"Martin Luther King" and "MLK" redirect here. For other uses, see Martin Luther King (disambiguation) and MLK (disambiguation).
|Martin Luther King Jr.|
King in 1964
|1st President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference|
|Preceded by||Inaugural holder|
|Succeeded by||Ralph Abernathy|
|Born||Michael King Jr.|
(1929-01-15)January 15, 1929
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||April 4, 1968(1968-04-04) (aged 39)|
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Cause of death||Gunshot head wound|
|Spouse(s)||Coretta Scott (m. 1953)|
|Known for||Civil rights movement, Peace movement|
|Monuments||Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial|
Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1954 through 1968. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and in 1957 became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the following year he and the SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In his final years he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War, alienating many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled "Beyond Vietnam".
In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People's Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee; riots followed in many U.S. cities. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor, and a county in Washington State was also rededicated for him. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 2011.
Early life and education
King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. King's legal name at birth was Michael King, and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed both his and his son's names around 1934. The elder King would later state that "Michael" was a mistake by the attending physician to his son's birth, and the younger King's birth certificate was altered to read "Martin Luther King Jr." in 1957. King's parents were both African-American, and he also had Irish ancestry through his paternal great-grandfather.
King was a middle child, between an older sister, Christine King Farris, and a younger brother, A.D. King. King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind, and he enjoyed singing and music. His mother was an accomplished organist and choir leader who took him to various churches to sing, and he received attention for singing "I Want to Be More and More Like Jesus". King later became a member of the junior choir in his church.
King said that his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen; a neighbor reported hearing the elder King telling his son "he would make something of him even if he had to beat him to death." King saw his father's proud and fearless protests against segregation, such as King Sr. refusing to listen to a traffic policeman after being referred to as "boy," or stalking out of a store with his son when being told by a shoe clerk that they would have to "move to the rear" of the store to be served.
When King was a child, he befriended a white boy whose father owned a business near his family's home. When the boys were six, they started school: King had to attend a school for African Americans and the other boy went to one for whites (public schools were among the facilities segregated by state law). King lost his friend because the child's father no longer wanted the boys to play together.
King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. In his adolescent years, he initially felt resentment against whites due to the "racial humiliation" that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South. At the age of 12, shortly after his maternal grandmother died, King blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window, but survived.
King was skeptical of many of Christianity's claims. At the age of 13, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school. From this point, he stated, "doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly." However, he later concluded that the Bible has "many profound truths which one cannot escape" and decided to enter the seminary.
Growing up in Atlanta, King attended Booker T. Washington High School. He became known for his public speaking ability and was part of the school's debate team. King became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal in 1942 when he was 13. During his junior year, he won first prize in an oratorical contest sponsored by the Negro Elks Club in Dublin, Georgia. Returning home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. King initially refused, but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not submit. King said that during this incident, he was "the angriest I have ever been in my life." A precocious student, he skipped both the ninth and the twelfth grades of high school.
During King's junior year in high school, Morehouse College, a respected historically black college, announced that it would accept any high school juniors who could pass its entrance exam. At that time, many students had abandoned further studies to enlist in World War II. Due to this, Morehouse was eager to fill its classrooms. At the age of 15, King passed the exam and entered Morehouse. The summer before his last year at Morehouse, in 1947, the 18-year-old King chose to enter the ministry. He had concluded that the church offered the most assuring way to answer "an inner urge to serve humanity." King's "inner urge" had begun developing, and he made peace with the Baptist Church, as he believed he would be a "rational" minister with sermons that were "a respectful force for ideas, even social protest."
In 1948, he graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. in sociology and enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.Div. degree in 1951. King's father fully supported his decision to continue his education.
While attending Crozer, King was joined by Walter McCall, a former classmate at Morehouse. At Crozer, King was elected president of the student body. The African-American students of Crozer for the most part conducted their social activity on Edwards Street. King became fond of the street because a classmate had an aunt who prepared collard greens for them, which they both relished.
King once reproved another student for keeping beer in his room, saying they had shared responsibility as African Americans to bear "the burdens of the Negro race." For a time, he was interested in Walter Rauschenbusch's "social gospel." In his third year at Morehouse, King became romantically involved with the white daughter of an immigrant German woman who worked as a cook in the cafeteria. The daughter had been involved with a professor prior to her relationship with King. King planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites, potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South. King tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother's pain over the marriage and broke the relationship off six months later. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the women he left; one friend was quoted as saying, "He never recovered."
King married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, on the lawn of her parents' house in her hometown of Heiberger, Alabama. They became the parents of four children: Yolanda King (1955–2007), Martin Luther King III (b. 1957), Dexter Scott King (b. 1961), and Bernice King (b. 1963). During their marriage, King limited Coretta's role in the civil rights movement, expecting her to be a housewife and mother.
