'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere': Martin Luther King Jr. in Minnesota

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at the U of Minn., 1
Martin Luther King Jr. speaks out against the Vietnam War on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota on April 27, 1967.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Americans are honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.

King made several visits to Minnesota in his lifetime to discuss civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Defending nonviolent action

In 1959 — before he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech and before he won the Nobel Peace Prize — King sat down for a KTCA (now TPT) interview on race and segregation with L. Howard Bennett, a civil rights leader and Minnesota's first African-American judge.

At the time, King was mostly known for his role in the successful Montgomery bus boycott, where he had been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi to use nonviolent direct action.

King believed that love could effectively fight discrimination.

"I am of the opinion that it is possible for one to stand firmly and courageously against an evil system and yet not use violence to stand up against it, and also not hate in the process.

It is possible to love the individual who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.

This lifts one to a new level of understanding, a new level of goodwill and I believe firmly that love in this sense, which I think of as creative redemptive goodwill for all men — I'm not talking about a sentimental weak love, I'm talking a strong love that organizes itself in mass nonviolent action, but at the same time, sees within every man something of the image of God, and sees within every man grit and vast possibilities for goodness that maybe the individual himself has never realized.

When one rises to this point, he loves every man because God loves him and he sees great dimension for change and promise within him."

Opposition to Vietnam War

His last visit to Minnesota was in 1967, a year before he was assassinated, when he appeared at an anti-war rally at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.

King was adamantly against American involvement in the Vietnam War, and delivered a controversial speech, "Beyond Vietnam," on April 4, 1967, in New York. In it, he called for an end to the war, touching on racism, increasing militarism and poverty.

"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.

We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.

So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.

I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor."

Civil rights leaders condemned him for his remarks and newspapers denounced him.

"So many civil rights leaders were opposed to him giving it because LBJ had been the best president to black people on civil rights," PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley said on NPR's Talk of the Nation in 2010. "He passed the Voting Rights Act. He passed the Civil Rights Act. And so the question was, Martin, why would you antagonize the president who has been our friend?"

It did not deter him from continuing to speak out. A few weeks later on April 27, 1967, King traveled to Minnesota and delivered his last speech in the state at an anti-war rally at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.

"I'm not only going to be concerned about justice for Negroes in the United States because I know that justice is indivisible, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I'm concerned about justice for everybody the world over."

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

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