View our First Issue Here
- MLKJSC Winter Issue
- I've Been To The Mountain Top
- The Purpose of Education
- The Three Dimensions Of A Complete Life
- What is Your Life's Blueprint?
- I Have A Dream
- Where We Are Going
I’ve Been To The Mountain Top
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 3, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee
This was Dr. King’s last, and most apocalyptic, sermon. He delivered it, on the
eve of his assassination, at [the Bishop Charles] Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee,
on April 3, 1968. Mason Temple is the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ,
the largest African American pentecostal denomination in the United States.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate say something good about you. And Ralph is the best friend that I have in the world.
I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow. Something is happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world.
As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?”– I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding–something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee–the cry is always the same–“We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.
That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: we know it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.
We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round.” Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water.
That couldn’t stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing. “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take them off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in the jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.
Now we’ve got to go on to Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us Monday. Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank them all. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s alright to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nation in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda–fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy–what is the other bread?–Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take you money out of the banks downtown and deposit you money in Tri-State Bank–we want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. So go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We’re just telling you to follow what we’re doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now there are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to church meetings–an ecclesiastical gathering–and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the casual root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effort.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”.
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?”
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood–that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me, now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The Purpose Of Education
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Morehouse College Student Paper, The Maroon Tiger, in 1947
As I engage in the so-called “bull sessions” around and about the school, I too often find that most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education. Most of the “brethren” think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.
It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the ligitimate goals of his life.
Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds of Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively; yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are those the types of men we call educated?
We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.
If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, “brethren!” Be careful, teachers!
The Three Dimensions Of A Complete Life
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
New Covenant Baptist Church Chicago Illinois, April 9, 1967
I want to use as the subject from which to preach: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” (All right) You know, they used to tell us in Hollywood that in order for a movie to be complete, it had to be three-dimensional. Well, this morning I want to seek to get over to each of us that if life itself is to be complete, (Yes) it must be three-dimensional.
Many, many centuries ago, there was a man by the name of John who found himself in prison out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos. (Right, right) And I’ve been in prison just enough to know that it’s a lonely experience. (That’s right) And when you are incarcerated in such a situation, you are deprived of almost every freedom, but the freedom to think, the freedom to pray, the freedom to reflect and to meditate. And while John was out on this lonely island in prison, (That’s right) he lifted his vision to high heaven (All right, He did) and he saw, descending out of heaven, a new heaven (All right) and a new earth. (That’s right) Over in the twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation, it opens by saying, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. (All right) And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, (All right) coming down from God out of heaven.” (Oh yeah)
And one of the greatest glories of this new city of God that John saw was its completeness. (That’s right) It was not up on one side and down on the other, (All right) but it was complete in all three of its dimensions. (Yes) And so in this same chapter as we looked down to the sixteenth verse, John says, “The length and the breadth (He did, he did) and the height of it are equal.” (Yes, sir) In other words, this new city of God, this new city of ideal humanity is not an unbalanced entity, (No) but is complete on all sides. (Yes) Now I think John is saying something here in all of the symbolism of this text and the symbolism of this chapter. He’s saying at bottom that life as it should be and life at its best (Yeah) is a life that is complete on all sides. (That’s right)
And there are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height. (Yes) Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. (Yes) In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. (All right) The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others. (All right) And the height of life is the upward reach for God. (All right) Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life.
Now let’s turn for the moment to the length of life. I said that this is the dimension of life where we are concerned with developing our inner powers. (Yeah) In a sense this is the selfish dimension of life. There is such a thing as rational and healthy self-interest. (Yeah) A great Jewish rabbi, the late Joshua Leibman, wrote a book some years ago entitled Peace of Mind. And he has a chapter in that book entitled “Love Thyself Properly.” And what he says in that chapter, in substance, is that before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly. (All right) You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. (That’s right) And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself.