At age 25 in 1954, King was called as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
See also: Martin Luther King Jr. authorship issues
King began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph.D. degree on June 5, 1955, with a dissertation (initially supervised by Edgar S. Brightman and, upon the latter's death, by Lotan Harold DeWolf) titled A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. While pursuing doctoral studies, King worked as an assistant minister at Boston's historic Twelfth Baptist Church with Rev. William Hunter Hester. Hester was an old friend of King's father, and was an important influence on King.
Decades later, an academic inquiry in October 1991 concluded that portions of his dissertation had been plagiarized and he had acted improperly. However, "[d]espite its finding, the committee said that 'no thought should be given to the revocation of Dr. King's doctoral degree,' an action that the panel said would serve no purpose." The committee also found that the dissertation still "makes an intelligent contribution to scholarship." A letter is now attached to the copy of King's dissertation held in the university library, noting that numerous passages were included without the appropriate quotations and citations of sources. Significant debate exists on how to interpret King's plagiarism.
Montgomery bus boycott, 1955
Main articles: Montgomery bus boycott and Jim Crow laws § Public arena
In March 1955, Claudette Colvin—a black fifteen-year-old schoolgirl in Montgomery—ignored Jim Crow Laws when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man; the laws were local regulations in the Southern United States that enforced racial segregation. King was on the committee from the Birmingham African-American community that looked into the case; E. D. Nixon and Clifford Durr decided to wait for a better case to pursue because the incident involved a minor.
Nine months later on December 1, 1955, a similar incident occurred when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. The two incidents led to the Montgomery bus boycott, which was urged and planned by Nixon and led by King. The boycott lasted for 385 days, and the situation became so tense that King's house was bombed. King was arrested during this campaign, which concluded with a United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the best-known spokesman of the civil rights movement.
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
In 1957, King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and other civil rights activists founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The group was created to harness the moral authority and organizing power of black churches to conduct nonviolent protests in the service of civil rights reform. One of the group's inspirations was the crusades of evangelist Billy Graham, who befriended King after he attended a Graham crusade in New York City in 1957. King led the SCLC until his death. The SCLC's 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was the first time King addressed a national audience. Other civil rights leaders involved in the SCLC with King included: James Bevel, Allen Johnson, Curtis W. Harris, Walter E. Fauntroy, C. T. Vivian, Andrew Young, The Freedom Singers, Charles Evers, Cleveland Robinson, Randolph Blackwell, Annie Bell Robinson Devine, Charles Kenzie Steele, Alfred Daniel Williams King, Benjamin Hooks, Aaron Henry and Bayard Rustin.
On September 20, 1958, King was signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom in Blumstein's department store in Harlem when he narrowly escaped death. Izola Curry—a mentally ill black woman who thought that King was conspiring against her with communists—stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener. After emergency surgery by Aubre de Lambert Maynard, Emil Naclerio and John W. V. Cordice, King was hospitalized for several weeks. Curry was later found mentally incompetent to stand trial. In 1959, he published a short book called The Measure of A Man, which contained his sermons "What is Man?" and "The Dimensions of a Complete Life." The sermons argued for man's need for God's love and criticized the racial injustices of Western civilization.
Harry Wachtel—who joined King's legal advisor Clarence B. Jones in defending four ministers of the SCLC in a libel suit over a newspaper advertisement (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan)—founded a tax-exempt fund to cover the expenses of the suit and to assist the nonviolent civil rights movement through a more effective means of fundraising. This organization was named the "Gandhi Society for Human Rights." King served as honorary president for the group. Displeased with the pace of President Kennedy's addressing the issue of segregation, King and the Gandhi Society produced a document in 1962 calling on the President to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and use an executive order to deliver a blow for civil rights as a kind of Second Emancipation Proclamation. Kennedy did not execute the order.
The FBI was under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy when it began tapping King's telephone in the fall of 1963. Kennedy was concerned that allegations of communists in the SCLC—if they were made public—would derail the administration's civil rights initiatives. He warned King to discontinue these associations and later felt compelled to issue the written directive that authorized the FBI to wiretap King and other SCLC leaders. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover feared the civil rights movement and investigated the allegations of communist infiltration. When no evidence emerged to support this, the FBI used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of his leadership position, in the COINTELPRO program.
King believed that organized, nonviolent protest against the system of southern segregation known as Jim Crow laws would lead to extensive media coverage of the struggle for black equality and voting rights. Journalistic accounts and televised footage of the daily deprivation and indignities suffered by Southern blacks, and of segregationist violence and harassment of civil rights workers and marchers, produced a wave of sympathetic public opinion that convinced the majority of Americans that the civil rights movement was the most important issue in American politics in the early 1960s.
King organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into the law of the United States with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
King and the SCLC put into practice many of the principles of the Christian Left and applied the tactics of nonviolent protest with great success by strategically choosing the method of protest and the places in which protests were carried out. There were often dramatic stand-offs with segregationist authorities, who sometimes turned violent.
Throughout his participation in the civil rights movement, King was criticized by many groups. This included opposition by more militant blacks such as Nation of Islam member Malcolm X.Stokely Carmichael was a separatist and disagreed with King's plea for racial integration because he considered it an insult to a uniquely African-American culture.Omali Yeshitela urged Africans to remember the history of violent European colonization and how power was not secured by Europeans through integration, but by violence and force.
Main article: Albany Movement
The Albany Movement was a desegregation coalition formed in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961. In December, King and the SCLC became involved. The movement mobilized thousands of citizens for a broad-front nonviolent attack on every aspect of segregation within the city and attracted nationwide attention. When King first visited on December 15, 1961, he "had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel." The following day he was swept up in a mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators, and he declined bail until the city made concessions. According to King, "that agreement was dishonored and violated by the city" after he left town.
King returned in July 1962 and was given the option of forty-five days in jail or a $178 fine (equivalent to $1,400 in 2017); he chose jail. Three days into his sentence, Police Chief Laurie Pritchett discreetly arranged for King's fine to be paid and ordered his release. "We had witnessed persons being kicked off lunch counter stools ... ejected from churches ... and thrown into jail ... But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail." It was later acknowledged by the King Center that Billy Graham was the one who bailed King out of jail during this time.
After nearly a year of intense activism with few tangible results, the movement began to deteriorate. King requested a halt to all demonstrations and a "Day of Penance" to promote nonviolence and maintain the moral high ground. Divisions within the black community and the canny, low-key response by local government defeated efforts. Though the Albany effort proved a key lesson in tactics for King and the national civil rights movement, the national media was highly critical of King's role in the defeat, and the SCLC's lack of results contributed to a growing gulf between the organization and the more radical SNCC. After Albany, King sought to choose engagements for the SCLC in which he could control the circumstances, rather than entering into pre-existing situations.
Main article: Birmingham campaign
In April 1963, the SCLC began a campaign against racial segregation and economic injustice in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign used nonviolent but intentionally confrontational tactics, developed in part by Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker. Black people in Birmingham, organizing with the SCLC, occupied public spaces with marches and sit-ins, openly violating laws that they considered unjust.
King's intent was to provoke mass arrests and "create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation." However, the campaign's early volunteers did not succeed in shutting down the city, or in drawing media attention to the police's actions. Over the concerns of an uncertain King, SCLC strategist James Bevel changed the course of the campaign by recruiting children and young adults to join in the demonstrations.Newsweek called this strategy a Children's Crusade.
During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs against protesters, including children. Footage of the police response was broadcast on national television news and dominated the nation's attention, shocking many white Americans and consolidating black Americans behind the movement. Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. But the campaign was a success: Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs came down, and public places became more open to blacks. King's reputation improved immensely.
King was arrested and jailed early in the campaign—his 13th arrest out of 29. From his cell, he composed the now-famous Letter from Birmingham Jail which responds to calls on the movement to pursue legal channels for social change. King argues that the crisis of racism is too urgent, and the current system too entrenched: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." He points out that the Boston Tea Party, a celebrated act of rebellion in the American colonies, was illegal civil disobedience, and that, conversely, "everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was 'legal'." King also expresses his frustration with white moderates and clergymen too timid to oppose an unjust system:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistic-ally believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."
St. Augustine, Florida
Main article: St. Augustine movement
In March 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with Robert Hayling's then-controversial movement in St. Augustine, Florida. Hayling's group had been affiliated with the NAACP but was forced out of the organization for advocating armed self-defense alongside nonviolent tactics. However, the pacifist SCLC accepted them. King and the SCLC worked to bring white Northern activists to St. Augustine, including a delegation of rabbis and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts, all of whom were arrested. During June, the movement marched nightly through the city, "often facing counter demonstrations by the Klan, and provoking violence that garnered national media attention." Hundreds of the marchers were arrested and jailed. During the course of this movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
Main article: Selma to Montgomery marches
In December 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama, where the SNCC had been working on voter registration for several months. A local judge issued an injunction that barred any gathering of 3 or more people affiliated with the SNCC, SCLC, DCVL, or any of 41 named civil rights leaders. This injunction temporarily halted civil rights activity until King defied it by speaking at Brown Chapel on January 2, 1965. During the 1965 march to Montgomery, Alabama, violence by state police and others against the peaceful marchers resulted in much publicity, making Alabama's racism visible nationwide.
