Martin Luther King Jr.-Where Do We Go from Here_ Chaos or Community_ (King Legacy) (2010)


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WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
WHERE DO
WE GO
FROM
ERE
martin luther king, jr.
beacon press
boston
beacon press
where do we go from here: chaos or community
the collected poems of langston hughes

Contents
IV
jy
Introduction
aving shared a precious friendship with Martin
King during the last ten years of his life, I was very
pleased to learn that Beacon Press was return-
ing to its important role as a publisher of his book-length
works. Then, when I was asked to write the introduction
for this new edition of King’s fourth book, many powerful
memories �ooded my being. First and most important was
my recollection of how determined Martin was to be fully
and creatively engaged with the living history of his time, a
history he did so much to help create but also a dangerous
and tumultuous history that shaped and transformed his own
From this position of radical engagement it would have
been relatively easy for King, if he chose, to con�ne his pub-
lished writing to telling the powerful stories of the experi-
ences he shared almost daily with the magni�cent band of
women, men, and children who worked in the black-led
Southern freedom movement, recounting how they strug-
gled to transform themselves, their communities, this nation,
and our world. Instead, going beyond the stories, King in-
sisted on constantly raising and re�ecting on the basic ques-
tions he posed in the �rst chapter of this work—“Where Are
introduction
We?” and in the overall title of the book itself,
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(Always present, of
course, were the deepest questions of all: Who are we? Who
These are the recognizable queries that mature human
beings persistently pose to themselves—and to their com-
munities—as they explore the way toward their best pos-
sibilities. Not surprisingly, such constant probing toward
self-understanding was a central element of King’s practice
Indeed, it was the urgent need for such self-examination
and deep re�ection on the new American world that he and
the freedom movement helped create that literally drove
King to wrestle publicly and boldly with the profound is-
sues of this book. Ironically, it was almost immediately after
the extraordinary success of the heroic Alabama voter-regis-
tration campaign—which led to the Selma-to-Montgomery
march, and the follow-up congressional passage of the 1965
Voting Rights Act—that King realized he had to confront
a very di¤cult set of emerging American realities that de-
manded his best prophetic interpretation and his most cre-
Perhaps the most immediate and symbolic energizing
event came just days after President Lyndon Johnson signed
the hard-won historic Voting Rights Act, when the black
community of Watts, in Los Angeles, exploded in �re, frus-
tration, and rage. When King and several of his coworkers
rushed to Watts to engage some of the young men who were
most deeply involved in the uprising, they heard the youth
say, “We won.” Looking at the still smoldering embers of
the local community, the visitors asked what
meant,
and one of the young men declared, “We won because we
introduction
yj
Building on all of the deep resources of empathy and
compassion that seemed so richly and naturally a part of his
life, King appeared determined not only to pay attention but
to insist that his organization and his nation focus themselves
and their resources on dozens of poor, exploited black com-
munities—and especially their desperate young men, whose
broken lives were crying out for new, humane possibilities
in the midst of the wealthiest nation in the world. Speak-
ing later at a staƒ retreat of the Southern Christian Leader-
ship Conference, King expressed a conviction that had long
been a crucial part of what he saw when he paid attention to
the nation’s poorest people. He said, “Something is wrong
with the economic system of our nation.
Something is
wrong with capitalism.” Always careful (perhaps too careful)
to announce that he was not a Marxist in any sense of the
word, King told the staƒ he believed “there must be a bet-
ter distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move
toward a democratic socialism.