And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. (All right) So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. (That’s right) God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. (Yeah) That means everything. (Yeah) Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. (Yes, sir) A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, “I am somebody. (Yes) I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful.” (Yeah) This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves. (Yeah) And we must pray, “Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools.” (Yeah)
I remember when I was in college, I majored in sociology, and all sociology majors had to take a course that was required called statistics. And statistics can be very complicated. You’ve got to have a mathematical mind, a real knowledge of geometry, and you’ve got to know how to find the mean, the mode, and the median. I never will forget. I took this course and I had a fellow classmate who could just work that stuff out, you know. And he could do his homework in about an hour. We would often go to the lab or the workshop, and he would just work it out in about an hour, and it was over for him. And I was trying to do what he was doing; I was trying to do mine in an hour. And the more I tried to do it in an hour, the more I was flunking out in the course. And I had to come to a very hard conclusion. I had to sit down and say, “Now, Martin Luther King, Leif Cane has a better mind than you.” (That’s right) Sometimes you have to acknowledge that. (That’s right) And I had to say to myself, “Now, he may be able to do it in an hour, but it takes me two or three hours to do it.” I was not willing to accept myself. I was not willing to accept my tools and my limitations. (Yeah)
But you know in life we’re called upon to do this. A Ford car trying to be a Cadillac is absurd, but if a Ford will accept itself as a Ford, (All right) it can do many things that a Cadillac could never do: it can get in parking spaces that a Cadillac can never get in. [laughter] And in life some of us are Fords and some of us are Cadillacs. (Yes) Moses says in “Green Pastures,” “Lord, I ain’t much, but I is all I got.” [laughter] The principle of self-acceptance is a basic principle in life.
Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. (Oh yeah) And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems. (Yeah) And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better. (Oh yeah) Now this does not mean that everybody will do the so-called big, recognized things of life. Very few people will rise to the heights of genius in the arts and the sciences; very few collectively will rise to certain professions. Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and on the streets. But we must see the dignity of all labor. (That’s right)
When I was in Montgomery, Alabama, I went to a shoe shop quite often, known as the Gordon Shoe Shop. And there was a fellow in there that used to shine my shoes, and it was just an experience to witness this fellow shining my shoes. He would get that rag, you know, and he could bring music out of it. And I said to myself, “This fellow has a Ph.D. in shoe shining.” (That’s right)
What I’m saying to you this morning, my friends, even if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; (Go ahead) sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
If you can’t be a pine on the top of a hill
Be a scrub in the valley—but be
The best little scrub on the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a highway just be a trail
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or fail—
Be the best of whatever you are.
And when you do this, when you do this, you’ve mastered the length of life. (Yes)
This onward push to the end of self-fulfillment is the end of a person’s life. Now don’t stop here, though. You know, a lot of people get no further in life than the length. They develop their inner powers; they do their jobs well. But do you know, they try to live as if nobody else lives in the world but themselves? (Yes) And they use everybody as mere tools to get to where they’re going. (Yes) They don’t love anybody but themselves. And the only kind of love that they really have for other people is utilitarian love. You know, they just love people that they can use. (Well)
A lot of people never get beyond the first dimension of life. They use other people as mere steps by which they can climb to their goals and their ambitions. These people don’t work out well in life. They may go for awhile, they may think they’re making it all right, but there is a law. (Oh yeah) They call it the law of gravitation in the physical universe, and it works, it’s final, it’s inexorable: whatever goes up can come down. You shall reap what you sow. (Yeah) God has structured the universe that way. (Yeah) And he who goes through life not concerned about others will be a subject, victim of this law.
