Transcript of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Speech


The tape which you are about to hear was made in the University of Dayton Fieldhouse on
Sunday, November the 29th, 1964. The first voice that you will hear is that of Commissioner
Crawford, then that of Pres. Charles Wesley of Central State College.

I come bearing a souvenir presentation, and I refer to it that way because of a calculated choice
of language, frankly. You see I am not particularly pleased with the original stature and posture
of the City of Dayton this moment with regard to the usual connotation of keys to the city. You
have heard, I’m sure, very sincerely and often tritely as a cliché that they are supposed to
figuratively at least open all the doors and all the hearts of the city which they represent. There
are people in this hall by the thousands who know that in spite of the fact that you are a great
minister of God’s people, a world-renowned orator, a disciple and ambassador for truth and good
across the world, one of the world’s renowned men, there still in this city are some doors that
neither this key nor my persuasion could open for you. [applause]

And so my presenting this souvenir to you would present a rather untenable situation except for
one fortunate thing about our city-the form of our government. We have, you may or may not
know, a commission-manager form of government here in which the elected legislative body is
composed of five men, one of whom is called mayor, the other four referred to as commissioners.
Five men elected and who are, under God and under our charter at least, equal. [laughter,

Therefore, Dr. King and ladies and gentlemen, I do not come as a substitute or a stand-in for
someone else. Nor do I come representing presumably the congregate voice of city hall. But
rather I come as the somewhat self-appointed spokesman of the thousands of people such as
these who sincerely welcome you to this city. [applause]

I subscribe to a simple thesis that, for every public servant who glibly lies, there are thousands of
men who serve their fellow man well with honesty and care. And for every little group of men
who would like to enslave the souls of other men, there are legions now this day that will never
permit it to happen as long as men like you give leadership to people like this across this land.

And in spite of the ills that surround us there are as you well know many good and fine things,
and I know that there are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of Daytonians of all
kinds of ancestral backgrounds of all complexions and all spiritual persuasions that are thankful
to almighty God that he saw fit to have you live in this our day and are grateful that as you make
your way across your life’s journey in this world, you saw fit to pause in Dayton this night. On
their behalf I present this beautifully crafted, shiny little key, Dr. King, that is the key of the real
Dayton. [applause]

Dr. Martin Luther King, he needs no introduction to an audience at almost any point in the
United States or abroad. We merely present him because nearly every one of us knows
something good about Martin Luther King. [applause]

I present him to you, therefore, as a gifted leader of our times, an eloquent advocate of basic
human rights for all, and a voice of a marching people looking forward and reaching for a larger
freedom. [applause]

Nurtured in the tradition of religious leadership, trained in philosophy, religion and social
science, so as he brings with him powers of analysis, of synthesis and precise presentations to the
perplexing problems of our day. Educated at Morehouse College, Crozier Theological Seminary,
and then Boston University where he received the highest of the university degrees, the Doctor
of Philosophy. A thoughtful statesman, a courageous leader in the moving defense of our
national and now our international life in which he has participated with wisdom and resolution
as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and founder and president of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, a profound
student of the philosophy of non-violence…two paragraphs or three paragraphs of which you
will find on the back sheet of your program. A man who is an exponent of peaceful resistance to
aggression, a believer in the doctrine of the soft answer turning away wrath, even when attacked
by the representative of the MPI who gave him a very derogatory and violent statement, and he
turned the other cheek. [applause]

And yet, my friends, despite this, Martin Luther King has courageously gave, in the struggle for
the advancement of all the people, in the confidence that the battle is not to the strong but to
those with minds and hearts resolute in their desire and purpose to join the race of the free who
have learned to appreciate and accept the responsibility for the extension of basic human rights
through themselves to all the nations and all the world. [applause]

Universities and colleges have honored him. We honored him at Central State College in 1958.
We honored him then. We are here to honor him now as a trusted leader of peoples in all parts of
the free world, and we do not use it as some people use the word ‘free world’ in our day. We use
it with the prophecy and the hope of the future where the world in reality shall be free. Of that
free world, of those people who seek to free themselves from the old and the new colonialism,
the old and the new imperialism, the enforced segregation based either upon color or upon the
amount that one has to pay, and we would assume that all of us desire to join with Martin Luther
in the hope and determination that all men and women, black and white shall be free in law and
free in fact and shall brothers be in one community. This is our dream, and it is his dream, and
he’s talked about it. You remember in Washington, “I have a dream.” [applause]