” This seemed a natural
direction for someone whose ultimate societal goal was the
achievement of a nonviolent “beloved community.” But a
major part of the white American community and its mass
media seemed only able to condemn “Negro violence” and
to justify a “white backlash” against the continuing attempts
of the freedom movement to move northward toward a
more perfect union. (King wisely indenti�ed the fashionable
“backlash” as a continuing expression of an antidemocratic
Meanwhile, even before Watts, King and the SCLC staƒ
had begun to explore creative ways in which they could
expand their eƒort to develop a just and beloved national
community by establishing projects in northern black ur-
ban neighborhoods. (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, or SNCC, the other major Southern movement
yjj
introduction
organizing force, was involved in similar Northern explora-
tions by the mid-1960s, but both organizations were ham-
pered by severe �nancial di¤culties.) Partly because of some
earlier contacts with Chicago-based community organizers,
King and SCLC decided to focus on that deeply segregated
city as the center of their expansion into the anguish of
the North. By the winter of 1966, SCLC staƒ members had
begun organizing in Chicago. At that point King decided
to try to spend at least three days a week actually living in
one of the city’s poorest black communities, a west-side area
named Lawndale. From that vantage point, working (some-
times uncomfortably) with their Chicago colleagues, King
and SCLC decided to concentrate their attention on a con-
tinuing struggle against the segregated, deteriorating, and
educationally dysfunctional schools; the often dilapidated
This book must be read in the urgent context of King’s
di¤cult experiences in Watts and Chicago, which seemed
more representative of the nation’s deeper racial dilemma
than were the Southern battlegrounds of Selma and Mont-
gomery. For instance, Chicago was the setting for King’s
�erce reminders that “the economic plight of the masses of
Negroes has worsened” since the beginnings of the Southern
freedom movement, because slum conditions had worsened
“and Negroes attend more thoroughly segregated schools
In the face of such hard facts, King insisted on pressing
two other realities into the nation’s conscience. One was his
continuing plea for “a coalition of Negroes and liberal whites
that will work to make both major parties truly responsive to
the needs of the poor.” At the same time he insisted that “we
must not be oblivious to the fact that the larger economic
introduction
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problems confronting the Negro community will only be
This was the King of
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Sparked
by the young men of Watts, informed by the streets he
walked in Chicago, inspired by the magni�cently ordinary
organizers and community members who faced white rage
and fear-�lled violence in the Windy City and its suburbs,
King was constantly teaching, learning, urging, admonish-
ing—reminding Americans not only of the powerful ob-
stacles in our histories, our institutions, and our hearts, but
also calling our attention to the amazing hope represented
by Thomas Paine, one of the few really radical, grassroots-
oriented “founding fathers,” who dared to proclaim, “We
have the power to begin the world over again.” Insisting
on claiming such revolutionary words, King readily grasped
them for himself and for us all. Mixing all this with his un-
dying commitment to the way of active nonviolence, King
remained faithful to the call he had put forth at the end of
the Selma-to-Montgomery march: “We must keep going.”
(Always going, always carrying the costly testimony: “Oc-
casionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and
meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what
Ironically enough, while King’s time in Chicago placed
its indelible mark on both his questions and his relentless
search for answers—for himself and for the rest of us—it was
another Southern-based experience that pressed him to share
some of his deepest convictions, hopes, and fears. Indeed,
the recounting of his crucial participation in the June 1966
Mississippi March Against Fear (the “Meredith March”) pro-
vided King the opportunity he needed to oƒer some of his
own powerful responses to the fear-tinged, media-driven
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introduction
national debate about the rise and meaning of the call for
Black Power and the spread of the urban black explosions
In addition to oƒering his own constantly expanding
appreciation of the positive, healing elements of a black self-
love, King continued to urge the African American com-
munity to refuse to let the path toward black a¤rmation lead
into the self-defeating way of isolation and despair. “There
is no solution for the Negro through isolation,” he wrote.
Instead, encouraging black people to continue moving on
toward our best possibilities (instead of copying white Amer-
ica’s worst habits—especially its racism, extreme materialism,
and militarism), King declared that “our most fruitful course
is to stand �rm, move forward nonviolently, accept disap-
pointment and cling to hope.” In that same frame of mind,
King added, “To guard ourselves from bitterness we need
the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity
to trans�gure both ourselves and American society.” (Did
he foresee the Obama opportunity? Will Obama really see
King, paying attention? And what about us? Where do we
At the same time, King took the opportunity to speak
to white allies whose support for the freedom movement
had already diminished as the campaign moved on to address
the harsh realities and structural challenges of the North. In
that context, King called Black Power a cry of “disappoint-
ment with timid white moderates who feel that they can
set the timetable for the Negro’s freedom.” With increas-
ing regularity, that theme of black disappointment (that he
surely shared) was also applied to the Johnson administration
and its devastating war in Vietnam. Indeed, as the war ex-
panded, drawing more and more American troops (mostly
poor, working class, and people of color on the front lines),
introduction
as it endangered and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thou-
sands of Vietnamese people, King’s protesting, conscience-
driven voice began to be heard with increasing vigor. And
Where Do We Go from Here
provided another opportunity
to contrast the comparative timidity and lack of creativity
of Johnson’s cut-rate War on Poverty to the robust energy,
imagination and billons of dollars dedicated to the Southeast
Asian disaster. That was the setting in which King described
the call for Black Power as an urgent scream of “disappoint-
ment with a federal administration that seems to be more
concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam
than about winning the war against poverty here at home.”