So I move on and say that it is necessary to add breadth to length. Now the breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others, as I said. (Yeah) And a man has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his own individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. (All right)
One day Jesus told a parable. You will remember that parable. He had a man that came to him to talk with him about some very profound concerns. And they finally got around to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” (All right) And this man wanted to debate with Jesus. This question could have very easily ended up in thin air as a theological or philosophical debate. But you remember Jesus immediately pulled that question out of thin air and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. (He did, he did) He talked about a certain man who fell among thieves. (Right) Two men came by and they just kept going. And then finally another man came, a member of another race, who stopped and helped him. (Oh yeah) And that parable ends up saying that this good Samaritan was a great man; he was a good man because he was concerned about more than himself. (Oh yeah)
Now you know, there are many ideas about why the priest and the Levite passed and didn’t stop to help that man. A lot of ideas about it. Some say that they were going to a church service, and they were running a little late, you know, and couldn’t be late for church, so they kept going because they had to get down to the synagogue. And then there are others who would say that they were involved in the priesthood and consequently there was a priestly law which said that if you were going to administer the sacrament or what have you, you couldn’t touch a human body twenty-four hours before worship. Now there’s another possibility. It is possible that they were going down to Jericho to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s another possibility. And they may have passed by because they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal source rather than one individual victim. That’s a possibility.
But you know, when I think about this parable, I think of another possibility as I use my imagination. It’s possible that these men passed by on the other side because they were afraid. You know, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. (That’s right) I’ve been on it and I know. And I never will forget, Mrs. King and I were in the Holy Land some time ago. We rented a car and we drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho, a distance of about sixteen miles. You get on that Jericho road—I’m telling you it’s a winding, curving, meandering road, very conducive for robbery. And I said to my wife, “Now I can see why Jesus used this road as the occasion for his parable.” (Yes) Here you are when you start out in Jerusalem: you are twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and when you get down to Jericho sixteen miles later—I mean you have sixteen miles from Jerusalem—you’re twelve hundred feet below sea level. During the days of Jesus that road came to the point of being known as the “Bloody Path.” So when I think about the priest and the Levite, I think those brothers were afraid. (All right)
They were just like me. I was going out to my father’s house in Atlanta the other day. He lives about three or four miles from me, and you go out there by going down Simpson Road. And then when I came back later that night—and brother, I can tell you, Simpson Road is a winding road. And a fellow was standing out there trying to flag me down. And I felt that he needed some help; I knew he needed help. [laughter] But I didn’t know it. I’ll be honest with you, I kept going. [laughter] I wasn’t really willing to take the risk. (That’s right)
I say to you this morning that the first question that the priest asked was the first question that I asked on that Jericho Road of Atlanta known as Simpson Road. The first question that the Levite asked was, ‘’If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” (That’s right) But the good Samaritan came by and he reversed the question. Not “What will happen to me if I stop to help this man?” but “What will happen to this man if I do not stop to help him?” This was why that man was good and great. He was great because he was willing to take a risk for humanity; he was willing to ask, “What will happen to this man?” not “What will happen to me?” (All right)
This is what God needs today (Yes): Men and women who will ask, “What will happen to humanity if I don’t help? (Oh yeah) What will happen to the civil rights movement if I don’t participate? (Yes) What will happen to my city if I don’t vote? (Oh yeah) What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them?” This is how God judges people in the final analysis. (Oh yeah)
Oh, there will be a day, the question won’t be, “How many awards did you get in life?” Not that day. (Yeah) It won’t be, “How popular were you in your social setting?” That won’t be the question that day. (Yeah) It will not ask how many degrees you’ve been able to get. (All right) The question that day will not be concerned with whether you are a “Ph.D.” or a “no D.” (That’s right) It will not be concerned with whether you went to Morehouse or whether you went to “No House.” (Yes) The question that day will not be, “How beautiful is your house?” (That’s right) The question that day will not be, “How much money did you accumulate? How much did you have in stocks and bonds?” The question that day will not be, “What kind of automobile did you have?” On that day the question will be, “What did you do for others?” (That’s right)
Now I can hear somebody saying, “Lord, I did a lot of things in life. I did my job well; the world honored me for doing my job. (Oh yeah) I did a lot of things, Lord; I went to school and studied hard. I accumulated a lot of money, Lord; that’s what I did.” It seems as if I can hear the Lord of Life saying, “But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. (That’s right) I was sick, and ye visited me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was in prison, and you weren’t concerned about me. So get out of my face. What did you do for others?” (That’s right) This is the breadth of life. (Oh yeah)
Somewhere along the way, we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others. And this is the way I’ve decided to go the rest of my days. That’s what I’m concerned about. John, if you and Bernard happen to be around when I come to the latter-days and that moment to cross the Jordan, I want you to tell them that I made a request: I don’t want a long funeral. In fact, I don’t even need a eulogy (No) more than one or two minutes. (All right) I hope that I will live so well the rest of the days—I don’t know how long I’ll live, and I’m not concerned about that—but I hope I can live so well that the preacher can get up and say, “He was faithful.” (Yes) That’s all, that’s enough. (That’s right) That’s the sermon I’d like to hear: “Well done my good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful; you’ve been concerned about others.” (That’s right) That’s where I want to go from this point on the rest of my days. (Oh yeah) “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” I want to be a servant. (Yes) I want to be a witness for my Lord, to do something for others.
