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  • Writer's pictureRobert P. Fitton

Martin Luther King Remarks- Santa Rita Prison Pleasanton, California January 14, 1968

Let me say how happy I am to see each of you here today. I want to commend your willingness to engage in this vigil today and to stand in the midst of this rather inclement weather to express your support for all of those who have been arrested as a result of their courageous actions resisting the tragic unfair and unjust draft system of our nation.

I’ve just had opportunity of visiting my very dear friend Joan Baez, her mother, and our dear friend Ira Sanfield. And they all send their greetings and their best wishes to you, and I might say they are in good spirits.

You know when you go to jail for a righteous cause you can accept the inconvenience of jail with a kind of inner sense of calm and inner sense of peace. And this is the way they are accepting that experience.

They have supported us in a very real way, in our struggle for civil rights, our struggle for freedom and human dignity all across the South. And I decided that in a way, or rather as an expression of my appreciation for what they are doing for the peace movement, and for what they have done for the civil rights movement, I would take time out of my schedule to come out to see them, to visit them, and let them know that they have our absolute support. And I might say that I see these two struggles as one struggle. There can be no justice without peace. And there can be no peace without justice.

Now people ask me from time-to-time, “Aren’t you getting out of your field? Aren’t you supposed to be working in civil rights?” And they go on to say the two issues are not to be mixed. And my only answer is that I have been working too long and too hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up at this stage of my life segregating my moral concerns. For I believe absolutely that justice in indivisible; and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And I want to make it very clear that I’m going to continue with all of might, with all of my energy, and with all of action to oppose that abominable, evil, unjust war in Vietnam.

Now let me say this. I see some very dangerous trends developing in our country – trends of oppression, and repression, and suppression. And I see a definite move on the part of the government to go all out now to silence dissenters and to try to crush the draft resistance movement. Now we cannot allow this to happen. We’ve got to make it clear – we’ve got to make it clear that to indict a Dr. Spock, or to indict a Bill Coffin and the other courageous souls that have been indicted, will mean indicting all of us if they think that this draft resistance movement is going to be stopped. And let us continue to work passionately and unrelentingly to end this cruel and senseless war in Vietnam. I don’t have to go through all of the things that this war is doing to corrode the values of our nation. Suffice it to say that the war in Vietnam has all but torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the Military-Industrial Complex of our nation. It has exacerbated the tensions between continents and races. The war in Vietnam has placed our country in the position of being against the self-determination of the Vietnamese people. And then it has played havoc with our domestic destinies. And I can never forget the fact that we spend about five hundred thousand dollars to kill every enemy soldier in Vietnam, and we spend only about fifty-three dollars a year for every individual who is categorized as poverty stricken in our so-called war against poverty, which isn’t even a good skirmish against poverty. And I say that there is a great need for a revolution of values. And I say to you in conclusion – and I say to you in conclusion that we must continue to stand up, and we must continue to follow the dictates of our conscience, even if that means breaking unjust laws.

Henry David Thoreau said in his essay on civil disobedience that non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And I do not plan to cooperate with evil at any point. Somebody said to me, not too long ago, “Uh, Dr. King don’t you think you are hurting your leadership by taking a stand against the war in Vietnam. Aren’t people who once respected you will lose respect for you, and aren’t you hurting the budget of your organization.” And I had to look at that person and say, “I’m sorry, Sir, you don’t know me…” [tape garbled]

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but he’s a molder of consensus. And on some positions cowardice asks 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 comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. And that is where I stand today, and that is where I hope you will continue to stand. So that we can speed up the day when justice will roll down like water all over the world, and righteousness like a might stream; and we will speed up the day when men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; and nations will not rise up against nations, neither will they study war anymore. And I close by saying, as we sing it in the old Negro spiritual –  I ain’t gonna study war no more.

American Injustice coming in Spring 2022

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