Even as he spoke and wrote those words, King recog-
nized the danger they carried. He knew that there were
many black and white allies and supporters of his organiza-
tion and of the larger freedom and justice movement who
considered it unwise, unpatriotic, and unnecessarily provoc-
ative to combine the call for legal and economic rights at
home with a profound questioning of the foreign policy of
a federal government whose assistance was considered es-
sential in the achievement of civil rights. (King knew as well
that many of his sturdy �nancial contributors were having
di¤culty continuing to give support toward such unorth-
odox views—especially when they tended to expect black
people to be superpatriots, in the most narrow de�nition
of the word. And, of course, King also knew that Lyndon
Johnson expected nothing less than utter fealty, in gratitude
Interestingly enough, in the course of his insistent wres-
tling with the purpose and future direction of his own or-
ganization and of the larger movement, King used the pages
of this book to press himself and his coworkers to move
beyond a narrow, legalistic understanding of their work, to
ywj
introduction
open themselves to newer, deeper, less-travelled directions—
especially as they faced the systemic, social, political, and
economic issues that met them everywhere in the North.
For instance, toward the end of this work, as King envi-
sioned for himself and others some aspects of a human re-
sponse to the book’s title question, he wrote, “So far we
have had constitutional backing for most of our demands for
change, and this has made our work easier, since we could
be sure of legal support from the federal courts. Now we are
approaching areas where the voice of the Constitution is not
clear.” King went on with his description of the new situa-
tion, saying, “We have left the realm of constitutional rights
and we are entering the area of human rights.” He contin-
ued: “The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there
is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the
right to an adequate income. [Or, the right to high-quality
education and health care?] And yet in a nation which has
a gross national product of $750 billion a year, it is morally
right to insist that every person have a decent house, an ad-
equate education and enough money to provide basic neces-
sities for one’s family.” Here again he urged exploration of a
For the many persons—whatever their color—who origi-
nally signed onto the freedom movement to assist in the quest
for the Southern black right to vote, for equal access to pub-
lic accommodations, and for minimally integrated schools,
King was out beyond their vision and their reach—and
their control. For me, as I revisit
King and remember his
last years of unrelenting struggle against what he called “the
triple evils” of racism, materialism, and militarism, I see him
on the nettlesome, uncharted path toward a more perfect
union, a path that still challenges us all. I hear him preaching
at his Ebenezer Church in Atlanta: “I choose to identify with
introduction
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the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I
choose to give my life for the hungry.
This is the way
I’m going. If it means suƒering a little bit, I’m going that
way. If it means sacri�cing, I’m going that way. If it means
dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice
And I rejoice to consider the strong possibility that
King, while paying attention, had opened the way for Ba-
rack Obama. So I pray and work that the best of King and
the best of Obama might meet, both enriched, both made
vulnerable and powerful by their attention to the cries of
Chicago’s poorest people, both opening to all of us the op-
portunity to stand with them—again and again, pressing
Throughout this book, King continues to combine his var-
ful social analyst; loving, encouraging pastor who calls us
to our best possibilities; and as justice-obsessed, biblically
shaped, prophetic spokesperson for the poor. Such a melded
identity allowed King to speak not only to white America
and to the black poor, but to turn, unhesitatingly, as well to
his sisters and brothers in the expanding black middle class.
So he spoke with un�inching honesty and undeniable au-
thenticity when he wrote, “It is time for the Negro middle
class to rise up from its stool of indiƒerence, to retreat from
its �ight into unreality and to bring its full resources—its
heart, its mind and its checkbook—to the aid of the less
fortunate brother [and sister].” (King, here, as in the entire
book, unfortunately was a captive of the male gender prefer-
ences of his time—and of his church background. When I
consider his capacity for growth, I like to believe that if he
had been given another decade he would have discovered his
ywjjj
introduction
His words to the black middle class provided an excel-
lent opportunity for King to clarify again what he meant by
America’s constantly used and misused word “integration.”
He wrote, “Let us not think of our movement as one that
seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of
American society.” Instead, he urged, “Let us be those cre-
ative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher
destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble
In the light of King’s unstintingly accurate critique of his
“beloved nation,” and his vision of our “higher destiny” as
human beings, it was clear why he needed to believe in Tom
Paine’s radical vision of our capacity “to begin the world
over again,” moving toward “the �nal goal” of “genuine in-
tergroup and interpersonal living.” Indeed, he seemed deeply
in sync with James Baldwin’s urgent call to us to “realize
ourselves” as an American family of many rich varieties. He
was clearly attuned to Langston Hughes’s readiness to “swear
this oath” that “America will be.” Indeed he often seemed
the prescient older brother to poet June Jordan and her con-
viction that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” to
In fact, reading his words of hope again, I remembered
Martin’s elder sister-in-struggle, Fannie Lou Hamer, Missis-
sippi’s wise and courageous grassroots freedom movement
leader who became a gift to us all. I recalled the story of her
being questioned by a reporter at the historic 1964 Demo-
cratic National Convention and asked about her powerful
challenge on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party to the convention’s acceptance of segregated delega-
tions. Did her vigorous antisegregation stand mean that “she
was seeking equality with the white man?” the reporter
introduction
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asked. “No,” Ms. Hamer �rmly replied. “What would I look
like �ghting for equality with the white man? I don’t want
to go down that low. I want the true democracy that’ll raise
Using somewhat diƒerent language, this was the message
that King fervently sought to convey to his nation, his peo-
ple, his children. That was the ultimate answer to the ques-
tion posed by his book’s title
Where Do We Go from Here.
