The Riverside Speech

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Martin Luther King’s Fight for Civil Rights

Martin Luther King is widely known for his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech that is quoted when discussing his fight for civil rights. In addition to fighting for civil rights, King spoke up about issues that affected social justice. In particular, he spoke up about America’s participation in the Vietnam war (Scruggs). The speech had dire impacts on him since it severed his relationships and may have contributed to his untimely death (Scruggs). Additionally, the Riverside speech had bad societal consequences.

King’s Speech on American Involvement in the Vietnam War

King spoke up about American involvement in the Vietnamese war using a speech. In 1967, King addressed a gathering of approximately 3000 people in the Riverside Church where the main agenda was the Vietnamese war. The meeting had been organized by the ‘The Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam’ organization. During the speech, King acknowledged that the message he wished to address would be perceived as a form of betrayal, but he felt the need to speak up because “A time comes when silence is betrayal (Scruggs).” Using this speech, King expressed his reasons for being against the government’s war policy.

Reasons behind King’s Speech

There are various reasons why Martin Luther King chose to voice his opinions. According to Scruggs, King had given another speech earlier in the year where he opposed the government’s decision regarding the Vietnam war. Later, he was accused of supporting communism (Scruggs). It can be argued that he gave this speech to clarify that he was not supporting communism. During his speech, King said, “young black men ‘crippled by our society’ were being sent ‘eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they have not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem (Scruggs).’” Therefore, another reason for the speech was to address the irony of sending African American men to fight for liberties while their civil rights were being violated in America. Lastly, Scruggs states that King felt compelled to voice his opinion because the war’s cost was affecting domestic programs for the poor. Therefore, King stood up against the government’s policy due to his convictions on social justice.

Societal Consequences of the Riverside Speech

The main societal consequence of the Riverside Speech was public uproar. King was rebuked by newspapers, which was expected since the issue was controversial. For example, the New York Times featured an article where King’s decision to merge civil rights and peace movements was deemed disastrous (Scruggs). Additionally, civil rights groups failed to support his opinion regarding the war, which was unexpected because they were his supporters. For instance, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) felt that he should focus on civil rights (Herbert). Lastly, some Americans felt that King was meddling, which was familiar because he was bound to face opposition. Scruggs states that people were wondering why a civil rights activist was addressing such issues, so they advised him to focus on civil rights issues. It is evident that the speech had large bad societal consequences. However, it had good long-term effects since it created doubts about the war that may have impacted the resolution to end it.


In conclusion, King’s speech regarding the war in Vietnam aimed at portraying the social injustices attributed to the war. King mainly spoke up because his strong belief on social justice and his determination to fight for the poor compelled him. His speech was not well received by society. Though he failed to end the war, he created a public uproar that made people question America’s involvement.

Works Cited

Herbert, Bob. ”We Still Don’t Hear Him.” The New York Times, 2 April 2010, Accessed 23 November 2018.

Scruggs, Afi-Odelia. ”Beyond Vietnam: The MLK Speech that Caused an Uproar.” USA Today, 13 January 2017, Accessed 23 November 2018.

November 13, 2023
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