MLK Honored As An Icon, But 48 Years Ago The Media Attacked Him

January 19, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

As the nation observes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and considers what progress America has made (and what it has not) in combating racism and social inequality, it is hard to think of a time when the eponymous civil rights pioneer was a divisive leader among even liberals and blacks. But in 1967, just a few years after the reverend had won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was just that.

On April 4, King gave his highly controversial “Beyond Vietnam” speech in New York at a time when “he had fallen off already the list of most-admired Americans as tallied by Gallup every year,” documentarian and TV host Tavis Smiley told NPR in 2010. He noted that after the speech, which called the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” for its war in Vietnam, 168 newspapers “denounced” King soon after. In the weeks and months that followed, King’s anti-war stance and his adoption of it as a civil rights issue drew the ire of many prominent national voices, and divided his followers on the direction its uncertain future. For a time, it seemed like King’s work and legacy was at threat.

The headlines and the level of unpopularity of such an incredible icon — who spoke truths that seem so ordinary and obvious today — is hard to fathom in present day, so we have compiled a sampling of the media’s headlines, op-eds, and searing reports below from the period that followed one of King’s most controversial speeches.

“Strange Logic on Civil Rights,” San Antonio Express, April 4, 1967
“King is simply tragically wrong in his viewpoint.”

“King, Brooke Contrasted,” Florence Morning News, April 6, 1967
“Most Americans are troubled about Vietnam, but not many equate our problems there with the fortunes of civil rights at home. In doing so, Dr. King’s pontifical criticisms display shocking misunderstanding of the size and complexity of the global human problem and American responsibility in it.”

“A Tragedy,” Washington Post, April 6, 1967
“He [Dr. King] has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people.”

“Dr. King’s Error,” The New York Times, April 7, 1967
“This is a fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate. By drawing them together, Dr. King has done a disservice to both.”

“Guest Editorial: Martin Luther King Crosses the Line,” Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1967
“The unctuous Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been something of a hindrance to the civil rights movement since he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Since the award, he has specialized in speaking in Olympian tones, rather than addressing himself to the practicalities of the civil rights movement.”

“King’s Vietnam War Stand Attacked,” Delaware County Daily Times, April 10, 1967
“Of all the mishaps and mistakes of the civil rights movements in the past few months, none is more monumentally mistaken than the judgment of Martin Luther King that the big thing now holding back the progress of civil rights is the war in Vietnam.”
Delaware_County_Daily Times_April_10_1967

“King Loses Position In Rights Movement,”The Daily Telegram, April 12, 1967
“Dr. King has now destroyed the capacity he once clearly had for national leadership of the Negro movement.”
The_Daily Telegram_April_12_1967

Andrew Tully’s “National Whirligig,” El Dorado Daily News, April 13, 1967
“King seems to have overstepped himself again in his campaign to add an oak leaf cluster to his Nobel peace prize.”

“Martin Luther King Tries To Have It Both Ways,” The AP via The North Adams Transcript, April 17, 1967
“Since he needs all the white and Negro support he can get to start the civil rights movement rolling again, it’s hard to see how he did it anything but injury.”

“Around town…” entry, The Oneonta Star, April 21, 1967
“We respect the stand of Rev. Martin Luther King on civil rights, but it seems to us that he is walking in waters that are over his head when he discusses foreign policy.”

“Dr. King’s Disservice To His Cause,” LIFE Magazine, April 21, 1967
Mr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech was “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.”

“In Vietnam And At Home, Two ‘Wars’ Growing Warmer,” Avalanche Journal April 25, 1967
“His exaggerated charges of atrocities and evil purposes against the Government, and his attempt to subvert Negroes in general and those in the armed forces in particular, should not deceive any sensible person.”

“Martin Luther King’s Extravagant Situations Hurt The Negro Cause,” Phoenix Arizona Republic, April 28, 1967
“A great many people, misled about equality by Dr. Martin Luther King’s extravagant, inaccurate statements and the nightly bout of combat coverage on television, have gotten a twisted impression about the Vietnam war.”

“From Chicago to Vietnam,” Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 2, 1967
“Beaten, frustrated, not knowing where to turn next in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King ‘solved’ his dilemma by turning to the Vietnam war — where once more he could feel at home proclaiming moral absolutes in the tones of the crusader.”

“Two Movements,” San Antonio Light, May 3, 1967
“His defection from responsible leadership has cleared the cloud of confusion with has been enveloping the Negro movement. What now seems emerging clearly is two distinct movements. One is the dangerous fringe now represented by Dr. King, whose recent speeches could have been written by Ho Chi Minh; by a prize fighter who made millions beating up other men and by a wild-eyes radical who has publicly urged Negroes to kill whites who do them wrong.”

“Dilemma Of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Freeport Journal Standard, May 15, 1967
“That the Buddha-like figure of this once obscure Negro minister with the voice that is a curious monotone should cast up in the crucible of the civil rights movement to the balance of power role is a strange vagary of a strange time. Whichever road he takes the history books will have a lot to say about Martin Luther King.”
Freeport_Journal Standard_May_15_1967

“Most People Disagree With Martin Luther King on Vietnam Fighting,” Burlington Daily Times, May 22, 1967
Today 73 per cent of Americans disagree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his denunciations of the war in Vietnam and 60 per cent believe his position will hurt the civil rights movement.”

“A Vietnam Referendum,” Janesville Daily Gazette, August 14, 1967
“Dr. Martin Luther King, in Atlanta Friday night, called for a nationwide referendum on the Vietnam War.

King, a mourning dove on the Vietnam situation, feels that if the issue was put to a vote of the people, the majority would vote for a a withdrawal of United States forces from Vietnam and leave the ultimate solution of that country to the Vietnamese

The whole idea of a referendum on such a question is out of order anyhow. It would be just as silly for the people to to the polls and vote on whether they want a truth-in-packaging bill, changes in social security, civil rights laws or any legislation.”

“Civil Rights Leaders Reaching Far To Attack,” The AP via North Adams Transcript, August 16, 1967
“But the kind of camp-out in Washington King seems to have in mind could wind up in a riot at a time when riots are in in the air. For example: If the campers tried to camp indefinitely on government property they could expect to be thrown out. Nobody should know that better than King.

Just last June, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of King ad seven others in Birmingham for disobeying a court injunction obtained by city officials to prevent picketing. Those officials said they wanted to prevent the picketing in a situation which could lead to violence.”

“Martin Luther King’s Tragic Decision,” by Carl Rowan. Reader’s Digest, September 1967

“Dr. M.L.King Proving Misguided Peacemaker,” Danville Register, November 12, 1967
“…when a cause-smitten protagonist loses touch with reality, the stage is sometimes set for terrible disasters along the road.”

(Photo: Minnesota Historical Society)