The Liberal Contempt for Martin Luther King’s Final Year

This Sunday, on the anniversary of his assassination, few will recall Dr. King’s condemnation of U.S. militarism, write Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon.

April 4, 1968: Firefighters attempt to extinguish a blaze in Washington, D.C., during the unrest in the U.S. capital after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (George Scurlock, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History: Archives Center)

By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

The anniversary of his assassination always brings a flood of tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., and this Sunday will surely be no exception. But those tributes — including from countless organizations calling themselves progressive — are routinely evasive about the anti-militarist ideals that King passionately expressed during the final year of his life.

You could call it evasion by omission.

The standard liberal canon waxes fondly nostalgic about King’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963 and his efforts against racial segregation. But in memory lane, the Dr. King who lived his last year is persona non grata.

The pattern is positively Orwellian. King explicitly condemned what he called “the madness of militarism.” And by any reasonable standard, that madness can be diagnosed as pervading U.S. foreign policy in 2021. But today, almost all politicians and mainstream media commentators act as though King never said such things, or if he did then those observations have little to do with today.

Bombing Scarcely Noticed

But they have everything to do with the USA now in its 20th year of continuous warfare. The Pentagon’s constant bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere is the scarcely noticed wallpaper in the U.S. media’s echo chamber.

What compounds the madness of militarism in the present day is the silence that stretches eerily and lethally across almost the entire U.S. political spectrum, including the bulk of progressive organizations doing excellent work to challenge economic injustice and institutionalized racism here at home.

But as for the institutionalized militarism that terrorizes, wounds and kills people overseas — overwhelmingly people of color — a sad truth is that most progressive U.S. organizations have little to say about it. At the same time, they eagerly and selectively laud King as a visionary and role model.

King didn’t simply oppose the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967, speech at New York’s Riverside Church delivered exactly a year before he was assassinated — titled “Beyond Vietnam” — he referred to the U.S. government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and broadly denounced the racist and imperial underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy. From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, our country was on the “wrong side of a world revolution” — suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Global South, instead of supporting them. 

Friends and family, including Loretta Scott King, Harry Belafonte Jr., and Jesse Jackson, holding hands at Martin Luther King Jr. funeral services in Memphis, Tenn., 1968. (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History)

King critiqued the economics of U.S. foreign policy, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” And he castigated U.S. federal budgets prioritizing militarism: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 

Mainstream media today pretend that King’s anti-militarism pronouncements were never uttered, but that was not the case in 1967. Condemnation was swift, emphatic and widespreadLife magazine denounced the “Beyond Vietnam” speech as “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The New York Times and Washington Post both published harsh and patronizing editorials.

Today, it’s not just a problem of elite media — but also a vast spectrum of organizations that are taking a dive in the fight against the warfare state. This problem undermines the political resonance and social mission of countless organizations that do wonderful work but are betraying a crucial part of the living legacy of Dr. King, whom they never tire of claiming to be emulating and venerating.

Oct. 15, 1969: Corretta Scott King leads a march at night to the White House as part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. (U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection via Picryl)

This crisis is now heightened under the Biden administration. In an ominous echo of the mid-1960s, when King began speaking out against the warfare state, the kind of split between somewhat progressive domestic policies and militaristic foreign policies that occurred under the Lyndon Johnson presidency now appears to be occurring under the presidency of Joe Biden.

In the persistent “guns vs. butter” reckoning, it’s clear that federal funds needed to uplift poor and working-class people as well as our planet keep getting diverted to militarism and war.

Dr. King pointed out that, in effect, what goes around comes around. As he put it, “the bombs in Vietnam explode at home.” But there is a dire shortage of large progressive organizations willing to say that the bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere have been exploding at home for two decades.

Twenty-first century bombs that have been exploding overseas, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, also explode at home in terms of the further militarization of the economy, police, culture and consciousness — as well as the misdirection of vital resources to the Pentagon rather than human needs.

“It challenges the imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing,” Dr. King said as the Vietnam War raged. The massive U.S. military budget still functions the way King described it — “some demonic, destructive suction tube.” Yet the silences across so much of the U.S. political spectrum, including the liberal establishment and a great many progressive groups, persist in contempt of what Martin Luther King stood for during the final year of his life.

Jeff Cohen is an activist, author and co-founder of He was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and founder of the media watch group FAIR. In 2002-2003, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.

Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

This article is from

The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “The Liberal Contempt for Martin Luther King’s Final Year

  1. April 4, 2021 at 15:00

    from “A wreath for Tom Moore’s Statue”
    Patrick Kavanagh.

    They put a wreath upon the dead
    For the dead will wear the cap of any racket,
    The corpse will not put his elbows through his jacket
    Or contradict the words some liar has said.
    The corpse can be fitted out to deceive –
    Fake thoughts, fake love, fake ideal,
    And rogues can sell its guaranteed appeal,
    Guaranteed to work and never come alive.

  2. April 4, 2021 at 12:00

    For what it’s worth, it may prove beneficial on this anniversary of Martin Luther King’s unfortunate, far-too-premature exit from Earth to assess the stark contrast between Dr. King’s serious philosophic and spiritual presence and two so-called “world leaders”:

    – Then U.S. President George W. Bush, at an event consisting of men wearing tuxedos and women wearing evening gowns and diamonds, – “My base”, as Mr. Bush jokingly described the crowd gathered – where, while the Iraq War he ordered was raging, Mr. Bush joked about his difficulties in locating “Those darned weapons of mass destruction”…

    – Then U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking to a group of investors on profits potential in the criminally-destroyed failed state of Libya, joking about the greater prospects for those same investors in Libya … that is, once the “bulldozers cleared away the bodies”…

    History students in America are being (wrongly) deprived of learning the true historical account, namely about the 1999 Memphis civil trial (Attorney William Pepper representing the King family) where some 70 witness testimonies convinced the jury (unanimously) that Martin Luther King Jr. was the assassination victim of government/military conspirators, and NOT James Earl Ray.

    In other words, with respect to the death of Martin Luther King Jr., every last American history book is conveying a narrative which is absolutely false. What other false narratives concerning major events are America’s history students being “taught”?


  3. Stevie Boy
    April 4, 2021 at 10:52

    800 military bases in more than 70 countries.
    An inventory of 6,185 nuclear warheads; of these, 2,385 are retired and awaiting dismantlement and 3,800 are part of the U.S. stockpile.
    An annual defence budget of over $700 Billion. (That’s around $2,600 for every man, women and child in the US)
    21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category.
    In 2018, 8.5 percent of people, or 27.5 million, did not have health insurance at any point during the year.
    In February 2021, the national unemployment level of the United States stood at about 9.97 million unemployed persons.

    The obscenity that is Western Democracy ?

  4. Tony
    April 4, 2021 at 08:30

    What a wonderful article on the anniversary of his assassination!

    The mainstream media in the US and the UK does mention the harassment of MLK by the FBI but never asks the question as to whether there is a link between that and the assassination. Instead, we are fed the nonsense that he was shot by James Earl Ray.

    However, Ray had no motive to kill MLK. He was not actually from the south, was not violent and was not hostile to African-Americans. A false narrative was deliberately created in order to frame him.

    In 1994, William Pepper secured an appeal for Ray and Judge Joe Brown, an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, presided over the case. His opinion, available on YouTube, is very interesting:

    “The Remington 760 Game Master they have in the Civil Rights Museum is not the murder weapon. It’s not even close”.

    Not surprisingly, he got taken off the case. But he was lucky. Not so lucky was trial judge Preston Battle. Back in 1969, James Earl Ray’s lawyers filed a request for a trial but Judge Battle very conveniently died of a heart attack before he could issue a ruling!

    A new trial should have been granted but Judge Arthur Faquin Jr refused to do this.

    In his book about the MLK assassination, Phillip F. Nelson writes:

    “Even after the deaths of J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and Lyndon Johnson, the forces that had been assembled to execute the assassination, then the cover-up, were still at work a decade later, continuing the cover-up to ensure that the case remained buried forever.”

  5. P. Michael Garber
    April 4, 2021 at 01:47

    Thanks to the authors and the commenters for this discussion, which highlights the pervasive influence the MICIMAT exerts over Americans’ perception of recent history, in this case the legacy of Martin Luther King. I wish I knew for sure just how far the MICIMAT has been able to influence other beliefs such as why MLK was assassinated and by whom.

