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“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are Free at last!” said Dr. Martin Luther King’s at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in August 28, 1963. He was not popular at that time.In April, 1963 the 34 year old Atlanta Minister was in jail. He wrote “Letter From Birmingham City Jail” in which he described nonviolent civil disobedience and direct individual action in response to a newspaper article by eight local white clergymen who denounced his leadership of nonviolent demonstrations.
Reverend King, Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez all drew inspiration about civil disobedience from a letter written by poet Henry David Thoreau from an 1849 Massachusetts jail. His crime? Refusal to pay personal income taxes to fund the war that Americans started against Mexico. In “Resistance to Civil Government” Thoreau explained his action.
“Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool…. In other words, when a sixth of the population, of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty, are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law….What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army”.
By 1964 King was declared “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the US Congress had passed The 1964 Civil Rights Act. He could have rested with this public approval and acceptance, but he began to speak out against the Vietnam War and he was branded as “unpatriotic”. On April 4, 1967 he gave a speech, “Beyond Vietnam-A Time to Break Silence” at Riverside Church in New York City. ”We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers…my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side…but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now…Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population…”.
(By 1975 more 1,5000,000 Americans had served in Vietnam combat; 275,000 of these soldiers were Black and 170,000 were Spanish surnamed, mainly Mexican Americans). In March, 1967 King marched against the war in the streets Chicago. In 1970, led by Chicano activists, 30,000 anti-war protesters, many from San Jose, took part in the National Chicano Moratorium March in Los Angeles.
In February and March 1968, Cesar began a water-only fast against violence that lasted 25 days. Martin sent him a telegraph, “Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.” Thirty days later, on April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was murdered.
December, 1970 found Cesar Chavez jailed in Salinas, California for refusing to obey a court injunction to stop a lettuce boycott. Coretta Scott King, Martin’s widow, visited him there during the 14 days he spent behind bars.
On November 9, 1984 Cesar addressed the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. He said, “Once social change begins it cannot be reversed…. our accomplishments cannot be undone. La Causa, our cause, doesn’t have to be experienced twice. The consciousness and pride that were raised by our union are alive and thriving inside millions of young Hispanics who will never work on a farm”.
Today, we continue to witness our country attempt to solve world problems through war.
Dr. King would remind us to” keep our eye on who is dying and who benefits from war. Those who benefit most are not the poor and their families, friend or foe, yet they must daily face the barrel of destruction”.
Gracias Martin y Feliz Cumpleaños. Que Viva Dr. Martin Luther King!