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This week in history: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at National Conference of New Politics

Dr. King earned a standing ovation after he gave the keynote address at the National Conference of New Politics in Chicago in 1967.

Crowd attends the National Conference of New Politics convention in the Chicago Coliseum to listen to speakers on Aug. 31, 1967
A crowd attends the National Conference of New Politics convention in the Chicago Coliseum to listen to speakers on Aug. 31, 1967.
From the Sun-Times archives.

As published in the Chicago Sun-Times and its sister publication, the Chicago Daily News:

When it comes to political conventions in Chicago, the 1968 Democratic National Convention often gets the most screen time because of the unprecedented police brutality against peaceful protesters that TV viewers saw from home. But a year before that, another entirely peaceful conference came to Chicago to promote peace, unity and an end to the war in Vietnam.

A haven for liberal politicians and supporters, the National Conference for New Politics took place over Labor Day weekend in 1967. The Chicago Sun-Times extensively covered the conference where politicos, activists and anti-war advocates mixed and mingled to excite their base and prepare for the upcoming election season.

The highlight of the convention came on Aug. 31 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took to the stage to deliver the keynote address to 4,000 people at the Chicago Coliseum.

“The promise of a Great Society has been shipwrecked off the coast of Asia on the dreadful pinnacle of Vietnam,” he told conference-goers. The war, he said, “has torn up the Geneva agreement, seriously impaired the United Nations, exacerbated the hatreds between continents and worse still between races: it has frustrated our development at home.”

“If the will of the people continues to be unheeded, all men of good will must create a situation in which the 1967-68 elections are made a referendum on the war,” he said. “The American people must have an opportunity to vote into oblivion those who cannot detach themselves from militarism.”

King’s speech touched on more than the Vietnam War. He called for a national employment agency, noting that capitalism “was built on the exploitation and suffering of Black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both Black and white — both here and abroad.”

The activist referred to racism as “that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on Western civilization.”

King received a standing ovation after his speech.

For one attendee, the fight for civil rights continued in the suburbs long after the conference. In February 1968, Chicago Daily News reporter Diane Monk wrote a profile on Northbrook activist and conference executive board member Lucy Montgomery, who announced her candidacy for representing the 9th District at the Democratic National Convention later that year. She planned to run as a “peace candidate” and would commit votes for anti-war Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy.

It would take more than peace in Vietnam “to satisfy this silver-haired crusader,” Monk wrote. At home, “our society is very sick indeed,” Montgomery told the reporter.

“The thing that scares me most is the growth of repression in America,” she said. “Repression has increased to keep pace with the increase in dissent.”