New York City
On February 6, 1964, King delivered the inaugural speech of a lecture series initiated at the New School called "The American Race Crisis." No audio record of his speech has been found, but in August 2013, almost 50 years later, the school discovered an audiotape with 15 minutes of a question-and-answer session that followed King's address. In these remarks, King referred to a conversation he had recently had with Jawaharlal Nehru in which he compared the sad condition of many African Americans to that of India's untouchables.
March on Washington, 1963
Main article: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
King, representing the SCLC, was among the leaders of the "Big Six" civil rights organizations who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place on August 28, 1963. The other leaders and organizations comprising the Big Six were Roy Wilkins from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young, National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; John Lewis, SNCC; and James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality.
Bayard Rustin's open homosexuality, support of democratic socialism, and his former ties to the Communist Party USA caused many white and African-American leaders to demand King distance himself from Rustin, which King agreed to do. However, he did collaborate in the 1963 March on Washington, for which Rustin was the primary logistical and strategic organizer. For King, this role was another which courted controversy, since he was one of the key figures who acceded to the wishes of United States President John F. Kennedy in changing the focus of the march. Kennedy initially opposed the march outright, because he was concerned it would negatively impact the drive for passage of civil rights legislation. However, the organizers were firm that the march would proceed. With the march going forward, the Kennedys decided it was important to work to ensure its success. President Kennedy was concerned the turnout would be less than 100,000. Therefore, he enlisted the aid of additional church leaders and the UAW union to help mobilize demonstrators for the cause.
The march originally was conceived as an event to dramatize the desperate condition of blacks in the southern U.S. and an opportunity to place organizers' concerns and grievances squarely before the seat of power in the nation's capital. Organizers intended to denounce the federal government for its failure to safeguard the civil rights and physical safety of civil rights workers and blacks. However, the group acquiesced to presidential pressure and influence, and the event ultimately took on a far less strident tone. As a result, some civil rights activists felt it presented an inaccurate, sanitized pageant of racial harmony; Malcolm X called it the "Farce on Washington", and the Nation of Islam forbade its members from attending the march.
The march did, however, make specific demands: an end to racial segregation in public schools; meaningful civil rights legislation, including a law prohibiting racial discrimination in employment; protection of civil rights workers from police brutality; a $2 minimum wage for all workers (equivalent to $16 in 2017); and self-government for Washington, D.C., then governed by congressional committee. Despite tensions, the march was a resounding success. More than a quarter of a million people of diverse ethnicities attended the event, sprawling from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial onto the National Mall and around the reflecting pool. At the time, it was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington, D.C.'s history.
King delivered a 17-minute speech, later known as "I Have a Dream". In the speech's most famous passage—in which he departed from his prepared text, possibly at the prompting of Mahalia Jackson, who shouted behind him, "Tell them about the dream!"—King said:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
"I Have a Dream" came to be regarded as one of the finest speeches in the history of American oratory. The March, and especially King's speech, helped put civil rights at the top of the agenda of reformers in the United States and facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The original typewritten copy of the speech, including King's handwritten notes on it, was discovered in 1984 to be in the hands of George Raveling, the first African-American basketball coach of the University of Iowa. In 1963, Raveling, then 26, was standing near the podium, and immediately after the oration, impulsively asked King if he could have his copy of the speech. He got it.
Selma voting rights movement and "Bloody Sunday", 1965
Main article: Selma to Montgomery marches
Acting on James Bevel's call for a march from Selma to Montgomery, King, Bevel, and the SCLC, in partial collaboration with SNCC, attempted to organize the march to the state's capital. The first attempt to march on March 7, 1965, was aborted because of mob and police violence against the demonstrators. This day has become known as Bloody Sunday and was a major turning point in the effort to gain public support for the civil rights movement. It was the clearest demonstration up to that time of the dramatic potential of King's nonviolence strategy. King, however, was not present.
King met with officials in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration on March 5 in order to request an injunction against any prosecution of the demonstrators. He did not attend the march due to church duties, but he later wrote, "If I had any idea that the state troopers would use the kind of brutality they did, I would have felt compelled to give up my church duties altogether to lead the line." Footage of police brutality against the protesters was broadcast extensively and aroused national public outrage.
King next attempted to organize a march for March 9. The SCLC petitioned for an injunction in federal court against the State of Alabama; this was denied and the judge issued an order blocking the march until after a hearing. Nonetheless, King led marchers on March 9 to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, then held a short prayer session before turning the marchers around and asking them to disperse so as not to violate the court order. The unexpected ending of this second march aroused the surprise and anger of many within the local movement. The march finally went ahead fully on March 25, 1965. At the conclusion of the march on the steps of the state capitol, King delivered a speech that became known as "How Long, Not Long." In it, King stated that equal rights for African Americans could not be far away, "because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."[a]
Chicago open housing movement, 1966
Main article: Chicago Freedom Movement
In 1966, after several successes in the south, King, Bevel, and others in the civil rights organizations took the movement to the North, with Chicago as their first destination. King and Ralph Abernathy, both from the middle class, moved into a building at 1550 S. Hamlin Avenue, in the slums of North Lawndale on Chicago's West Side, as an educational experience and to demonstrate their support and empathy for the poor.
