Blogger and retired D.C. teacher G. F. Brandenburg reminds us that Dr. King was not always popular. White racists in the south and the north hated his advocacy for equal rights for black people. Followers of Malcolm X thought he was weak-kneed. Even supposedly liberal whites thought he went too far when he announced that he would lead a campaign against poverty. When he spoke out against the war in Vietnam, President Lyndon B. Johnson was furious, and many editorialists and even other civil rights leaders distanced themselves from him. They thought that Dr. King was wrong to offend the President and wrong to link his stand on civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam.

We admire Dr. King today because he dared to take a stand on what mattered, even if it upset the powerful. You cannot comfort the powerful and the afflicted simultaneously. At some point, you must take a stand. You can’t claim to be on the side of “the kids,” at the same time that you oppose raising taxes for the public services that the kids and their families need. As the saying goes, a hero comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Dr. King never bowed to his critics.

Brandenburg writes:

When King spoke against the American war in Vietnam and against segregation and discrimination in Northern states, he drew a lot of sharp attacks, even from the NYT:

‘The New York Times editorial board lambasted King for linking the war in Vietnam to the struggles of civil rights and poverty alleviation in the United States, saying it was “too facile a connection” and that he was doing a “disservice” to both causes. It concluded that there “are no simple answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial injustice in this country.” The Washington Post editorial board said King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people.” A political cartoon in the Kansas City Star depicted the civil rights movement as a young black girl crying and begging for her drunk father King, who is consuming the contents of a bottle labeled “Anti-Vietnam.”

‘In all, 168 newspapers denounced him the next day. Johnson ended his formal relationship with King. “What is that goddamned nigger preacher doing to me?” Johnson reportedly remarked after the Riverside speech. “We gave him the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we gave him the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we gave him the war on poverty. What more does he want?”

‘The African-American establishment, fearful of Johnson’s reaction, also distanced itself from King.

‘The NAACP under the leadership of Roy Wilkins refused to oppose the war and explicitly condemned the effort to link the peace and civil rights movements. Whitney Young, the leader of the National Urban League, warned that “Johnson needs a consensus. If we are not with him on Vietnam, then he is not going to be with us on civil rights.”