By Wayne Alt
I appreciate the fine lead article (Nov. 9) by Colin Dabkowski on the historic speech of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Kleinhans Music Hall on Nov. 9, 1967.
In the article, many Western New Yorkers expressed King’s ideas of compassionate alternatives to conflict in resolving war. I would like to add some additional historical pieces from a firsthand point of view from that same period of history.
In spite of King’s position on the Vietnam War and the boycott of the Western New York Baptist preachers, more than 2,000 people (including me) attended his presentation at Kleinhans.
When King gave his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City earlier that same year, his focus was one of organizing faith-based people and others into an anti-Vietnam War position that would grow into a movement to promote a change in the thoughts and actions of U.S. political leaders from one of war to a more peaceful resolve.
Shortly after that sermon an organization called Clergy and Laity Concerned About the Vietnam War was developed throughout the country.
That year saw an immediate emergence of branches of the organization throughout major cities in the United States.
Here in Buffalo, faith-based people and others put together a branch of the national organization under the leadership of the Rev. Kenneth Sherman. Through Sherman’s leadership, the Western New York Peace Center was also formed.
The Peace Center’s mission included educating the public about justice, peace and antiwar issues.
Presentations were held at local churches and community centers as well as outdoor demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and Western New York. It also purchased ads in local papers, distributed fliers, visited congressional offices, organized a draft counseling center and developed task forces that dealt directly with the war in Vietnam.
Later, during President Carter’s Amnesty Program, the WNY Peace Center welcomed one of the first draftees returning home from another country accompanied by the national media.
Now, after 50 years, the Peace Center continues to persist for justice and peace by speaking up for those who have no voice in promoting domestic programs and fighting the defense budget.
Many people throughout the country exalt King’s position when it comes to resolving conflict both within our borders as well as with other countries. Let us hope that in the next 50 years King’s philosophy will have an even wider impact in the world.
Wayne Alt is the co-founder of the Western New York Peace Center.