On February 6, 1968, Dr. King, stepped up to the pulpit to warn against the use of nuclear weapons. Addressing the second mobilization of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, King urged an end to the war and warned that if the United States used nuclear weapons in Vietnam the earth would be transformed into an inferno that “even the mind of Dante could not envision.”
Then, as he had done so many times before, King made clear the connection between the black freedom struggle in America and the need for nuclear disarmament: “These two issues are tied together in many, many ways. It is a wonderful thing to work to integrate lunch counters, public accommodations, and schools. But it would be rather absurd to work to get schools and lunch counters integrated and not be concerned with the survival of a world in which to integrate.”
King was not alone. Since 1945, many in the African American community actively supported nuclear disarmament, often connecting the nuclear issue with the fight for racial equality and with liberation movements around the world. While African Americans immediately condemned the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not all of the activists protested for the same reason. For some, race was the issue. Many in the black community agreed with Langston Hughes’s assertion that racism was at the heart of Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons in Japan. Why did the United States not drop atomic bombs on Italy or Germany, Hughes asked.
Black activists’ fear that race played a role in the decision to use atomic bombs only increased when the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s and in Vietnam a decade later. For others, mostly black leftists ensconced in Popular Front groups, the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism.
From the United States obtaining uranium from the Belgian-controlled Congo to France testing nuclear weapons in the Sahara, activists saw a direct link between those who possessed nuclear weapons and those who colonized the nonwhite world. However, for many ordinary black citizens, fighting for nuclear disarmament simply translated into a more peaceful world. The bomb, then, became the link that connected all of these issues and brought together musicians, artists, peace activists, leftists, clergy, journalists, and ordinary citizens inside the black community. [Continue reading…]