  6. Em
    April 3, 2021 at 20:50

    Off the top of the head, one can immediately venture that the group of right-wing collaborators who had Martin Luther King assassinated in 1968, are the very same organization of collaborators who ordered the killing of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 and who were behind the murder of the President of Chile, Salvador Allende, in the Chilean coup d’etat of 1973.
    How many attempts were made on the life of Fidel Castro by the same connections, beginning from 1959 on.
    Let’s not even begin to talk of an African Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba in 1961 or a President, Samora Machel, in 1986.
    And all, for the same reason!
    They all believed in mass societal elevation before the private profits of the few usurpers of economies.
    And where does this leave Julian Assange today, in 2021?

  7. DH Fabian
    April 3, 2021 at 20:43

    Even fewer will remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s founding of the Poor People’s Campaign, much less his advocacy for democratic socialism — the real kind, which includes ensuring modest incomes even for those left jobless. This doesn’t fit the version of history that appeals to today’s middle class liberals.

    • April 4, 2021 at 15:04

      DH Fabian, middle class liberals weren’t anyone’s friends but their own even back then.
      Phil Ochs, 1966:


  8. April 3, 2021 at 15:57

    It is the saddest message of all when yet again, no major voices area raised to erven note that Martin Luther King ever opposeed his own
    country’s military interventions into so many countries. Noting the utterly destructive acts which pro0duced no positive interactions or growth of human unity, not force for positive development is possible from that great man’s memory. Shame on us.

  9. Talos Rusts
    April 3, 2021 at 15:55

    Great article. Thank you.

    The conspicuous absence of the anti-war aspect of MLK Jr’s message from typical mainstream coverage speaks loudly. And given that it was this message (on top of his recent political wins and mass audience) that was very likely the catalyst for his assassination, the continued historical omission of that aspect becomes that much more bizarre.

    However, since we’re on the topic of King and you mentioned in passing the current fight against economic/racial inequality; “…including the bulk of progressive organizations doing excellent work to challenge economic injustice and institutionalized racism here at home.”

    While acknowledging that, of course, there are some groups doing very positive things, I’m seeing the “bulk of progressive organizations” doing some NOT so very “excellent work to challenge economic injustice and institutionalized racism.” I can’t help but notice that much of the popular rhetoric regarding racial equality is quite divisive in a way that I believe King would adamantly disapprove. Many seem to be playing into some sort of mass oligarchic ‘divide & conquer’ narrative while putting a dangerous over emphasis on censoring speech rather than properly debunking bad ideas over time in an open public forum.

    In fact, to me it seems that MLK Jr’s messages on combating economic/racial inequality are often being opportunistically, inconsistently, and/or dishonestly applied (when they’re not being conveniently disregarded).

    For example, MLK Jr:

    “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    “The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against the injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty…There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”

    Again, while there’s certainly some of this sort of positive activism occurring, contrast King’s words to what else we’re endlessly seeing today; finer and finer ‘identities’ being encouraged to see themselves as so ideologically separate from others’ that finding common social justice ground becomes untenable. And then they’re further encouraged to focus on and enforce that separation (oddly enough, often in the name of inclusivity). This, in lieu of what King’s words suggest he intended; a focus on fighting against who it is that actually has the vast majority of privilege and conducts the vast majority of the oppression. But instead, we so often see that fight being brought “against the lives of the [relatively powerless] persons who are their fellow citizens.” The poor, powerless, and marginalized are pitted against each other and distracted from their actual oppressors. That’s classic Divide & Conquer, folks. Personally, I became a little more than suspicious when the status quo immediately jumped onboard, endorsed, and massively financed many of these groups. Historically speaking, that’s not a good sign.

  10. Anne
    April 3, 2021 at 13:57

    Thank you Messrs Solomon and Cohen….Your piece is All too atrociously true…And what we have been doing, arguably from 1945 and the two nukes demonstration of our supremacy, has no perceptible ending. Not at least as far as our constant provocations, often seriously globally damaging, would indicate. But isn’t this how empires end? Drowning in their own hubris, hypocrisy, arrogance, presumption of their “right” to dictate what other nations must do even as they continually ignore the rules of humanity and comity and sovereignty? Collapsing from within and without…Which comes first is anyone’s guess. But from within fairly likely…

    And yes if you include NPR (and its close companion from the other side of the pond, the BBC World Service) in the mass media commission BY Omission – from ALL mention those stories which would punch unwanted holes in the narrative that the MICIMATT want pushed, the audiences to believe….Or when they do mention these things (e.g. Uyghur stuff; Syrian chemical attacks) they spin from their own webs of rotten silk distorted stories, using so-called “experts,” “witnesses,” “knowledgeable,” persons….. Oh, Right, Really????

