Our History & Our Future

Last May, we at The Shalom Center began to talk with people and religious communities around the country about the oncoming 50th anniversary of the prophetic sermon that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke on April 4, 1967.

The prophetic sermon was entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence,” and he was speaking to a thousand members of an activist religious organization called “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam” at the Riverside Church in New York City.

We believe—and still do!—that this sermon bespoke great growth in Dr. King’s understanding of the world. It speaks a far deeper critique of American society and a far more broader vision of the future than his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. (For the sermon itself and a number of cogent and inspiring responses to it from quite varied standpoints, click to the “Writings” section of this website.)

We knew that exactly one year after he spoke this sermon, Dr. King was murdered. We expected that on April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of his death, there would be widespread commemorations.

We were concerned that the portrait of Dr. King that was already endemic in most of the media and would be likely to be front and center on April 4, 2018, would be only the “vanilla” version. We thought the portrait of a profoundly sick society King painted in this sermon, pointing to “deadly triplets” of racism, militarism, and materialism afflicting America, was an accurate description of his views and his life in 1967.

More important, it is still a vitally important description of America for all Americans to wrestle with today, fifty years later.

So we decided to urge all our contacts that as we approach April 4, 2017, we make early April a focus time for congregations and communities to read the “Beyond Vietnam” sermon, discuss it, come to conclusions about what kind of religio-political action could carry King’s wisdom and courage into action today, and actually undertake those actions. We proposed that together, we make the year from April 2017 to April 2018 into “MLK + 50: a Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.”

Truth about the America of past and present, Transformation of the American present and future.

From many places, we heard excited and committed responses. On our “Partners” page you can see some of the groups that have already begun programming: Riverside Church (which invited me to become a member of a National Advisory Council for their celebration of the “Beyond Vietnam” sermon); the National Council of Elders, composed of veterans of the social-change movements of the mid-20th century, some of whom worked directly with Dr. King; Interfaith Moral Action on Climate; the Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center; and a growing list of others.

With the help of a grant from the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, we were able to open this website and invite a number of people to write for it.

There have already been a number of MLK50 actions and meetings, especially connected with his actual and official Birthday coming just before the inauguration of Donald Trump—perhaps the President most antithetical to Dr. King’s vision and practice in all American history since the end of slavery.

We welcome your own submissions of your own writing, art work, songs, prayers, etc., and especially your proposals for social-change action or reports of actions you have already done that are connected with learning from Dr. King’s life and work. See each of he three basic sections of this Website for the “Submission” button.

You can get in touch with us by writing MLK50@theshalomcenter.org   with your questions, suggestions, etc.

And we need your help to keep this work going—through contributions of money as well as talent. The buttons marked “Contribute” will help you do that.

Many thanks!

With blessings of courage and commitment in the ongoing struggle to move toward Dr. King’s transformative vision of the Beloved Community, with a strong sense of “the fierce urgency of Now.”

—Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center