This is our dream. You, Martin Luther King, are our prophet. We are happy you are here. Ladies
and gentlemen, the distinguished Martin Luther King. [applause]

To the presiding officer, my dear friend, George Lucas, to all of the distinguished platform
guests, ladies and gentlemen of the city of Dayton, I did not pause to say how very delighted and
honored I am to have the opportunity to come to this community and to see and greet you tonight.
I want to pay my deep personal appreciation to my good friend George Lucas and to all of the
other ministers of the gospel and to all of the sponsoring organizations that made this meeting
possible. I look forward to being with you with great and eager anticipation. And I can assure
you that it is a real pleasure. I’m also deeply indebted to my dear friend Dr. Charles Wesley for
these kind and gracious words of introduction. And I’m so happy to be an honorary alumnus of
the institution that he has led in such a great manner across the years.

I must apologize to each of you for being late tonight. I had to speak in Cincinnati earlier today,
and the Rev. Doctor Booth drove us over, and as we started out, we noticed that a little snow was
falling, and it continued to fall and every now and then that car would kind of skid and turn a bit,
and I said, “Now, Ventral, you slow up a little. Tonight I’d rather be Martin Luther King late
than the late Martin Luther King. [laughter, applause]

So several things slowed us up a bit, but I’m deeply grateful to you for waiting so patiently, and I
want to express my thanks to you already and in advance for the financial support that you have
given to our struggle as a result of this meeting. As you know I’m president of the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, one of the organizations standing in the forefront of this
struggle for justice and peace and freedom. And you well know the great responsibilities that we
face in all of our organizations from a financial point of view. The only way that we are able to
do the job is if people of goodwill are willing to go down in their pockets and share their means.
And I know that your contributions here tonight will go a long, long way toward helping us to
raise that million dollar budget that we have this year to do and continue our job all across the
south in every state and in every hamlet and village. So I want to thank and say to you that this is
of inestimable value for the continuance of our humble efforts.

There are many questions that people ask me as I journey around the country on the question of
race relations. But I imagine the question that I see most is whether there has been any real
progress in the area of race relations. Tonight I want to try to answer that question in my remarks,
and I want to try to answer that question in what I consider a realistic manner avoiding the
extremes of both an undue optimism and of an undue pessimism. On the one hand I must affirm
that we have come a long, long way in the struggle to make civil rights a reality for all of God’s
children. But on the other hand, I must say that we still have a long, long way to go before the
problem is solved. And it is this realistic position that I would like to use as a basis for our
thinking together tonight: We’ve come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go.

Now let me point out first that the Negro himself has come a long, long way in reevaluating his
own intrinsic worth. In order to illustrate this, a little history is necessary. You will remember
that it was in the year 1619 that the first Negro slaves landed on the shores of this nation. They
were brought here from the shores of Africa. Unlike the Pilgrim fathers who landed at Plymouth
a year later, they were brought here against their will. Throughout slavery the Negro was treated
in very inhuman fashion. He was a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. The famous
Dred Scott decision of 1857 well illustrated the status of the Negro during slavery for in this
decision, the Supreme Court of our nation said in substance that the Negro is not a citizen of the
United States, he is merely property subject to the dictates of his owner. It went on to say that the
Negro has no rights that the white man is bound to respect. This was the attitude that prevailed.

And as slavery grew it became necessary to give some justification for it. It seems to be a fact of
life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some
thin rationalization to call the darkness wrong and the beautiful garments of righteousness. This
is exactly what happened during the days of slavery. Even the Bible and religion were misused in
order to crystallize the patterns of the status quo. And so it was argued that the Negro was
inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. Then the Apostle Paul’s
letter became a watchword-“servants be obedient to your master.” Then one brother had
probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle was a great philosopher who
lived during the heyday of Greek culture, and he did a great deal to bring into being what we
now know in philosophy as formal logic. And this formal logic has a big word called syllogism.
Now, syllogism has a major premise a minor premise and a conclusion. So this brother decided
to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism.
He could say, “All men are made in the image of God.” That was his major premise. Then came
his minor premise, “God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro. Therefore, the Negro is not a
man.” This was the kind of reasoning back then. [laughter]

These were the conditions of slavery and then later segregation. Many Negroes lost faith in
themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human, that perhaps they were
inferior. This has always been the great tragedy of slavery, the great tragedy of segregation-not
merely what it does to one physically, but what it does to the soul, what it does to one
psychologically. It ends up giving the segregator a false sense of superiority while leaving the
segregated with a false sense of inferiority. This is the tragedy of it. It scars the soul. It does
something to one psychologically.