    Never ever do they really do in depth, let alone question the whys, who benefits, etc., in the news: the “Black Sites,” CIA torture, Guantanamo, the conditions of the imprisonment of and condition of Julian Assange, the Chagos Islanders, the Windrush Gen., US imprisonment conditions and the prisoners being expected to work, their being held for long periods of time in solitary etc….

    Silence about we have done and what we continue to do while two-facedly pointing the finger at such as China, Russia, Iran…..

  11. April 3, 2021 at 13:10

    A few years ago I was receiving emails from the late congressman John Lewis. In some of his emails he was asking that we stand with MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, of all people, as she was speaking out against Donald Trump. (Of course speaking out against Trump sets a very low bar.)

    I unsubscribed to his email list, and in telling why I was unsubscribing I said to John Lewis (or those reading my unsubscribe message) shame, shame, shame on him for asking us to stand with that nasty warmonger, and that he was dishonoring and betraying the legacy of Martin Luther King by asking us to stand with somebody like Madeleine Albright.

  12. Lee C Ng
    April 3, 2021 at 12:55

    It’s false to characterize the mainstream media as “liberal” when they often serve as attack dogs of the Deep State. I recall that the only instance Trump was praised as being “presidential” was when he approved the missile attacks on Syria. The same “liberal” media that provided channels for attacks on Jimmy Carter’s proposal to withdraw US troops from Korea did it again when Trump suggested withdrawal from Korea, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Likewise, contrary opinions regarding Sino-US relations as expressed by Richard Wolff and Jeffrey Sachs were often ignored by the mainstream press.

    Omission of narratives contrary to the MIC party line, as in the remembrance of King jr, is common practice by the “liberal” media. More reprehensible perhaps are efforts to distort or rewrite history, as when, some years back, the media quoted, without comment, some chicken hawk saying that King would’ve supported the war in Afghanistan.

    Worse than sins of omission might be constant media memes such as “China regarded Taiwan as a renegade province” and leave that assertion without noting that the United Nations too doesn’t recognise Taiwan as a separate state. That’s also why Taiwan is known in the Olympics as “Taipei, China.”

    The official name for Taiwan has been the Republic of China (ROC) since 1949/50 when the KMT retreated to the island. The West, led by the US, then recognised the ROC on Taiwan as the true China. From the very beginning the US also supported the KMT’s constant attacks on the mainland both scross the Taiwan straits and through KMT remnants in northern Burma and Thailand. US training of Taiwan’s frogmen who swam to Fujian province to commit acts of sabotage were openly recorded in magazines like Free World” – later changed to “Horizons” – that was widely distributed in Southeast Asia. And every year, on October 10th (known as Double Tenth in commemorating China’s overthrow of the Qing dynasty), president Chiang Kai-Shek would say “the time is ripe” for “liberating” the mainland. Around 1962/3, the US even contemplated supporting an all-out KMT invasion of the PRC. It was only after CIA testimony to Congress that the majority of mainlanders still support the Communist Party despite three years of bad harvests that the US cancelled the invasion.

    In other words, for about 20 years the US had not only recognised the Republic of China as the true China, but also supported the ROC’s aggressive actions against the mainland. Today, however, the mainstream media not only stopped recognizing the ROC as the true China, it even falsely imply that Taiwan is not Chinese at all!

    Taiwan’s present status was the result of China’s return to the United Nations before the Nixon visit. No longer representing all China, the ROC, with US support, tried to remain as an ordinary member state but was rejected by the United Nations. So today it’s not only the PRC that “regarded it as a renegade province” but the United Nations as well. Undoubtedly, there would be attempts to change its official name but that cannot wipe out the historical fact that it is Chinese.

    Many overseas Chinese would prefer a Sun Yatsen-inspired Republic of China on the mainland. If the ROC can negotiate a joint government with the PRC over ALL parts of China that would be perfect. But efforts to democratize China will not work if the “liberal” media and the so-called “left” continue to distort and revise history. Like attempts to reimage the true Martin Luther King Jr, dishonest narratives serve only the neocon war party, and not bring world peace.

    • Stevie Boy
      April 4, 2021 at 10:30

      “… efforts to democratize China …”. One has to ask what is this great democracy that we believe the world should sign up to ?
      We have corrupt voting systems, corrupt politician only in office because of peroneal fortunes and money from lobby groups, we have whole populations being denied healthcare and education and we have lifestyles that are fatally bad for us and for the planet.
      Western democracy is very overated and not something to be held up as an example of a civilised society.

