The ongoing and highly partisan battle to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act gives some insight into why it took 32 years for Congress to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. First introduced in 1968, four days after King’s assassination, MLK Day was only approved in 1983—and not until 2000 did it become a state holiday in all 50 states. This poster was made one year after the start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
The statement featured on this poster was taken from King’s seminal 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” address against the US war in Viet Nam, given at the Riverside Church in New York. He placed Viet Nam into the context of the urban uprisings that had been taking place around the U.S. since Watts in 1965.
“…As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems… But they asked, and rightly so, ‘what about Viet Nam?’ They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”
King gave this speech on April 4, 1967. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, one year to the day after giving the speech. This was not a coincidence. The assassination date sent a message.