And so living with the system of slavery and segregation, many Negroes did end up — with
feelings of inferiority. But then something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it
possible and necessary for him to travel more–the coming of the automobile, the upheavals of
two world wars, the Great Depression. So his rural plantation background gradually gave way to
urban industrial life. Even this cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of
crippling illiteracy. All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself.
Negro masses all over began to reevaluate themselves, and the Negro came to feel that he was
somebody. And religion revealed to him that God loved all of his children and that all men are
made in his image. Somehow he came to see that every man, figuratively speaking, from a bass
black to a treble white, is significant on God’s keyboard. So he can now unconsciously cry out
with the eloquent poet “Fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim. Skins
may differ, but affection dwells in Blacks and Whites the same. Were I so tall to reach the poll,
or grasp the ocean with a span I must be judged by my soul; the mind is the standard of the

With this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being
with a new determination to shrug off, to suffer, to sacrifice, and even die if necessary in order
to… [applause]

So we’ve come a long, long way since 1619. But not only has the Negro come a long, long way
in reevaluating his own intrinsic worth, if we are true to the facts, we must admit that the whole
nation has come a long, long way in extending the frontiers of civil rights. Fifty years ago, even
twenty-five years ago, a year hardly passed when numerous Negroes were not brutally lynched
by vicious mobs all across the South. By and large lynchings have about ceased today. This
reveals that we’ve made some strides. At the turn of the century there were very few Negroes
registered to vote in the South. By 1948 that number had leaped to 750,000. When we started out
in the election in 1960, that number had leaped to 1.2 million. Then when we went into the
elections just a few days ago, the number had passed 2 million which means that we had more
than 800,000 new Negro registered voters in the South since 1960. Far from what it ought to be,
but it reveals that we’ve made some strides. [applause]

In the area of economic justice, we’ve seen some growth. The average Negro wage earner who is
employed today earns 12 times more than the average Negro wage earner of 10 years ago. The
national income of the Negro is now better than $28 billion a year which is more than all of the
exports of the United States and the national budget of Canada. This reveals that we’ve come a
long, long way.

Probably more than anything else in our day and in our age we’ve seen the system of racial
segregation crumble. We all know the legal history of racial segregation in our country. It had its
legal beginning in 1896 when the Supreme Court rendered a decision known as the Plessey vs.
Ferguson Decision which established the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ as the law of the land.
And we all know what happened as a result of that old Plessey doctrine-there was always strict
enforcement of the separate without the slightest intention to abide by the equal. So the Negro
ended up being plunged into the abyss of exploitation where he experienced the bleakness of
night and injustice. Then after many years of legal segregation, that magnificent day came when
the Supreme Court of our nation in 1954 examined the legal party of segregation and pronounced
it constitutionally dead, saying in substance that the old Plessey doctrine must go, that separate
facilities are inherently unequal and that to segregate a child on the basis of his race is to deny
that child equal protection of the law.

We’ve seen many changes since that day on May 17, 1954. But along with that we’ve seen
something else. It happened just this year. We’ve seen the passing by the Congress of our United
States the most comprehensive, the strongest civil rights bill that we’ve ever had. And I’m happy
to report that by and large communities all across the South, even some communities in the state
of Mississippi are complying with the civil rights bill. [applause]

So I’m convinced my friends that we’ve come a long, long way to put it figuratively in biblical
language-we’ve broken loose from the Egypt of slavery, and we have moved through the
wilderness of legal segregation and now we stand on the border of the promised land of
integration, and I am absolutely convinced that the system of segregation is on its deathbed today,
and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral.