And don’t forget in doing something for others that you have what you have because of others. (Yes, sir) Don’t forget that. We are tied together in life and in the world. (Preach, preach) And you may think you got all you got by yourself. (Not all of it) But you know, before you got out here to church this morning, you were dependent on more than half of the world. (That’s right) You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom, and you reach over for a bar of soap, and that’s handed to you by a Frenchman. You reach over for a sponge, and that’s given to you by a turk. You reach over for a towel, and that comes to your hand from the hands of a Pacific Islander. And then you go on to the kitchen to get your breakfast. You reach on over to get a little coffee, and that’s poured in your cup by a South American. (That’s right) Or maybe you decide that you want a little tea this morning, only to discover that that’s poured in your cup by a Chinese. (Yes) Or maybe you want a little cocoa, that’s poured in your cup by a West African. (Yes) Then you want a little bread and you reach over to get it, and that’s given to you by the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. (That’s right) Before you get through eating breakfast in the morning, you’re dependent on more than half the world. (That’s right) That’s the way God structured it; that’s the way God structured this world. So let us be concerned about others because we are dependent on others. (Oh yeah)
But don’t stop here either. (No, sir) You know, a lot of people master the length of life, and they master the breadth of life, but they stop right there. Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest. We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up for the God of the universe, whose purpose changeth not. (Right)
Now a lot of people have neglected this third dimension. And you know, the interesting thing is a lot of people neglect it and don’t even know they are neglecting it. They just get involved in other things. And you know, there are two kinds of atheism. Atheism is the theory that there is no God. Now one kind is a theoretical kind, where somebody just sits down and starts thinking about it, and they come to a conclusion that there is no God. The other kind is a practical atheism, and that kind goes out of living as if there is no God. And you know there are a lot of people who affirm the existence of God with their lips, and they deny his existence with their lives. (That’s right) You’ve seen these people who have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. They deny the existence of God with their lives and they just become so involved in other things. They become so involved in getting a big bank account. (Yeah) They become so involved in getting a beautiful house, which we all should have. They become so involved in getting a beautiful car that they unconsciously just forget about God. (Oh yeah) There are those who become so involved in looking at the man-made lights of the city that they unconsciously forget to rise up and look at that great cosmic light and think about it—that gets up in the eastern horizon every morning and moves across the sky with a kind of symphony of motion and paints its technicolor across the blue—a light that man can never make. (All right) They become so involved in looking at the skyscraping buildings of the Loop of Chicago or Empire State Building of New York that they unconsciously forget to think about the gigantic mountains that kiss the skies as if to bathe their peaks in the lofty blue—something that man could never make. They become so busy thinking about radar and their television that they unconsciously forget to think about the stars that bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity, those stars that appear to be shiny, silvery pins sticking in the magnificent blue pincushion. They become so involved in thinking about man’s progress that they forget to think about the need for God’s power in history. They end up going days and days not knowing that God is not with them. (Go ahead)
And I’m here to tell you today that we need God. (Yes) Modern man may know a great deal, but his knowledge does not eliminate God. (Right) And I tell you this morning that God is here to stay. A few theologians are trying to say that God is dead. And I’ve been asking them about it because it disturbs me to know that God died and I didn’t have a chance to attend the funeral. They haven’t been able to tell me yet the date of his death. They haven’t been able to tell me yet who the coroner was that pronounced him dead. (Preach, preach) They haven’t been able to tell me yet where he’s buried.
