4. Riverside Church is the Venue of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech
Riverside Church has had long, rich history of social activism throughout the years. As a church that prides itself on its interdenominational, multicultural principles, Riverside Church has task forces advocating for various causes: LGBT events and workshops are hosted in the church, immigrants’ rights movements strive to lobby for policies that would keep families of illegal immigrants together in the United States.
Being a beacon for social justice, Riverside Church served as a perfect venue for Martin Luther King Jr.‘s lesser remembered fight against the Vietnam War. On April 4th, 1967 Dr. King delivered his solemn, yet emphatic “Beyond Vietnam” speech where he voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War, stating, “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam’.”
Dr. King’s speech came off the back of a strategic conundrum. While he had previously voiced concern about the war, the Vietnam War was being fought under President Lyndon Johnson’s leadership. President Johnson had been a great ally for Dr. King and criticizing him could have had led to repercussions. Nevertheless, Dr. King, guided by his quintessential moral compass, pushed ahead and delivered his speech, where he called the war, “an enemy of the poor” that was swallowing the nation’s young men and its resources for antipoverty programs like a “demonic, destructive suction tube.”
The speech incited severe backlash and harsh criticism from the media, and even some of his own allies. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated exactly one year later to the day, and while his antiwar campaigns were inconsequential to the course of the war (the war continued for eight more years), Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech was again a testament to his belief in doing what was right, despite potential ramifications.