The SCLC formed a coalition with CCCO, Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, an organization founded by Albert Raby, and the combined organizations' efforts were fostered under the aegis of the Chicago Freedom Movement. During that spring, several white couple/black couple tests of real estate offices uncovered racial steering: discriminatory processing of housing requests by couples who were exact matches in income, background, number of children, and other attributes. Several larger marches were planned and executed: in Bogan, Belmont Cragin, Jefferson Park, Evergreen Park (a suburb southwest of Chicago), Gage Park, Marquette Park, and others.
King later stated and Abernathy wrote that the movement received a worse reception in Chicago than in the South. Marches, especially the one through Marquette Park on August 5, 1966, were met by thrown bottles and screaming throngs. Rioting seemed very possible. King's beliefs militated against his staging a violent event, and he negotiated an agreement with Mayor Richard J. Daley to cancel a march in order to avoid the violence that he feared would result. King was hit by a brick during one march but continued to lead marches in the face of personal danger.
When King and his allies returned to the South, they left Jesse Jackson, a seminary student who had previously joined the movement in the South, in charge of their organization. Jackson continued their struggle for civil rights by organizing the Operation Breadbasket movement that targeted chain stores that did not deal fairly with blacks.
A 1967 CIA document declassified in 2017 downplayed King's role in the "black militant situation" in Chicago, with a source stating that King “sought at least constructive, positive projects.”
Opposition to the Vietnam War
See also: Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War
|You can listen to the speech, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam", by Martin Luther King here.|
King long opposed American involvement in the Vietnam War, but at first avoided the topic in public speeches in order to avoid the interference with civil rights goals that criticism of President Johnson's policies might have created. However, at the urging of SCLC's former Director of Direct Action and now the head of the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, James Bevel, King eventually agreed to publicly oppose the war as opposition was growing among the American public. During an April 4, 1967, appearance at the New York City Riverside Church—exactly one year before his death—King delivered a speech titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." He spoke strongly against the U.S.'s role in the war, arguing that the U.S. was in Vietnam "to occupy it as an American colony" and calling the U.S. government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." He also connected the war with economic injustice, arguing that the country needed serious moral change:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (15 January1929 – 4 April1968) was an AmericanBaptist minister, doctor, civil rights activist, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964. He was the husband of Coretta Scott King, and father of Yolanda King and Martin Luther King III.
- Jesus himself saw the power that competition hold over men, He did not ignore it. Yet he does something with the conception of competition that had it been done before. He takes the conception, which has been used for lower purposes and rescues it from many of its dangers, by suggesting a higher method of its use. This is how he applied the term to his disciples. He saw them in danger of using it for low purposes. They wanted to complete for reputation and position. Which of them should be accepted greatest? Jesus say so, if you must use the power of competition, if you must compete with one another: make it as noble as you can by using it [in] noble things. Use it for a fine unselfish thing. He that is greatest among you shall serve. Use it for human good. Shall be the most useful; compete with one another in humility. See which can be the truest servant. It seems that Christ says — use it but use it for higher and holier purpose. Use it not to surpass one another in esteem, but use it to increase the comment of usefulness and brother’s help...
Imagine the change that would come about if the Churches applied this truth. Now we are bogged not in competitive denominationalism, which is a destroying the warm blood of Protestant Church. Which of them shall be accounted greatest? Let the churches stop trying to outstrip each other in the number of their adherents, the size of its sanctuary, the abundance of wealth. If we must compete let us compete to see which can move toward the greatest attainment of truth, the greatest service of the poor, and the greatest salvation of the soul and bodies of men.
Suppose the teaching of Jesus should be accepted by competing nations of the world, particularly Russia and Am[er]ica. They would no longer compete to see which could make the bigger atom bombs, or which cold best perpetuate its imperialism, but which could best serve humanity. This would be a better world.
- There are often multiple sources for some famous statements by King; as a professional speaker and minister he used some significant phrases with only slight variation many times in his essays, books, and his speeches to different audiences.
- There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying, "You shall reap what you sow." This is a law-abiding universe. This is a moral universe. It hinges on moral foundations. If we are to make of this a better world, we've got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we've left behind.
- The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood.
- The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism —that's the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don't. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That's a dangerous type of atheism.
