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Silence is Betrayal

It’s Me!



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“The human spirit does not move without great difficulty.”

Dr. King at RiversideDr. King was pure genius and completely insightful.  It is almost inconceivable to me that a person like Dr. King could walk this Earth, in his times, and believe, say and preach the truths that he rendered.  Exactly one year before his untimely assassination death, April 4th, 1968, Dr. King delivered the above quote in his speech, “Beyond Vietnam”  on April 4th, 1967 at the famed Riverside Church in Harlem, New York. Having been moved by a particular statement of the executive committee of the Riverside Church: “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” Dr. King persisted in betraying silence by speaking against the Vietnam War.

Since moving to New York City some 13 years ago, I have visited the Riverside

Billy Taylor--VSU Alumni

Billy Taylor–VSU Alumni

Church many times, mostly in honor of powerful, accomplished Black men who were once little Black boys living in times that would not acknowledge their humanity. I attended the funerals of Mr. Ossie Davis, Jazz musician and Virginia State University graduate Billy Taylor, Malcolm X’s attorney Percy Sutton, and radio owner, Hal Jackson.  I have attended plays written by Daniel Beaty, and a host of other events. To know that Dr. King used this very church to deliver one of the most scathing analyses of what the Vietnam War meant for young Black boys is haunting. Referring to the Vietnam War as an “adventure” he said:

“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia or East Harlem…I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”

king with his boysThis man, father, husband, brother…knew that he could not stand idly by and watch a world he had inherited become a will of useless gains. What about his sons, Dexter and Martin Luther King, III?  What kind of world would they inherit if he said nothing? What kind of world would we be if men like Dr. King were not moved to serve their nations by preaching and acting in a spirit of love and truth?

In a betrayal of silence and in protest of the Vietnam War, Dr. King demonstrated an exalted love for man and offered a profound definition of love when he said:

“When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

For a living, I teach.  For a life, I have learned that I must love better, harder, andfrederick Douglass more.  Each of us wears scars that reminds us of pain, but each of us has life that reminds us to try again, move on, and struggle some more. I believe it to be true, “The human spirit does not move without great difficulty,” which is why Frederick Douglass, a man’s shoulders on whom Dr. King stood, said:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”

Time MagazineDr. King entered an unforgiving struggle when he gave the Vietnamese a voice, and like a tour guide in a living museum, provided nuanced captions to the inconvenient truths the Vietnam War meant not only for American soldiers, but for Vietnamese men, women, and children, as well. How could one not empathize with the thought of orphaned children running around in packs in the streets of Vietnam looking for food that was no more and water too poisonous to drink?  Or cringe at the very thought of women and girls being sold into prostitution as the spoils of war?  Dr. King narrated these realities too well.  And so he advised that America end this awful war even if it would cost him his life one year later.  

In a betrayal of silence, Dr. King imposed an indictment on America and the Western world’s role as leaders in sparking the revolutionary spirit but in the face of Vietnam, Guatemala, Peru, Mozambique and South Africa, King said that it was a “sad fact” that Western nations had “now become the arch antirevolutionaries.”

On this 28th, federally effected, King Holiday, I celebrate with myriad others, but I am Dr. King pointingalso forced to confess that I don’t think I am doing enough. But, I continue to learn so that I may reciprocate my learning into lessons for others.  Dr. King stated in “Beyond Vietnam” that “every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his muhammadconvictions, but we must all protest.” Approximately three weeks after the delivery of this speech, on April 28th, 1967, “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali was inspired by the conviction of Dr. King, and declared that he was a conscientious objector by refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. 

I sit in front of my computer, I read everything, and I teach others in protest of ignorance, but still I ponder, on which issue will I betray my silence?

Check out the full “Beyond Vietnam” Speech here:


  1. Mike says:

    I enjoy your writing style. I like the fact that you are able to quote some of the more seldom repeated statements of MLK. It important for young scholars to understand that MLK’s dedication to equality, fairness and justice spanned beyond just the issue of segregation.

  2. Muyudeen Alharazim says:

    Your writing is beautiful and educational. This is very informative and I hope more people get a chance to read and share with many. Keep up the good work you are truly blessed. Keep it up Muyudeen..

  3. Zakiyyah Ali says:

    Reblogged this on ThePoliDay Report and commented:

    In a time where so much is captured on modern technology, especially in the midst of wrongdoing, there is always a reason to speak up and to speak out against it.

  4. I am now not certain the place you are getting your info, but great topic.

    I must spend a while studying more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for wonderful info I used to be in search of this information for my mission.

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