In his speech accepting the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King reminded listeners that black Americans were stuck on "the lowest rung of the economic ladder." Exactly six months later, he rushed to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles -- the scene of devastating race riots -- and told reporters that America's ghettos needed more attention. Soon afterward, he moved to Chicago to initiate projects with poor African Americans in the North.
His staff was skeptical of the decision to move away from civil rights activism. "I felt that it was doomed to failure," Charles Cobb remembered.
In April 1967, King delivered an impassioned -- and controversial -- anti-war plea at Riverside Church in New York. In the speech, he addressed those who had urged him not to speak out:
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people?" they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling.
Do you think Martin Luther King was right to broaden his activism beyond civil rights to address the war in Vietnam and poverty in America?