When people refer to MLK as the “Reverend Dr.,” they are recognizing that he did indeed earn a Ph.D. in philosophy in addition to completing formal theological studies and being ordained. He thought clearly and wisely. Below I’m sharing with you some things he said about several different issues — and always grounded in humane ethics.
On April 4, 1967, King spoke about the Vietnam war and overall U.S. foreign policy to an audience at Riverside Church in New York City. Many of the things he said there have been quoted widely. He explicitly denounced the injustices and the various kinds of violence in the U.S.’s war in Vietnam and our foreign policy overall. Strong evidence shows that this was the reason he was murdered EXACTLY one year later by people with ties to the FBI and CIA. Every few years I re-read his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. I encourage you to read it too. Here is the text: https://www.crmvet.org/info/mlk_viet.pdf
When the Civil Rights Movement was active in the South from 1955 through the 1960s, they did a good job of reaching out to white churches along with the churches to which they had easy access. Years ago I met a white ordained minister who traveled throughout the South and made connections with those white churches. When — in December 1956 — the first integrated bus ran in Montgomery, Alabama, after the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, King chose him to be the white person sharing the seat with him.
But some white churches were uneasy about the turmoil the Civil Rights Movement was causing locally, so — when King was in jail in 1963 — he wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to explain to the white church members why they were taking these strong nonviolent actions. Here some information about — and an excerpt from — that letter:
Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” deserves to be read and re-read every now and then. When some nice Christian ministers expressed concern that King did things that landed him in jail, he re-directed their attention to the underlying problems of severe racial injustice that he had confronted nonviolently. I urge you to read his entire letter. This short quotation provides the flavor: “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.”
You can read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here: https://www.csuchico.edu/iege/_assets/documents/susi-letter-from-birmingham-jail.pdf
He addressed a VARIETY of social justice issues and a VARIETY of peace issues. This short article mentions this range of his concerns: https://popularresistance.org/martin-luther-king-jr-internationalist/
He strongly opposed the death penalty. Here is an excerpt from Equal Justice USA (www.ejusa.org), an organization working against the death penalty:
Dr. King stands today as an icon for unity, nonviolence, and peace. He’s cited often when leaders are trying to find common ground. But that wasn’t the case when he was alive. True history tells us that he was a disruptor who didn’t shy away from confrontation.
One way he demonstrated that disruption was through his stance on the death penalty. In 1957, at a time when few weeks went by without an execution, Dr. King was clear: “Capital punishment is against…the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
He knew that the death penalty was an undeniable extension of the legacy of lynching. Those acts are possible for the same reason that slavery was possible: in the words of Dr. King, to justify slavery early Americans “depersonalized” the victims, stripping them of their humanity, and they “stigmatized” Blackness.
His values led him to support socialism as a humane alternative to our dominant economic system. I have read a huge amount about Martin Luther King, Jr. — and I have read much about his explicitly socialist values. I hope more people will lift up those along with other crucial parts of his message. The article linked here explains why Kingian democratic socialism makes sense for progressives to pursue: https://www.nationofchange.org/2021/04/05/why-kingian-democratic-socialism-is-the-best-path-forward-for-the-progressive-left/