We’ve come a long, long way since 1896. Now this would be a wonderful place for me to end
my talk tonight. First it would mean making a relatively short speech, and this would be a
magnificent accomplishment for a Baptist preacher. [laughter] Second it would mean that the
problem is about solved now, and it would be a marvelous thing and speakers all over the nation
could talk about this problem in terms of a problem that once existed but no longer has an
existence. But you see if I stop at this point, I would merely be stating a fact and not telling the
truth. You see, a fact is merely the absence of contradiction, but truth is the presence of
coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now it is a fact that we’ve come a long, long way,
but that ain’t the whole truth. You gotta get the other side. If I stop at this point, I’m afraid that I
would leave you the victims of a dangerous optimism. If I stop now, I’m afraid that I would send
you home with an illusion wrapped in superficiality. So in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to
move on and say to you not only have we come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way
to go. [applause]

I don’t need to stay on this point long. I would just say to you, you can open your newspapers
every day and turn on your televisions. You can just look around your community and you
would have to agree with me that we still have a long, long way to go. I mentioned the fact that
lynchings have about ceased, and they have. We must not overlook the fact that there are still
tragic moments of violence and terror taking place in communities in the South. We must never
forget the fact Medgar Evers was shot down in Jackson, Mississippi, simply because he wanted
to see his people free. We must never forget that Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama,
when four of our beautiful, innocent, unoffending girls were killed in the Church of God. We
must never forget the voice of the ??? calling from the mad waters of the Mississippi. We must
never forget that just this summer three civil rights workers were brutally murdered near
Philadelphia, Mississippi. All of this reveals to us that we still have a long, long way to go. Since
last May more than 40 churches-Negro churches-have been burned down in the state of
Mississippi. They have a new motto down there now, not “attend the church of your choice,” but
“burn the church of your choice.” This is tragic. It means that we have a long, long way to go
before the brotherhood of man is a reality in our country.

I mentioned the strides that have been made in voter registration. Let me give you the other side.
I mentioned that we have about 2 million Negroes registered to vote in the South. Remember that
there are still more than 10 million Negroes living in the South. A few more than 6 million of
these 10 million are of voting age. And yet only 2 thousand are registered-I mean 2 million are
registered. Many of these other 4 million are not registered, not because they don’t want to
register, but because all types of conniving measures are still being used in some states in the
South to keep the Negro from becoming a registered voter. They have some hard questions that a
Ph.D. in the field or a person with a law degree from the best law schools in the country couldn’t
answer-to the even more difficult question of “How many bubbles do you find in a bar of
soap?” I think somebody asked a question like that in some place in Mississippi. In fact, a man
went to register at a place in Mississippi not long ago, and one of the questions was, “How many
windows are in the courthouse?” Well I don’t know how many windows are in my own house.
How am I supposed to know how many are in the courthouse? [laughter]

This is a bit humorous, but beneath this humor is something tragic, something shameful. In 1964
A.D. there are counties in our country where Negroes cannot register without fear of economic
reprisals, without fear of death, without facing all types of conniving methods to keep them from
registering. And so we have a long, long way to go in America before this problem is solved.

I mentioned economic justice, and I mentioned a big figure-28 billion dollars. That’s a lot of
money. Let us not overlook the other side. No person of goodwill will overlook the other side.
That is the fact that 42% of the Negro families in America still earn less than $2000 a year while
just 16% of the white families earn less than $2000 a year. Twenty-one percent of the Negro
families in American still earn less than $1000 a year while just 5% of the white families earn
less than $1000 a year. 88% of the Negro families of America earn less than $5000 a year while
just 58% of the white families earn less than $5000 a year. This is a tragic gulf that must be
bridged if America is to be a great nation. The problem is getting even more difficult today. For
years we have been denied educational opportunities on a broad and equal level. For years we
have been the victims of discrimination all over the South in overt forms and all over the North
in covert forms. We’ve been denied apprenticeship training. For all these reasons we have been
limited by and large to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now these are the jobs that are passing
away because of automation and cybernation. More than 42,000 jobs are being scrapped every
week, and the Negro more than anybody else is on the suffering end. I’m not saying he’s the only
one; I’m saying he’s on the suffering end a great deal. If automation is to be a blessing as it can
and must be in our society, this problem must be grappled with. There must be massive
retraining programs. There must be massive public works programs. There must be massive
goodwill in order get rid of that hardcore poverty which we still find all over our nation. Forty
million people find themselves in that category. And there is a basic demand that we grapple
with this problem.

