August 12th Auction of Rare Autographs, Manuscripts, Sports
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A important historical letter from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Mrs. S.S. Blakney. Typewritten on Southern Christian Leadership Conference letterhead Addressed to Mrs. S.S. Blakney September 26 1966.  Secretarialy Signed at bottom in blue ink for Martin Luther King Jr.

"Dear Mrs. Blakney 

Thank you for your very kind letter of August 24th. It is encouraging to know that so many of our friends are concerned not only about the civil rights movement, but all of the problems which confront the nation today. 

I am sure that many people share your desire to take some action concerning the war in Vietnam, but are faced with a feeling of helplessness as one individual against so formidable a war. It is my deep belief that every citizen of this country should speak out against this intolerable war, as I have stated many times when questioned about my own right to speak on this issue. 

There are many groups organized to work to end the war in Vietnam, and I am sure that there are branches in Toledo. Most of these organizations are in desperate need to financial and physical support, and perhaps you could inquire about volunteer work or becoming a member. 

Not only is the war reprehensible on moral grounds, but from a practical standpoint, it is draining billions of dollars from urgently needed federal assistance programs for our own citizens, black and white. In addition, the inequalities of the present military draft system place an unequal burden on Negro men for service in Vietnam. We believe it is grossly unjust to ask a man to fight in such a war only to come home to face indignities and de facto slavery in his own country. 

I encourage you to speak out. The evils of oppression are only aided and abetted by the tyranny of silence. If all persons of good will were to speak against oppression the bright day of freedom and dignity for all men would be close at hand. 

Very truly yours, 

Martin Luther King, Jr." 

Dr. King began commenting on the Vietnam War early in the year of 1965, but his comments went largely ignored by the general public - until he was attacked by a political ally of Lyndon Johnson's in the fall of 1965. The result of this was that throughout much of 1966, Dr. King kept his views on Vietnam relatively quiet. It was not until late 1966 when he began once again expressing his opinions on the war, albeit privately. This letter perfectly captures Dr. King's disgust with the occurrences in Vietnam and clearly details all of his specific reasons for his deep disapproval of the war. 

Dr. King's distaste culminated in "Beyond Vietnam," a famous, blistering speech given on April 4th, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City. In the speech Dr. King spoke out openly against the war, calling for a cease-fire, and claiming that America had "been wrong from the beginning" about their actions in Vietnam. Many of his comments in this letter are also brought up in "Beyond Vietnam;" the immorality of the war, the negative fiscal effect it had on America, and the ways in which is was tied into civil rights issues. His speech addressed the fact that the war was only a symptom of something, a sickness, that was buried deeply within American society. As he stated, when "profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered." 

Dr. King's speech, though it received a standing ovation at Riverside Church, was severely critiqued by major news publications across the country. Dr. King's message was ahead of its time; his words were seen as slanderous and unsubstantiated, and several newspapers made digs to the effect that now his speeches on civil rights could no longer even be given credit. 

For Dr. King himself, it marked a change. Less worried about public opinion or offending potential political alliances, Dr. King became doggedly determined to speak his mind on the subject of Vietnam, and began charting out a course of resistance to the war. He encouraged those selected for the draft to become conscientious objectors, and began the Poor People's Alliance, meant to unite the less fortunate, of all races, in the anti-war cause. This letter sent to Mrs. Blakney is a crystallized view of his opinions before they were finally publicly aired in "Beyond Vietnam." What Dr. King writes in his letter makes it abundantly clear that though he remained relatively silent on this subject for a year, he never ceased to think of it; though he did not speak of the subject, he did urge private citizens to do what they could to end the war in Vietnam. 

In the years immediately following Dr. King's speech, public opinion on the war began to change. By 1968, the year of Dr. King's assassination, Lyndon Johnson's approval rating had dropped, and he was desperate to get out of the war. He began to set limits on bombings in Vietnam and figure out an honorable way to withdraw from Vietnam. In 1969, there were enough Americans who were against the war for Lyndon Johnson to be pushed out of his bid for re-election as a result. 

Throughout his life, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s statements against the Vietnam War were layered and complex. His words, generally as well as in this letter, are a reminder that civil rights issues and dilemmas were a part and parcel of all of the greatest political occurrences in America, including the war in Vietnam, and that it required a concentrated effort on the part of all to lift oppression and allow us that "bright day of freedom." 

From the Blakney Family. An educated and accomplished African American family, the Blakneys were deeply interested in politics and global affairs. Dr. Simmie Blakney was a professor emeritus at the University of Toledo, where he taught from 1963 until his retirement 34 years later. For nearly a decade, beginning in 1971, Dr. Blakney was the tenured department chair of Mathematics, the first African American to hold that position at UT. He helped start the Association of Black Faculty and Staff, and was chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr., scholarship committee and the UT ethnic studies committee. 

Mrs. Era Blakney, Dr. Simmie Blakney's wife, is also an educated woman who holds a master's degree in library science. She had previously attended college in Montgomery, where she would go and see Dr. King give sermons at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. She says that Dr. King would speak in a way that other ministers could not even come close to. Later in life, when she was living in Ohio with her husband, Mrs. Blakney wrote to Dr. King about her concerns on his speaking against the Vietnam War. She did not think that his attacks on the war were wrong, but she was worried that focus would be shifted away from the civil rights movement, where there was still so much to be done. Though she did not agree with what was happening in Vietnam, she felt that perhaps the problems there were almost too large to add to the civil rights issues America was facing. Mrs. Blakney wrote to King expressing these concerns, and when she read this letter in response, it was "like a light bulb went off," as she puts it. The letter allowed her to see something that King would continue to try to express to the public - that the anti-war and the civil rights movement were inextricably interrelated.

Martin Luther King Jr Letter Discussing Vietnam WarMartin Luther King Jr Letter Discussing Vietnam War
Martin Luther King Jr Letter Discussing Vietnam War
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