- We have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic... Most people can't stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. See, everybody's not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. So a sort of numerical interpretation of what's right. But I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It's wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it's wrong. It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It's wrong in every age and it's wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself. [...] That attitude is destroying the soul of our culture! It's destroying our nation! The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they're never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
- We are here, we are here this evening because we're tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That's all.
- We are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until "justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
- True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
- In a 1955 response to an accusation that he was "disturbing the peace" by his activism during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, as quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound : A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr (1982) by Stephen B. Oates
- If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you." This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.
- King's words after a bomb was thrown into his house in Alabama, on 30 January 1956, in Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- "The apparent apathy of the Negro ministers presented a special problem. A faithful few had always shown a deep concern for social problems, but too many had remained aloof from the area of social responsibility. Much of this indifference, it is true, stemmed from a sincere feeling that ministers were not supposed to get mixed up in such earthly, temporal matters as social and economic improvement; they were to "preach the gospel" and keep men's minds centered on "the heavenly." But however sincere, this view of religion, I felt, was too confined.
Certainly, otherworldly concerns have a deep and significant place in all religions worthy of the name. Any religion that is completely earthbound sells its birthright for a mess of naturalistic pottage. Religion at its best, deals not only with man's preliminary concerns but with his inescapable ultimate concern. When religion overlooks this basic fact it is reduced to a mere ethical system in which eternity is absorbed into time and God is relegated to a sort of meaningless figment of the human imagination. But a religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself.
This means, at bottom, that the Christian Gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seek to change the environmental conditions of men so that soul will have a chance after it is changed.
Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see - an opiate of the people.
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958), pp. 28-29
- We believe firmly in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I can see no conflict between our devotion to Jesus Christ and our present action. In fact, I can see a necessary relationship. If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal.
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- The decision which we must make now is whther we will give our allegiance to outmoded an unjust customs we owe our ultimate allegiance to God and His will, rather than to man and his folkways
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- “We too know the Jesus that the minister referred to. We have had an experience with him and we believe firmly in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I can see no conflict between our devotion to Jesus Christ and our present action. In fact, I can see a necessary relationship. If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal..”
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958); also quoted in The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1982), by Stephen B. Oates, pp. 81-82
- The decision we must make now is whether we will give our allegiance to outmoded and unjust customs or to the ethical demands of the universe. As Christians we owe our allegiance to God and His will, rather than to man and his folkways"
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- I feel that segregation is totally unchristian, and that it is against everything the Christian religion stands for.
- In his letter to Sally Canada (19 September 1956), as quoted in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr (1992), by Carson & Holloran, Volumes 2-3, p. 373
- Although the Montgomery council never had a large membership, it played an important role. As the only truly interracial group in Montgomery, it served to keep the desperately needed channels of communication open between the races.
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. In providing an avenue of communication, the council was fulfilling a necessary condition for better race relations in the South.
- In reference to the Alabama Council on Human Relations, an organization which was joined by King, whose church's meeting room was used to hold monthly meetings for the Montgomery chapter the council. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)
- Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.
- The Measures of Man (1959)
- Today it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. It may not be that Mahatma Gandhi is God’s appeal to this age, an age drifting to its doom. And that warning, and that appeal is always in the form of a warning: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus said it years ago. Whenever men follow that and see that way, new horizons begin to emerge and a new world unfolds. Who today will follow Christ in his way and follow it so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize hundreds and thousands of men to follow the way of Christ?
- Tolstoy, the Russian writer, said in War and Peace: “I cannot conceive of a man not being free unless he is dead.” While this statement sounds a bit exaggerated, it gets at a basic truth. What Tolstoy is saying in substance is that the absence of freedom is the presence of death. Any nation or government that deprives an individual of freedom is in that moment committing an act of moral and spiritual murder. Any individual who is not concerned about his freedom commits an act of moral and spiritual suicide.
Rediscovering Lost Values (1954)
- Rediscovering Lost Values, Sermon delivered at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954)
- There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don't think we have to look too far to see that. I'm sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion. And when we stop to analyze the cause of our world's ills, many things come to mind. We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don't know enough. But it can't be that. Because in terms of accumulated knowledge we know more today than men have known in any period of human history. We have the facts at our disposal. We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy than we've ever known in any period of the world's history. So it can't be because we don't know enough. And then we wonder if it is due to the fact that our scientific genius lags behind. That is, if we have not made enough progress scientifically. Well then, it can't be that. For our scientific progress over the past years has been amazing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains, so that today it's possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can't be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man's scientific genius has been amazing. I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man's problems and the real cause of the world's ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men.
- The trouble isn't so much that we don't know enough, but it's as if we aren't good enough. The trouble isn't so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood. And the great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people—as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness—that's the atomic bomb that we've got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.