Now you know we hear so many arguments as to why we shouldn’t have integration on the part
of those who want to hold on to segregation. They tell a lot of bad things about us; they say a lot
of naughty things about us; they say that if the schools and other areas are integrated, this would
pull the white race back a generation because of cultural lags in the Negro community. They go
on to say that the Negro is a criminal. He has a high crime rate in cities all over the country.
Individuals who set forth these arguments never go on to say that if there are lagging standards in
the Negro community, and there certainly are, they lag because of segregation and discrimination.
Criminal responses are environmental and not racial. As long as you have people walking the
streets day in and day out not being able to find jobs; as long as you have people looking down
life and seeing that it’s a long corridor with no exit sign. As long as you find people in our
society who are constantly seeing themselves on the lonely island of poverty in the midst of a
vast ocean of material prosperity, there ??? for the whole society. There is nothing more tragic
than to build up a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have
no stake in that society. Economic deprivation, social isolation, poverty and ignorance breed
crime whatever the racial group may be, and it is a torture of logic to use the tragic results of
segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary to get rid of the causal
source. And this is the great challenge facing our nation…[applause].

Now I mentioned that we’ve come a long, long way to get rid of segregation. But I want to give
you the other side, and that is segregation is still with us. Now it may be true as I just said,
figuratively speaking, that “old man segregation is on its deathbed, but history has proven that
social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of the status quo are
always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. So segregation is still with us.
Today it’s with us in a more complicated and more difficult manner. Growing up in every city of
our nation in a de facto sense, much more difficult than the legal segregation that we’ve had
across the years in the South. Where do we see it? We see it in housing. I imagine you have good
residential areas here in Dayton that I wouldn’t….[applause]

It’s because of this, residential segregation developed segregation in the public schools and in the
whole way of life. And so we find ourselves in this ??? when a new form of segregation is
coming into being, which in form is much more difficult to grapple with because it is subtle,
because it is not legal, because it is not open. So it means that we have a long, long way to go all
over this country. Segregation is still with us. But I say to you this night my friends, because I
believe it, that if democracy is to live, segregation must die. [applause]

Segregation is evil. I am not opposed to segregation merely because it is politically unsound, not
merely because it is sociologically untenable. I’m opposed to segregation because it is sinful and
because it is immoral. [applause] Segregation is evil. Segregation is evil, to use the words of the
great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber because “it substitutes an ‘I/it’ relationship for the ‘I/our’
relationship.” Or to use the words and the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas, segregation is evil
because “it’s based on human laws that aren’t in harmony with the moral and natural eternal laws
of the universe.” Segregation is evil because it is nothing but a new form of slavery covered up
with certain niceties of complexion. [applause]

No we must go all out to get rid of segregation and discrimination wherever we find it in our
nation. Now to do this, we’ve got to develop everywhere all over the nation a massive action
program to get rid of segregation and discrimination. This problem isn’t going to work itself out.
It isn’t gonna solve itself. If we are to get rid of it, we must develop massive action programs
based on the likes of all the forces of goodwill, people are fighting. And all of the forces of
goodwill in our country working to make the dream of our democracy a reality.

Now we’ve got to get rid of one or two myths that are disseminated in order to develop this
action program. Now one of them is what I call the myth of time. You’ve heard this; you’ve
heard people, some of whom are people of goodwill. They don’t mean any harm, they think
they’re right. They say just wait on time, and time will solve the problem. They say to the Negro
and his allies in the white community, ‘just be nice and patient, continue to pray, and wait 100 or
200 years, and the problem will work itself out.’ Time will solve the problem. The only answer
that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or
destructively. I am absolutely convinced tonight that the forces of ill-will in our nation have used
time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. I’m convinced that the forces committed
to negativity and extreme rights and all of these forces have often used time much more
effectively than the positive forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent of
this generation, not merely for the loud words and violent actions of the bad people who will
burn a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the
good people who sit around saying, ‘wait on time.’ [applause]

We’ve come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes
through the tireless efforts, the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-
workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces
of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe
to do right.