  13. Truth first
    April 3, 2021 at 12:54

    You can’t just go around saying that the US is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” when the vast majority of ignorant and arrogant Americans just know that this cannot be true. Besides in America killing people in other countries that never harmed you or killing your fellow Americans is one of most common ways to ‘solve’ problems in the USA.

  14. evelync
    April 3, 2021 at 12:51

    Spike Lee’s wonderful film Malcolm X shared the poignant transformation you remind us about – which tragically brought down on his head the wrath of Elijah Muhammad and his inner circle at the Nation of Islam as well as, it seems, the CIA who he believed was in on his ultimate destruction.
    He said close to the end when he and his family were being threatened – I’ve trained the security at the Nation of Islam and those guys are not this good…

    When one drills down to the bottom of these endless regime change wars and violence and cut through the bullshit about national security all that’s left is the corruption and the profit and the greed and the psychopathy…in the end the national security part turns out to really be NATIONAL INSECURITY – witness the wasted resources that could have paid for pandemic preparedness, a functional health system for all, a functioning infrastructure, a shift to renewable energy to protect our coastlines and a sustainable climate, and so much more – but we allow ourselves to be distracted with fear mongering over imaginary boogeymen.

    The selected boogeymen always seem to have OUR oil, OUR water, OUR natural resources under THEIR land.
    It’s not acceptable to our multinationals and too big to fail banks that those countries retain control over their own natural resources to serve their own people.

    And our elected leaders in knee jerk fashion put aside their rational thinking minds to fall right into the trap of the “National Security” bullshit and exceptionalism in order for them, like all the others before them, to keep at bay the guys and gals who, as Schumer pointed out, could get you six ways from Sunday. Their thirst for power and money and privilege trumps any human decency and honesty that might otherwise serve the vast majority of their own people.

    Only Martin Luther King Jr among the orators of the day who had our ear back then had the wisdom and unbelievable courage to tell us the truth.

  15. Em
    April 3, 2021 at 11:59

    It is now, and has always been about protecting the “golden goose” of grotesque greed of gross profits; to the detriment of good governance for all, globally.
    The reign of the former ‘president’, drew the international spotlight to the duplicitousness of American democracy; when, as is his wont, looking outwards, he made one of his ludicrous comments about all the sh—–e countries out there; that we plunder, without a pang of conscience; as all con artists do.
    Surely he was referring to their forms of government rather than at the loot that we take from them.
    And today, finally, after the criminal circus has left town, it is clear, for one and all to see, that the ground upon which hope may once have stood proud, is but the exceptional rogue nation of the globe.

  16. Antiwar7
    April 3, 2021 at 11:58

    Very well said by the authors.

    It’s amazing how so many Americans, and erstwhile progressive organizations, totally ignore our constant mass murder expeditions abroad.

    I’m afraid American society has totally failed. The only thing to look forward to is a chaotic, horrible, end-of-the-Roman-Empire type of scenario.

  17. April 3, 2021 at 11:05

    This article hesitates calling out the Democrats by name. This article falls short of naming the “large progressive organizations” that are falling short.

    As MLK put it, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

  18. michael888
    April 3, 2021 at 05:34

    The Riverside Church speech showed how far MLK had evolved: hXXps://

    Of course, the Liberals/ Democrats who had supported him then (and now) felt he had moved out of his identity politics/ civil rights lane, and was not only espousing dangerous anti-War rhetoric, but was also dangerously emphasizing class (uniting the Poor), rather than race.

    Not coincidentally, Malcolm X, and also Fred Hampton, the Founder of the Rainbow Coalition between Black Panthers, Young Patriots, and Young Lords, also sought to spread their movements across races, and almost immediately were assassinated, within a few years of King. The Establishment MUST divide and conquer, the whole purpose behind identity politics, or will be endangered by democracy.

    • Anne
      April 3, 2021 at 13:59

      And peaceful, quiescent relations with the rest of the world – NO imperialism…Can’t have that, now can we??

  19. Eric
    April 2, 2021 at 17:56

    Liberal media also contemptuously ignore Malcolm X’s political transformation in his final year.
    The official narrative that he hated all whites was too useful in propaganda that writes him off.
    Class solidarity instead of racial division is just not the ruling class’s cup of tea.

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