- My friends, all I'm trying to say is that if we are to go forward today, we've got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we've left behind. That's the only way that we would be able to make of our world a better world, and to make of this world what God wants it to be and the real purpose and meaning of it.
- Sometimes, you know, it's necessary to go backward in order to go forward. That's an analogy of life. I remember the other day I was driving out of New York City into Boston, and I stopped off in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to visit some friends. And I went out of New York on a highway that’s known as the Merritt Parkway, it leads into Boston, a very fine parkway. And I stopped in Bridgeport, and after being there for two or three hours I decided to go on to Boston, and I wanted to get back on the Merritt Parkway. And I went out thinking that I was going toward the Merritt Parkway. I started out, and I rode, and I kept riding, and I looked up and I saw a sign saying two miles to a little town that I knew I was to bypass—I wasn't to pass through that particular town. So I thought I was on the wrong road. I stopped and I asked a gentleman on the road which way would I get to the Merritt Parkway. And he said, "The Merritt Parkway is about twelve or fifteen miles back that way. You've got to turn around and go back to the Merritt Parkway; you are out of the way now." In other words, before I could go forward to Boston, I had to go back about twelve or fifteen miles to get to the Merritt Parkway. May it not be that modern man has gotten on the wrong parkway? And if he is to go forward to the city of salvation, he's got to go back and get on the right parkway. [...] Now that's what we've got to do in our world today. We've left a lot of precious values behind; we've lost a lot of precious values. And if we are to go forward, if we are to make this a better world in which to live, we've got to go back. We've got to rediscover these precious values that we've left behind.
- I want to deal with one or two of these mighty precious values that we've left behind, that if we're to go forward and to make this a better world, we must rediscover. The first is this—the first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. I'm not so sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don't jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences—we know that. Even if we don't know it in its Newtonian formulation, we know it intuitively, and so we just don't jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we know that there is a law of gravitation which is final in the universe. (Lord) If we disobey it we'll suffer the consequences. But I'm not so sure if we know that there are moral laws just as abiding as the physical law. I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences.
- The first thing is that we have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. [...] Most people can't stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. See, everybody's not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. So a sort of numerical interpretation of what's right. But I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It's wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it's wrong. It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It's wrong in every age and it's wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself.
- Now that isn't the only thing that convinces me that we've strayed away from this attitude, this principle. The other thing is that we have adopted a sort of a pragmatic test for right and wrong—whatever works is right. If it works, it's all right. Nothing is wrong but that which does not work. If you don't get caught, it's right. [laughter] That's the attitude, isn't it? It's all right to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don't disobey the eleventh, "Thou shall not get caught." [laughter] That's the attitude. That's the prevailing attitude in our culture. No matter what you do, just do it with a bit of finesse. You know, a sort of attitude of the survival of the slickest. Not the Darwiniansurvival of the fittest, but the survival of the slickest—whoever can be the slickest is the one who right. It's all right to lie, but lie with dignity. [laughter] It's all right to steal and to rob and extort, but do it with a bit of finesse. It's even all right to hate, but just dress your hate up in the garments of love and make it appear that you are loving when you are actually hating. Just get by! That's the thing that's right according to this new ethic. My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. It's destroying our nation.
- The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they're never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
- All I'm trying to say to you is that our world hinges on moral foundations. God has made it so. God has made the universe to be based on a moral law. So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God. That's what we need in the world today: people who will stand for right and goodness. It's not enough to know the intricacies of zoology and biology, but we must know the intricacies of law. It is not enough to know that two and two makes four, but we've got to know somehow that it's right to be honest and just with our brothers. It's not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines, but we've got to know the simple disciplines of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. If we don't learn it, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.
- There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying, "You shall reap what you sow." This is a law-abiding universe. This is a moral universe. It hinges on moral foundations. If we are to make of this a better world, we've got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we've left behind.
- And then there is a second thing, a second principle that we've got to go back and rediscover. And that is that all reality has spiritual control. In other words, we've got to go back and rediscover the principle that there is a God behind the process. Well this you say, "Why is it that you raise that as a point in your sermon, in a church? The mere fact we are at church, we believe in God, we don't need to go back and rediscover that. The mere fact that we are here, and the mere fact that we sing and pray, and come to church—we believe in God." Well, there's some truth in that. But we must remember that it's possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism [...]. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don't. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That's a dangerous type of atheism.