Now the other myth that gets around, you’ve heard it a great deal during this recent campaign
because Mr. Goldwater sincerely believes this myth, and those who supported him. It’s the idea
that legislation can’t solve the problems we face in human relations. You’ve got to change the
heart, and you can’t change the heart through legislation. Now we heard this so much. We heard
it day in and day out. Now I’m willing to concede a little bit here. I would say that the people
who set forth this argument are at least working with a half truth because if we are to get this
problem solved in the United States, something must happen on the inside, and the hearts must
be changed. Now I would be the first to say that. If we’re going to solve this problem, every
white person in this country must come to see that he must deal justly and rightly with the Negro
not merely because the law says it but because it’s right and because the Negro is his brother. I
recognize that. [applause] I would go on to say that if this problem is to be solved, men must not
only be obedient to that which can be enforced by the law, but they must rise to the majestic
heights of being obedient to God-impulses. I recognize this, but now after saying all this, let me
give you the other side.

Now it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. [applause]
You see, it may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It
may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the hardness. It may be true
that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me and I think
that’s what the law ought to do. [applause]

So we must see the continued need for legislation in this area. It may be true that legislation
cannot change the hearts of men, but it does change the habits of men. And when you change the
habits of men, pretty soon the hearts and attitudes will be changed. [applause]

So I’m for massive action programs, moving away from all of the myths that cloud our days. I
believe that we can move forward and grapple with this problem of job discrimination; grapple
with this problem of housing discrimination; grapple with this problem of de facto segregation in
the schools and all of the other problems that we have all over our country.

Now let me say just a word about the method, and I believe it’s necessary, the method that
should be used in grappling with these problems. I am still convinced, while we must work
passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship, we must not use second-class methods
to gain it. [applause] No matter which preacher says it, no matter who believes it, I’m going on
and believe the other way. No matter who believes that preachers of violence can solve our
problems, I’m going to, if I have to be a minority of one, to say that violence is not the answer.

There is another way, a way as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth, and as modern as the
techniques of Mohandas K. Ghandi. And I believe it is a powerful way to grapple with this
problem. It has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his
morale, and at the same time, it works on his conscience, and he does not know how to deal with
it. I remember down in Birmingham, Alabama, last year when we went in the height of that
struggle, and you remember, I’m sure, when Bull Conner had his police dogs, and he had all of
his fire hoses and all of the brutal methods that you could think of. And I can remember the days
and hours when Mr. Conner would laugh whenever some of the spectators who had gone through
the discipline of non-violence in our movement would throw bottles and rocks on the sidelines,
at the policemen and others, and Mr. Conner was always happy. And he was happy because he’s
an expert in violence, and that’s all he wanted. He wanted us to turn to violence. And he knew at
that moment that he could use all of the forces of his brutality and his police force and kill off a
lot of innocent Negroes and beat up a lot of people. He knew that. And brother Conner had to
look up morning after morning and see a number that no man could number marching the streets
of Birmingham, Alabama…[applause] with humble smiles on their faces, and I’d hear him as
he’d say, ‘get the dogs,’ and as he said, ‘get the dogs,’ they would continue to march just
singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” [applause]

Then he would tell them, “All right men, go over there and get the fire hoses.” And as he told
them to get the fire hoses, that army continued to march non-violently singing, “Over my head, I
see freedom in the air.” [applause]

Then he’d say, “Go get the paddy wagon,” and he threw them in the paddy wagon. You could
here them going on in there singing, “We shall overcome. We shall overcome.” [applause]

There was something about that that Bull Conner couldn’t deal with. There was something about
it that disarmed Bull Conner. There was a power there. And I heard Bull Conner say that
integration would come to Birmingham over his dead body. And I was in that same Birmingham,
Alabama, just a few days ago and stayed in the biggest hotel in downtown Birmingham,
Alabama. [applause]

