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Martin Luther King's Purpose in His Speech Beyond Vietnam: a Time to Break Silence

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The purpose of this essay is to present a forgotten aspect of Martin Luther King’s vision that I found most important. A vision that extends far beyond black and white children holding hands. The aspect that struck me as most important was the restructuring of the American political and economic system. King believed that the America should be working to be a more just society. King was dangerous to those who benefit from the misery of the many. He aimed to showed that America is a nation built by the wealthy for the wealthy.

From the beginning of his career King aligned himself with the disenfranchised. He was not only a leader of black Americans but an advocate for humanity. King’s entire vision was predicated on the value of ending the suffering of others. His vision was to address the issue of inequality through a peaceful revolution that would change the entire America political and economic structure. To King it was not enough to be integrated into this society. What was necessary was to be integrated in a society that values social justice. Because of structural inequality, many who were born into poverty died in poverty.

In America, a small minority of the population has always controlled the majority of the wealth. Over time wealth seems to become more concentrated. Thus, the problem of inequality is structural. To understand this problem, we must go back to 1787 and review the statements made by James Madison. Madison declared, “When the number of landholders shall be comparatively small… will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections… if elections were open to all classes of people the property of landed proprietors would be insecure” (National Archive). King seemed to understand this underlying system that guarantees inequality and pledged to change it. We do not know about this part of King’s legacy because it is controversial. It is easier to ignore King’s vision then to entertain the thought of what could have become if we followed through with his vision.

King questioned the ethics of American capitalism. He pondered how a society so wealthy could be saturated with poverty. He realized that for America to be truly equal, power needed to be given to the masses. King writes, “Calling for a radical redistribution of economic and political power as the only way to meet the real needs of poverty in America” (Harding). He planned on attaining his goal through nationwide civil disobedience. King was a superb speaker and writer which made him a threat to the current system. A system that frowned upon government reliance for the poor. King wanted to make spending on poverty mandatory not discretionary. He realized that the only way to eradicate poverty was to pass anti-poverty legislation. He insisted for an economic bill of rights that guaranteed annual income for every American citizen. This contrasted from previous indirect programs to fight poverty, in that King’s proposal would have directly addressed poverty.

Of the various forgotten aspects of King’s vision, the redistribution of power struck me as the most important. King was seen as a radical in his time period. Many people who stood by him during the civil rights movement did not stand by him when he called for a revolution. We are doing King a great disservice by not mentioning his struggle for the redistribution of power.

Works Cited

  1. Harding, Vincent. “Beyond Amnesia: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Future of America.” Sep. 1987.
  2. “Founders Online: Term of the Senate, [26 June] 1787.” National Archives and Records Administration.

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