- And I think, my friends, that that is the thing that has happened in America. That we have unconsciously left God behind. Now, we haven't consciously done it; we have unconsciously done it. You see, the text, you remember the text said that Jesus' parents went a whole day's journey not knowing that he wasn't with them. They didn't consciously leave him behind. It was unconscious; went a whole day and didn't even know it. It wasn't a conscious process. You see, we didn't grow up and say, "Now, goodbye God, we're going to leave you now." The materialism in America has been an unconscious thing. Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution in England, and then the invention of all of our gadgets and contrivances and all of the things and modern conveniences—we unconsciously left God behind. We didn't mean to do it. We just became so involved in getting our big bank accounts that we unconsciously forgot about God—we didn't mean to do it. We became so involved in getting our nice luxurious cars, and they're very nice, but we became so involved in it that it became much more convenient to ride out to the beach on Sunday afternoon than to come to church that morning. (Yes) It was an unconscious thing—we didn't mean to do it. We became so involved and fascinated by the intricacies of television that we found it a little more convenient to stay at home than to come to church. It was an unconscious thing—we didn't mean to do it. We didn't just go up and say, "Now God, we’re gone." We had gone a whole day's journey and then we came to see that we had unconsciously ushered God out of the universe. A whole day's journey—didn't mean to do it. We just became so involved in things that we forgot about God. And that is the danger confronting us, my friends: that in a nation as ours where we stress mass production, and that's mighty important, where we have so many conveniences and luxuries and all of that, there is the danger that we will unconsciously forget about God. I'm not saying that these things aren't important; we need them, we need cars, we need money; all of that's important to live. But whenever they become substitutes for God, they become injurious. And may I say to you this morning, that none of these things can ever be real substitutes for God. Automobiles and subways, televisions and radios, dollars and cents can never be substitutes for God. For long before any of these came into existence, we needed God. And long after they will have passed away, we will still need God.
- And I say to you this morning in conclusion that I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in things. I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in gadgets and contrivances. As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow, but to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Not in the little gods that can be with us in a few moments of prosperity, but in the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, and causes us to fear no evil. That's the God. Not in the god that can give us a few Cadillac cars and Buick convertibles, as nice as they are, that are in style today and out of style three years from now, but the God who threw up the stars to bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity. Not in the god that can throw up a few skyscraping buildings, but the God who threw up the gigantic mountains, kissing the sky, as if to bathe their peaks in the lofty blues. Not in the god that can give us a few televisions and radios, but the God who threw up that great cosmic light that gets up early in the morning in the eastern horizon, (who paints its technicolor across the blue—something that man could never make. I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can be destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages past, and our hope for years to come, and our shelter in the time of storm, and our eternal home. That's the God that I'm putting my ultimate faith in.
- Go out and be assured that that God is going to last forever. Storms might come and go. Our great skyscraping buildings will come and go. Our beautiful automobiles will come and go, but God will be here. Plants may wither, the flowers may fade away, but the word of our God shall stand forever and nothing can ever stop him. All of the P-38s in the world can never reach God. All of our atomic bombs can never reach him. The God that I'm talking about this morning is the God of the universe and the God that will last through the ages. If we are to go forward this morning, we've got to go back and find that God. That is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance.
- If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values: that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.
Paul's Letter to American Christians (1956)
- “Sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (November 1956)
- Your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God's will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.
- I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous, but Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity. The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem. You cannot solve the problem by turning to communism, for communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and He has left in this universe "enough and to spare" for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.
- King makes two biblical allusions to Luke 15:17 and 1 Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil".
Give Us the Ballot (1957)
- “Give Us the Ballot” Address (1957) Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (Call to Conscience) Washington, D.C.
- Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent, and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of goodwill, this May seventeenth decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of human captivity. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of disinherited people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and "nullification." But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.
- Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.
Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.
Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a "Southern Manifesto" because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.
Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the south who will do justly and love mercy , and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.
Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court's decision of May seventeenth, 1954.
- So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern. In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical. This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.
- We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an Ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.
- This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white.We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about—there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.
- We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force. There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: "Love your enemies , bless them that curse you , pray for them that despitefully use you." Then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations that failed to follow this command. We must follow nonviolence and love.
- Now, I’m not talking about a sentimental, shallow kind of love. I’m not talking about eros, which is a sort of aesthetic, romantic love. I’m not even talking about philia, which is a sort of intimate affection between personal friends. But I'm talking about agape. I'm talking about the love of God in the hearts of men. I’m talking about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. We've got to love.
- We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man. We must not become victimized with a philosophy of black supremacy. God is not interested merely in freeing black men and brown men and yellow men, but God is interested in freeing the whole human race. We must work with determination to create a society, not where black men are superior and other men are inferior and vice versa, but a society in which all men will live together as brothers and respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
- I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us not despair. Let us realize that as we struggle for justice and freedom, we have cosmic companionship. This is the long faith of the Hebraic-Christian tradition: that God is not some Aristotelian Unmoved Mover who merely contemplates upon himself. He is not merely a self-knowing God, but an other-loving God forever working through history for the establishment of His kingdom.
- Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.