Landmark King speech honored at the Riverside Church

March 27, 2017

Landmark King Speech Honored at The Riverside Church

Michelle Alexander, Ruby Sales, and Rev. William Barber headline 50th Anniversary of Beyond Vietnam

New York City, NY – More than halfway through President Trump’s first 100 days in office, Civil Rights activists of the past and present headline events at The Riverside Church in the City of New York commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and drawing sharp contrasts between his legacy and current U.S. policy. April 4, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s controversial Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence speech, delivered at The Riverside Church exactly one year before his assassination, in which Dr. King denounced America’s triple sins of racism, poverty, and militarism. This historic event will be honored with an evening in conversation with Michelle Alexander and Ruby Sales on April 4, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

All events are free and open to the press. RSVP to Rachel Johnson ( or Brian Simpson ( by noon April 4.

“In Beyond Vietnam, Dr. King not only denounced a controversial war, he exposed to the country the underlying social evils of racism, poverty, and militarism which, if unaddressed, would continue to erode the soul of our nation,” said Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, Senior Minister of The Riverside Church. “That we will be marking 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination, exactly one year after he delivered Beyond Vietnam, under an administration endorsed by white supremacists shows how much work our country still needs to do to confront our sins. The strident message of Beyond Vietnam is a reminder that people of faith and good conscience must step up and lead the way.”

Many historians have cited Beyond Vietnam as a turning point in Dr. King’s ministry that lead to a rapid decline in his popularity and his assassination. The speech was written by Dr. Vincent Harding, a longtime confidant and advisor of Dr. King, who went on to be a professor at Iliff School of Theology and founded the Veterans of Hope Project.

“Dr. Harding possessed a spiritual and courageous insightfulness,” said the Rev. Dr. Thomas Wolfe, President, Iliff School of Theology. “He saw himself as a servant of the civil rights movement. Many people, even many within the movement, saw this speech as extremely controversial. Despite the resistance to connecting the movement to the war, he drafted the speech because it reflected the heart of Dr. King’s message and all that was at stake for the soul of America. This speech will continue to inspire and be the voice of generations to come.”

The event commemorating Beyond Vietnam features Michelle Alexander and Ruby Sales in conversation in the Nave of The Riverside Church where King delivered the sermon and is co-hosted by Iliff School of Theology, Veterans of Hope, and Union Theological Seminary. Alexander, visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, is author of The New Jim Crow, which examines the continued legacy of discrimination and injustice that Dr. King confronted. Ruby Sales is a Civil Rights icon who worked in the Student Nonviolenct Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went on to found The SpiritHouse Project.

On Sunday, April 2, prior to the anniversary, Riverside hosts Rev. Dr. William Barber II as guest preacher in the 10:45 a.m. worship service. Rev. Barber is former President of the North Carolina NAACP and organizer of the Moral Mondays movement. Anchored by quotes from Dr. King voiced by modern activists, the service will lift up the ways in which Dr. King’s work is being continued today.

These events kick off a yearlong Beyond the Dream: Living King’s Legacy initiative by The Riverside Church, spanning the 50th anniversaries of Beyond Vietnam and Dr. King’s assassination. The year of activism and education will move participants from celebrating King’s dream and ideals toward living out his calls for justice and reconciliation in our country. Learn more at

Located in Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side, The Riverside Church in the City of New York is one of the leading voices of Progressive Christianity, influential on America’s religious and political landscapes for more than 85 years. Built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and currently led by The Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, the interracial, interdenominational, and international church has long been a forum for important civic and spiritual leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, President Clinton, the Dalai Lama, and countless others. Visit or find us on social media to learn more about our rich history and the latest news and events.

Founded in 1892, the Iliff School of Theology is an independent, graduate school related to the United Methodist Church that educates and develops leaders with courageous theological imaginations. Located in Denver, Colorado, it serves more than 30 denominations and faith traditions and is committed to social justice, inclusiveness, and religious diversity. As one of the best theological schools in the nation, the school offers a diverse community that is supportive, challenging, progressive, and enriching for students. Courses are offered on-campus, online, or in hybrid formats.
Iliff -
Riverside -