There isn’t a lot I want to say today, but I do want to point to a speech by Dr. King. I couldn’t find this speech on YouTube, but there is some audio of the speech (but it’s only the final paragraph). Nonetheless, I thought the speech, especially in its context (Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, etc.), is quite powerful. Moreover, I think the words that Dr. King spoke are applicable to some of the issues that are facing the world today. I’m speaking particularly to the all-time lows in US Congressional approval and the continued unrest in the EU.
This speech was given in November of 1967 to the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace on the subject of the “Domestic Impact of War.”
As I move to my conclusion, let me ask you to indulge a personal reference. When I first decided to take a firm stand against the war in Vietnam, I was subjected to the most bitter criticism, by the press, by individuals, and even by some fellow civil rights leaders. There were those who said that I should stay in my place, that these two issues did not mix and I should stick with civil rights. Well I had only one answer for that and it was simply the fact that I have struggled too long and too hard now to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to end up at this point in my life segregating my moral concerns. [Applause]
And I made it very clear that I recognized that justice was indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And then there are those who said ‘You’re hurting the civil right movement.’ One spoke to me one day and said, ‘Now Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy. I understand that your position on Vietnam has hurt the budget of your organization. And many people who respected you in civil rights have lost that respect and don’t you think that you’re going to have to agree more with the Administration’s policy to regain this.’ And I had to answer by looking that person into the eye, and say ‘I’m sorry sir but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader.’ [Laughter – Applause] I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. [Applause]
On some positions a coward has asked the question is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question is it right? And there come a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. [Applause] (Audio of the last paragraph)