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Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Civil Rights Leaders 2024 Insights on Martin Luther King’s Courage

He also never lost sight of the fact that civil rights — addressing racial and economic injustice — were inextricable from liberation, freedom, equality, and world peace.



By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent


During his short life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped on all kinds of powerful toes in his fight for civil rights, and he was a courageous and determined leader who refused to let prison or violence sway his end mission. He also never lost sight of the fact that civil rights—addressing racial and economic injustice—were inextricable from liberation, freedom, equality, and world peace.

As the founding leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King led a nonviolent movement to abolish the triple evils crippling American society: racism, poverty, and militarism. Associates said he believed those forces were contrary to God’s will for humanity and that they could only be effectively opposed by a interfaith-inspired nonviolent, multiracial social change movement.

On April 4, 1967, King spoke publicly and eloquently against the tragedies of the U.S.-led war in Vietnam. Today, as the nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, civil rights leaders, including those who knew the slain leader, offered their thoughts on what his position might be on conflicts in the Middle East and Russia and on the twice-impeached and four-times indicted former President Donald Trump.

“At the March on Washington in 1964, Dr. King talked about Alabama Gov. George Wallace having his lips dripping with interposition and nullification,” said the Rev. Peter Johnson, who began working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Plaquemine, La., and later was recruited by Andrew Young to work for King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. “What’s the difference between George Wallace and Donald Trump? You’re not going to hear Trump publicly say the n-word, that’s the only difference,” Johnson remarked. “King would easily have seen that Trump is a bigot in the true sense of the word who actually believes he is superior to people of color.”

Johnson, Rev. Dr. Jesse Jackson Sr, Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr, and others said that the wars between Israel and Hamas and Russia and Ukraine would have stirred Dr. King courageously to declare in King’s own words that “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Dr. King would again say, “Peace is not just the absence of war; it is the presence of peace.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson noted that King spoke of a deeper malady in American society. His view was that presidential administrations have been embroiling themselves in conflicts across the globe for the wrong reasons.

“Dr. King was outspokenly anti-war and anti-racism,” said Rev. Mark Thompson, a civil rights leader who recently joined the National Newspaper Publishers Association as the trade association’s global digital transformation director. “There’s no question King would oppose the war in Ukraine and seek diplomatic solutions. I believe he would also call for a ceasefire in Gaza.”

“I believe his posture on Congress’s dysfunction would be consistent with the words he used to describe segregationist intransigence in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech—interposition and nullification,” Thompson declared.

NNPA President and CEO Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., also an SCLC youth coordinator alum back in the 1960s, concurred. “Dr. King was a nonviolent freedom fighter who believed that we all members of one humanity. His concept of the ‘beloved community’ was all-inclusive and not discriminatory to anyone,” Chavis insisted. “Today’s world realities of racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, oppression, war, hatred, and bigotry are void of love for one another. We need Dr. King’s wisdom, inclusive theology, and leadership courage today more than ever before.”

Johnson said there’s little doubt about where King would stand on today’s issues because the icon never wavered. “I don’t think he would have changed his position fundamentally,” Johnson determined.

“The Black Press of America, through the NNPA, salutes and pays an eternal salute to the wisdom, vision, and courage of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Chavis declared.  “May the 2024 Martin Luther King National Holiday be a day of reflection, action, freedom movement building, and constructive social change for all people in America and throughout the world.”


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