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Published on January 27th, 2015

Dr. Vincent Harding: Who wrote one of the most controversial speeches in U.S. history.

Dr. Vincent Harding
Dr. Vincent Harding   Photo: blackstarjournal.org

Vincent, ("Vince"), a theologian and historian, who at the age of 82 passed away in 2014, was a close friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1965, Vince, who had earned his Ph.D. in History at the prestigious University of Chicago, wrote an open letter to Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference challenging them to take a strong stand against the Vietnam War.

Thereafter, for two years, Dr. King and the other leaders wrestled with their consciences as the war's death and destruction mounted.

Then in 1967, Dr. King made his decision, and asked Vince to draft a powerful speech.

What Vince drafted was highly controversial.

Entitled, "A Time to Break Silence," Dr. King made this speech at Riverside Church in New York on April 4th, 1967, exactly one year to the day, before his 1968 assassination. Here is a small segment:

"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative of this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours."

Until this speech, Dr. King had been widely viewed as heroic in his courageous fight for human rights in America.

But after the speech, he was instantly vilified by the U.S. political system and by the U.S. news media.

President Johnson slammed the door to the White House on him, most black leaders turned against him for alienating the President, and the New York Times, the Washington Post and most other major news organizations condemned him.

Life magazine claimed the speech was "a demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." In other words, Dr. King was treasonous.

But rather than back off the speech, Dr. King would help to lead the U.S. peace movement for the rest of his life. History would prove him and Vince right, as the Vietnam War is now considered by many people around the world to be a horrific disaster.

History often works this way.

People are condemned in their time for ideas that will one day make them heroes. Among those people are Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. King, and Dr. Vincent Harding.

Editor's Note: To read or listen to this magnificent speech, click here.

To see a 3 minute, 2008 video of Vince discussing that speech, click here. To see a 2012 video of Vince speaking of America now, click here.

To learn more about Vince, read his obit in the New York Times and the LA Times.

In the next KazanToday: A man whose revolutionary inventions helped to create supermarkets, restaurants and cafeterias as we know them today.

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