You see, when I think about God, I know his name. He said somewhere, back in the Old Testament, “I want you to go out, Moses, and tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.” (That’s right) He said just to make it clear, let them know that “my last name is the same as my first, ‘I Am that I Am.’ Make that clear. I Am.” And God is the only being in the universe that can say “I Am” and put a period behind it. Each of us sitting here has to say, “I am because of my parents; I am because of certain environmental conditions; I am because of certain hereditary circumstances; I am because of God.” But God is the only being that can just say, “I Am” and stop right there. “I Am that I Am.” And He’s here to stay. Let nobody make us feel that we don’t need God. (That’s right)
As I come to my conclusion this morning, I want to say that we should search for him. We were made for God, and we will be restless until we find rest in him. (Oh yeah) And I say to you this morning that this is the personal faith that has kept me going. (Yes) I’m not worried about the future. You know, even on this race question, I’m not worried. I was down in Alabama the other day, and I started thinking about the state of Alabama where we worked so hard and may continue to elect the Wallaces. And down in my home state of Georgia, we have another sick governor by the name of Lester Maddox. (Yes) And all of these things can get you confused, but they don’t worry me. (All right) Because the God that I worship is a God that has a way of saying even to kings and even to governors, “Be still, and know that I am God.” And God has not yet turned over this universe to Lester Maddox and Lurleen Wallace. Somewhere I read, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, and I’m going on because I have faith in Him. (Oh yeah) I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. (Yes) And if He’ll guide us and hold our hand, we’ll go on in.
I remember down in Montgomery, Alabama, an experience that I’d like to share with you. When we were in the midst of the bus boycott, we had a marvelous old lady that we affectionately called Sister Pollard. She was a wonderful lady about seventy-two years old and she was still working at that age. (Yes) During the boycott she would walk every day to and from work. She was one that somebody stopped one day and said, “Wouldn’t you like to ride?” And she said, “No.” And then the driver moved on and stopped and thought, and backed up a little and said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” She said, “Yes, my feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” (All right)
She was a marvelous lady. And one week I can remember that I had gone through a very difficult week. (Yes) Threatening calls had come in all day and all night the night before, and I was beginning to falter and to get weak within and to lose my courage. (All right) And I never will forget that I went to the mass meeting that Monday night very discouraged and a little afraid, and wondering whether we were going to win the struggle. (Oh yeah) And I got up to make my talk that night, but it didn’t come out with strength and power. Sister Pollard came up to me after the meeting and said, “Son, what’s wrong with you?” Said, “You didn’t talk strong enough tonight.”
And I said, “Nothing is wrong, Sister Pollard, I’m all right.”
She said, “You can’t fool me.” Said, “Something wrong with you.” And then she went on to say these words, “Is the white folks doing something to you that you don’t like?”
I said, “Everything is going to be all right, Sister Pollard.”
And then she finally said, “Now come close to me and let me tell you something one more time, and I want you to hear it this time.” She said, “Now I done told you we is with you.” She said, “Now, even if we ain’t with you, the Lord is with you.” (Yes) And she concluded by saying, “The Lord’s going to take care of you.”
