Martin Luther King Jr. and “Why I Oppose the War In Vietnam”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) said from the pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 16, 1967, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” 

“Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” – Dr. Martin Luther King jr. Dodd Center, Archives & Special Collections LP’s.

This edition of Martin Luther King Jr. day means many things this year.  A significant day to reflect on historical achievements in the United States for African Americans and people of color regarding civil rights and segregation,  and as a nation, its first African American Commander in Chief takes office today.  Though the Archives & Special Collections at the University of Connecticut may not contain Lincoln’s bible which will be used today in the swearing in of President Obama for his second term, we do have important materials that help contextualize why the issues of human rights for people of color in the United States and around the world matter now as ever.   

A linkage between the US government’s role in violence in the third world during the War in Vietnam and the violence against people of color at home was a major topic of King’s speeches in the last year of his life.  Other important figures like Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois,  Malcolm X and Angela Davis have also taken the stance on racism and human rights abuse to the internationalist position that a violence against people of color around the world is a violence to all.  On this inaugural day of the President of the United States, taking the steps of the building which he will stand upon, built by African Americans enslaved 150 years ago, will symbolize an overwhelming achievement in a nation’s history.  For the role of African Americans in the making of this country that has systematically seen its power turned to their oppression, the event symbolizes an equally outstanding time in history which lays deep within the meaning making of the citizen, the culture, and the class.  The struggles of African American draftees, Medgar Evers of the NAACP, Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, Freedom Riders from North to South and The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts all became witness to the atrocity and injustice brought to their people.  The contextual archive, such as Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam, also bears witness to those injustices which continue on to lay the groundwork for the now, the tomorrow and thereafter. 

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values, we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing oriented society to a person oriented society, when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies…true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar, it comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” – Martin Luther King Jr., April 4, 1967.       

Materials on Civil Rights and Human Rights can be found at the Dodd Center’s Archives & Special Collections such as the LP Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.  For access to other radical LP’s from our Alternative Press Collection, please contact the Curator.

More about “The Bosses Songbook”

Satirical lyrics for "This Land is Their Land"

The booklet these lyrics are from, discussed in a blog posting I did on January 19, is a complex work, in many ways posing more questions than providing answers.  I asked our readers to analyze the lyrics and think about the intent of the authors.  Here is some more information to inform you about this item:

There is no published date for the book but from some lyrics it appears that it was published in 1947.

The lyrics in the booklet are highly satirical of the conflict between those in power, both polititians and others in control by virtue of wealth or ownership of businesses, and workers.  The lyrics are very bitter to those who own Cadillacs (a very fancy and expensive car, especially in the 1940s), are landlords, are on Wall Street and in Hollywood, as in the song “This Land is Their Land,” or to the President (at that time Harry S Truman), implying that he is playing golf while workers suffer, as in the song “The Right to Suffer Blues.”  Burning Tree is a reference to an exclusive golf club in Greenwich, Connecticut.

There are references to publications of the Communist Party, including The Daily Worker, and the Socialist Workers Party, who published Labor Action.

The lyrics to “The Right to Suffer Blues” has an interesting play on the word “putts,” with a note to those who speak Yiddish that it means “to hit the ball.”   It actually is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Yiddish word “putz,” which means a stupid person.

This primary source conforms to the Connecticut Social Studies Curriculum Framework for high school students, particularly Strand 1.1, grade level expectation 7 — compare and contrast various American Beliefs, values and political ideologies.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Class warfare or the working man’s discontent? Analyzing “The Bosses Songbook” — a source for teaching and learning

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Here are some pages from an odd little booklet in the Alternative Press Collection.  Examine these lyrics and try to devise the intent of the songs.  As you look at the pages of the “songbook” ask yourself these questions:

Who may have written these lyrics?  Do you really think it was people who were someone’s bosses?

What year was this booklet created?  What was happening in the world at that time?

Is this written as a satire or do you think the writers meant for the reader to take them at face value?  Who do you think the audience for these lyrics was?

What change do you think the writers of the lyrics hoped would take place?

Who is J. Edgar Hoover and why would the songbook be dedicated to him?  In the song “The Good Old Party Line” there are references to “’41,” “Willow Run,” and “Chiang Kai Chek.”  What do these mean?

I will add some information about the booklet in a post in a few days.  In the meantime, analyze this document and ask a lot of questions of it.  Let me know if you have other questions, or what your comments may be.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collection