A King Abroad: Reflections On What MLK Said Outside of the U.S.A.

Every year on this MLK Day we tend to reflect on a set of well known speech phrases from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We talk of dreams, we think on Selma, we hold back tears as we remember what happened at 16th Street…

King traveled and spoke in many places large and small throughout the U.S. during his life, but he also had several occasions to travel and speak outside of the U.S. that are not usually the focus of much attention on his annual day of remembrance. Travel has a way of affecting how an individual sees their own existence in concert with the world as a whole. I felt such a provide shift in my perspective each time I’ve spent significant time outside of the U.S. observing how the rest of the world functions so very differently than my homeland. So, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the writings King left us from his time abroad as we all honor the life and legacy of a man who’s example continues to challenge us all to do better by one another.


Comments on John F. Kennedy – Berlin Freedom Festival (West Berlin, Germany)

On September 13, 1964, King spoke in memory of JKF and his commitment to international human rights in the wake of the 35th president’s assassination. This visit was shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall and what many may not realize is that King crossed over to East Berlin at the invitation of an East German pastor named Heinrich Gruber to speak at a church in Soviet-controlled territory in defiance of the U.S. State Department. He spoke against the divisive walls that separate people and the importance of remembering that we are all God’s children. (Source: https://college.georgetown.edu/news-story/german-department-highlights-mlks-visit-to-divided-berlin/)

Many students today may think of the Berlin Wall as something that happened back in ancient times; however, the Berlin Wall came down within my lifetime. I remember that news coverage from 1989 and the community was pregnant with strong emotions around this particular world event. I was too young at the time to appreciate the heavy German and German-American cultural influences of the small, eastern Iowa town I passed much of my youth in. Looking back at it all now, it was a very bold move on the part of King to make his first speech on foreign soil in the political hot zone of Berlin in 1964, the same year he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (Visit http://www.kingcenter.org and Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives Research Center http://www.findingaids.auctr.edu for more information on MLK’s time in Berlin)


Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech and Nobel Laureate Lecture – University of Oslo (Oslo, Norway)

On December 10, 1964, King delivered his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. During that speech King cited the violence against African Americans that was taking place as he stood in at that podium in Norway and he asked the question, “Why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize?” He spoke on the importance of recognizing non-violence as a path forward for humanity.

Thinking on this, I realize that a lot of people misunderstand the challenge that King put before America with the philosophy of non-violence. For this philosophy to truly work the “Negro” can not be the only one to lay down arms. Read that again and let it sit with you for a moment. In that same speech King said, “Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts”. This is not a dream, this is 12 minutes of harsh and direct truth that still rings true all these years later. (Read/Listen the full speech here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/acceptance-speech/)

The following day King gave a lecture entitled “The Quest For Peace and Justice” at spoke to the growing problem of a “poverty of spirit” getting in the way of our collective advancement. From this poverty of spirit springs the evils of racial injustice, lack of basic needs such as food and shelter and war. When King took the world stage he did not tiptoe, he did not cower. He swung the big stick and spoke truths that many people would rather not have seen come out of the mouth of this newly minted, “Prince of Peace”. (Read the full lecture here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/lecture/)


The Massey Lectures – Consciousness for Change 1967 (Toronto, Canada)

In 1967, King participated in the annual Massey Lecture series for the Canadian Broadcast Channel. These lectures were later compiled into a printed work called “Conscience for Change” covering several topics including:

  1. “Impasse in Race Relationships” – Addressing the question of the need for Black Power and the broader society’s reactions to Black people seeking humane and equitable treatment.
  2. “Vietnam” – A discussion of King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech identifying the harms that war visited upon the poor of both America and Vietnam.
  3. “Youth and Social Activism” – An exploration of the impacts of radical, society changing actions felt by White and Black communities.
  4. “Nonviolence and Social Change” – A discussion of nonviolence as a strategy for advancing social justice.
  5. “Christmas Sermon on Peace” – A sermon concerning Peace in the world.

The work was later republished as “The Trumpet of Conscience”. Visit http://www.thekinglegacy.org/books/trumpet-conscience to learn more about how to obtain a copy.

I also found the audio lectures on YouTube after learning that they were no longer accessible on CBC.

Dr. King’s travels to Ghana and India clearly influenced in many of his other messages he crafted as he saw the common struggle and cause shared by the people irrespective of their nationalities. Dr. King showed us that we are better together, that we all have much to learn from one another. His example calls upon each of us to be brave and stand up for doing what is right even if it is not convenient.

Marta is an award winning filmmaker, writer and producer committed to sharing the rich and complex stories of America’s Heartland region.  Marta wears several hats as Chief Creative-in-Charge of MartaGwyn Productions, LLC as well as the Co-Founder and Senior Grant Writer of Youngblood and Associates, LLC and Chief Operations Officer of Marta Collier Educational Systems and Services, LLC.

Marta is also the founder and editor-in-chief of TheWRITEaddiction.  An online community of writers that publish creative and inspirational works daily at www.TheWriteAddiction.com.

Marta is an alumna of The Ohio State University and Tougaloo College with degrees in Sociology and English-Journalism and resides in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband and unconventional college sweetheart of 10 years, Terrance Youngblood.

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