And I’ve seen many things since that day. I’ve gone through many experiences since that night in Montgomery, Alabama. Since that time Sister Pollard has died. Since that time I’ve been in more than eighteen jail cells. Since that time I’ve come perilously close to death at the hands of a demented Negro woman. Since that time I’ve seen my home bombed three times. Since that time I’ve had to live every day under the threat of death. Since that time I’ve had many frustrating and bewildering nights. But over and over again I can still hear Sister Pollard’s words: “God’s going to take care of you.” So today I can face any man and any woman with my feet solidly placed on the ground and my head in the air because I know that when you are right, God will fight your battle.
“Darker yet may be the night, harder yet may be the fight. Just stand up for that which is right.” It seems that I can hear a voice speaking even this morning, saying to all of us, “Stand up for what is right. Stand up for what is just. Lo, I will be with you even until the end of the world.” Yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. And I go on in believing that. Reach out and find the breadth of life.
You may not be able to define God in philosophical terms. Men through the ages have tried to talk about him. (Yes) Plato said that he was the Architectonic Good. Aristotle called him the Unmoved Mover. Hegel called him the Absolute Whole. Then there was a man named Paul Tillich who called him Being-Itself. We don’t need to know all of these high-sounding terms. (Yes) Maybe we have to know him and discover him another way. (Oh yeah) One day you ought to rise up and say, “I know him because he’s a lily of the valley.” (Yes) He’s a bright and morning star. (Yes) He’s a rose of Sharon. He’s a battle-axe in the time of Babylon. (Yes) And then somewhere you ought to just reach out and say, “He’s my everything. He’s my mother and my father. He’s my sister and my brother. He’s a friend to the friendless.” This is the God of the universe. And if you believe in him and worship him, something will happen in your life. You will smile when others around you are crying. This is the power of God.
Go out this morning. Love yourself, and that means rational and healthy self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That’s the length of life. Then follow that: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That’s the breadth of life. And I’m going to take my seat now by letting you know that there’s a first and even greater commandment: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, (Yeah) with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” I think the psychologist would just say with all thy personality. And when you do that, you’ve got the breadth of life.
And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgement will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
When you get all the three of these together, the lamb will lie down with the lion.
When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
When you get all three of these working together, you will do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
When you get all three of these together… [recording ends]
What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?
On October 26, 1967, six months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia.
I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life’s blueprint?
Whenever a building is constructed, you usually have an architect who draws a blueprint, and that blueprint serves as the pattern, as the guide, and a building is not well erected without a good, solid blueprint.
Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.
I want to suggest some of the things that should begin your life’s blueprint. Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you fell that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance.
Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You’re going to be deciding as the days, as the years unfold what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be. Set out to do it well.
And I say to you, my young friends, doors are opening to you–doors of opportunities that were not open to your mothers and your fathers — and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to face these doors as they open.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist, said in a lecture in 1871, “If a man can write a better book or preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, even if he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
This hasn’t always been true — but it will become increasingly true, and so I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil; I would say to you, don’t drop out of school. I understand all the sociological reasons, but I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live in — stay in school.
And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
I Have A Dream
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial
in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, 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 slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four 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 the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Where We Are Going
from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1967 Book
“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: There are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.
While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.
In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.
We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.
We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society.
The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.
In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote, in Progress and Poverty:
“The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased.” We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.
Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.
Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure. First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not the lowest levels of income. To guarantee an income at the floor would simply perpetuate welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions. Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows. Were it permitted to remain static under growth conditions, the recipients would suffer a relative decline. If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income has risen, then the guaranteed income would have to be adjusted upward by the same percentage. Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur, nullifying the gains of security and stability.
This proposal is not a “civil rights” program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.
Our nation’s adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be facilitated if we realize that for nearly forty years two groups in our society have already been enjoying a guaranteed income. Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused social values that these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest. The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule, through welfare benefits.
John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which he describes as “not much more than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by ‘experts’ in Vietnam.”
The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.