritchie is a writer, lawyer and activist who advocates for the lives of victims of police violence. She is the author of Invisible No More, a history of state violence against women of color. Her work has helped define the national movement for Abolition and challenges abusive and discriminatory policing against women, girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people of color. She is Researcher-in-Residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Her work has appeared in the New York Times,Washington Post, Teen Vogue, and The Root.
• Crystal Cavalier is a proud member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, a water protector, and a powerful voice for the people of North Carolina. She launched the Native American Caucus of the North Carolina’s Democratic Party and helped to charter ten county-level caucuses across the state while serving as Caucus president. Crystal also founded the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of NC and will soon earn an EdD centered on the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in her state. Earlier in her career, while raising three children as a military spouse, Crystal worked to improve health care access for military families and secure job stability for military spouses. Crystal Cavalier has demonstrated her ability to bring people together across differences to win organizing campaigns for basic human needs.
• Justin J. Pearson is the fourth son of five boys born to teenage parents in Memphis, Tennessee. Justin J. graduated from Mitchell High School as Valedictorian and Bowdoin College in 2017 majoring in both Government & Legal Studies and Education Studies. He currently lives in Memphis and works at the headquarters of Year Up in Boston, Massachusetts. He is focused on social, racial, and economic justice as Special Assistant to the CEO of Year Up – a national program helping 18 – 24-year-olds gain training and entry-level jobs. Justin J. is also a leader of Memphis Community Against Pollution and co-founder of Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) which is a Black-led environmental justice organization that successfully defeated a multi-billion dollar company’s crude oil pipeline project. He is the Co-Lead and the Strategic Advisor for the Mid South Mobilization Committee of the Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival. Justin J. Pearson hopes his life preaches a sermon that will glorify God and honor his ancestors.
• Nse Ufot is the Chief Executive Officer of the New Georgia Project (NGP) and its affiliate New Georgia Project Action Fund). Nse leads both organizations with a data-informed approach and a commitment to developing tools that leverage technology to make it easier for every voter to engage in every election. Nse and her team are developing Georgia’s home-grown talent by training and organizing local activists across the state. She has dedicated her live to working on civil, human and workers rights to strengthen democracy. The NGP has registered nearly 600,000 Georgians to vote.
• Myrna Pagan (Taíno name: Inaru Kuni- Woman of the Sacred Waters) lives on the shores of the Caribbean Sea on the island of Vieques. This paradise served as a training ground for the US Navy and for more than six decades suffered from the devastation of the health of its residents and the environment. This assault converted Myrna and many of others of Vieques to become peace-loving warriors in opposition to the US Navy’s desecration of their island.
She is the Founder of Vidas Viequenses Valen an environmental movement working for peace and justice, and a Founding member of Radio Vieques, Educational Community Radio. She is a steering committee member of the Ceasefire Campaign and a Community representative for the Restoration Advisory Board of the US Navy and for the EPA, U. Mass project to study the effects of military toxins on Viequenses and their environment.
• Kathy ‘Wan Povi’ Sanchez is a community activist from San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. Kathy has worked women’s issues related to culture, the environment, and social change for most of her life. She was among the co-founding mothers of Tewa Women United, a group that raises awareness about issues relating to colonization. She works toward creating a culture of peace
• Rev James Lawson is a leading theorist and activist for non violent change. Sine his early days as a conscientious objector to the Korean war, Reverend Lawson has been a tireless activist for nonviolence.
He teaches the uses of nonviolence in the 20th and 21st centuries, Nonviolent Struggles, Civil Rights and Social Change in workshops and classes throughout the United States. Rev. Lawson is the co-author of Nonviolence and Social Movements: The Teachings of Rev. James M. Lawson Jr, edited with Ken Wong and Ana Luz Gonzalez. It includes case studies that explore how individual acts of conscience can lead to collective action and how the practice of nonviolence can build a powerful movement for social change.
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” was delivered to an overflow crowd at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 at the invitation of Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC). Dr. King’s challenge to engage in a radical revolution of values encountered ferocious opposition. Mainstream media castigated him for speaking out about foreign policy, consigning his expertise only to racial justice. Civil rights leaders criticized him for diluting the single focus on racism. Rev. Dr. King replied that he was continuing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) commitment to “save the soul of America,” by calling for an end to the devastation in Vietnam and the stagnation and decay of the war on poverty in the U.S. As a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Award, he felt he had the responsibility to speak out for peace. For some, his “Breaking Silence” speech was the primary reason he was killed exactly one year later to the day. By 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.
“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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. … We are confronted by the fierce urgency of Now.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Everything you need to host a reading or conversation is readily available for download from this toolkit.