There is power in this method. You know another thing about it is this: it gives you a way to
struggle for moral ends through moral means. You don’t have to live with the old philosophy
that the end justifies the means. You somehow have a method of struggle that begins with the
end that you seek, because somehow you know that the end is pre-existing in the means. The
means represent the ideal in the making and the end in process. If you use hate-filled power, evil
methods to get to the good end of a great society, then you will have destroyed the end in the
process. This is the weakness and the ultimate tragedy of communism. Read Lenin as he says
“almost any method is justifiable to bring about the end of the classless society.” Now this is
where non-violence would break with communism and any other methods that argue that the end
justifies the means. In the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive
ends. This is what the non-violent discipline says. And the other thing about it, it helps you to
stand up amid the most difficult situations because you have an inner commitment to a higher
principle. So if they decide not to put you in jail, wonderful! Nobody with any sense would love
to be going to jail. But if they put you in jail, if you go in that jail, and transform it from a
dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if they try to kill you, you
develop the inner conviction that there’re some things so dear, some things so precious, some
things so eternally true that they are worth dying for. And if a man has not discovered something
that he would die for, he ain’t fit to live. [applause]

A man may be 35 years old and there happens to be some great truth stands at the door of his life,
some great principle, some great opportunity to stand up for that which is just and that which is
right and that which is true. And yet he refuses to do it because he’s afraid that somebody may
shoot at him or his home may get bombed, or he may lose his job, or he may get stabbed. And he
wants to live a long life. He may go on and live until he’s 80, but he’s just as dead at 35 as he
would be at 80 at the cessation of breathing in his life ….[applause]

Nonviolence gives you the power to stand up here and now against the evils of our day. And the
other thing about it is this: that it helps you develop an inner attitude of love for the perpetrators
of an unjust system. And this is difficult. I don’t apologize for asking you. When I talk about
love I’m not talking about emotional bosh. It would be nonsense to ask oppressed people to love
their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about
something much deeper. I’m talking about something that goes deep down within and it causes
you to react to every man with understanding and goodwill. I mention goodwill because a lot of
people ask this question, “What do you mean when you talk about love your oppressors?” And I
always mention the fact that Greek literature comes to our aid in this, and the Greek language
comes to our aid in this. There are three words in the Greek for love, and I’m going to talk to you
about them in just a minute. There is one word called eros, and that’s the beautiful kind of love
back in the days when great philosophers like Plato wrote his dialogs, he talked about eros as a
sort of aesthetic love, a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. This has come to us to be
a sort of romantic love. So I guess in a sense we’ve all experienced eros if we’ve read about it in
all the beauties of literature. In a sense Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he talked
about his beautiful Annabelle Lee surrounded by the halo of eternity with a love that great. In a
sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he talked about, “Love is not love which alters
when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove. It is an ever fixed mark that looks
on tempests and is never shaken; it is the star to every wand’ring barque…” I can remember that
because I have to quote it to my wife every now and then. [applause] That’s eros love.

Now the Greek language talks about phileo. That’s another word and it’s a very significant level
of love. This is friendship really. On this level you love people that you like. You love because
you are loved.

Then the Greek language comes out with another word called agape. Agape is more than eros.
Agape is more than friendship. Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is
understanding created redemptive goodwill toward all men. It is an all-flowing love that seeks
nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart.
And when one rises to love on this level, he comes to the point of loving the person who does the
evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. And I think this is what Jesus meant when
he said, “Love your enemies.” I’m so happy he didn’t say “Like your enemies.” Like is an
affectionate sort of thing, and I must confess that it’s pretty difficult to like some people. There
are some senators in Washington that I’m finding pretty difficult –brother Thurmond, brother
Easley, brother Stinatt…it’s difficult to like them, but Jesus said, “Love them,” and love is
greater than like. Love is understanding, creating redemptive goodwill for all men. This is the
kind of love that I believe can guide us through this period of transition and lead us to a greater
day. And this is what we say when we truly become committed to non-violence. We have a
message that says in substance to the most violent oppressors, “We will match your capacity to
inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with
soul force. Do to us what you will, we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey
your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is
cooperation with good. So throw us in jail, and we….

2 Entries Entries.

  1. Peter Mitchell :
    January 20th, 2014 at 5:46 pm



  2. Peter Eyerman :
    January 18th, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    When I look at the quote “But I imagine the question that I see most is whether there has been any real progress in the area of race relations” it feels like a quote from today. While we know there has been progress it always feels like there is so much progress we still need to make. This quote reminds us that the struggle against injustice will be an eternal one. The sights just need to be changed because improvements will continue to be made.

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