To
So he was urgent about �nding a way through the inter-
stices of his horrendous traveling schedule, dealing with doz-
ens of speaking commitments, both in the United States and
overseas, calling and attending SCLC strategy sessions, tend-
ing to a constant set of internal and external crises in Chicago
and Atlanta, always needing to be available for fund-raising
gatherings, hurrying toward family rendezvous. Moving
through all of that, toward the end of 1966, he pressed him-
self to �nish the manuscript. (Actually, King had been work-
ing on it, in many forms, ever since he moved to Chicago in
January of that year, often sharing his developing, searching
thinking with Clarence Jones, Stanley Levison, Bayard Rus-
tin, and Andrew Young—his most consistent political and
literary advisors. Sometimes he shared sections of the emerg-
One �nal step on the way to completion involved what
was originally planned as a four-week escape to Jamaica, in
January 1967. Carrying several suitcases of notes and other
materials, King traveled with his assistant, Bernard Lee, and
his impressively competent and committed secretary, Dora
McDonald. Coretta also joined him on several occasions dur-
ing the Jamaica retreat, where he was freed of the telephone
and its demands. So he was free to pay even deeper atten-
introduction
tion, free to continue to wrestle with the amazingly complex
systems of devastation and constraint that were faced by poor
He was also free to speak with loving candor and seeth-
ing anger to his “white brothers and sisters” who refused to
recognize their own deep personal and structural involve-
ment in the causes of the urban rebellions and the call for
Black Power. Out of that freedom emerged King’s most di-
rect word to white Americans: “Negroes hold only one key
to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the
Before the book was �nally published in June 1967, King
had clearly decided to follow his conscience and his commit-
ment to the poor when, on April 4, in New York’s Riverside
Church, he raised his voice in an unambiguous, powerful call
for America to end its destructive, colonialist-style participa-
tion in the Vietnam War. (I am grateful that Martin asked me
Then, not long after
Where Do We Go from Here
appeared,
its beleaguered and determined author began to announce
the somewhat vague plans that SCLC was preparing to lead a
major campaign of civil disobedience the following spring in
Washington, D.C.—a Poor People’s Campaign. The plans
were to bring thousands of poor Americans to the nation’s
capital to demand that the War on Poverty receive the en-
ergy, funding, and attention that should be withdrawn from
the war in Southeast Asia. Signi�cantly, the Poor People of
the campaign were meant to include not only African Amer-
For King it was obvious that his answer to the book’s
subtitle was very clear: a deeply integrated, loving commu-
nity rather than segregated chaos; hope rather than despair—
raising up America and making the world over. While on
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his committed journey in that humane direction, King was
invited to turn his commitment to the poor into a very con-
crete collaboration with hundreds of exploited, mistreated
garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The �rst paper-
back version of this book was published shortly after his as-
sassination in the consciously chosen company of the poor.
When the late Coretta King wrote her brief and thought-
ful preface to the original, post-assassination Beacon paper-
back she closed with these words: “The glowing spirit and
the sharp insights of Martin Luther King, Jr., are embod-
ied in this book. The solutions he oƒered can still save our
society from self-destruction. I hope that it will be seen as
a testament, and that the grief that followed his death will
be transmitted to a universal determination to realize the
economic and social justice for which he so willingly gave
vincent harding
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oreword
t was characteristic of my husband that in 1967 when
confusion in the civil rights struggle abounded he
would undertake a book titled
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He not only took the responsi-
bility for leadership, he toiled vigorously to offer discerning
In this book he piercingly revealed the cause of our na-
tional discord, placing it squarely on the ingrained white
racism of American society. He made discrimination and
poverty the central focus of his attacks. A year later, spend-
ing nearly a million dollars with a huge staff, the National
Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was to come to the
In this work Martin Luther King, Jr., stresses the com-
mon cause of all the disinherited, white and black, laying the
basis for the contemporary struggles now unfolding around
economic issues. He spoke out sharply for all the poor in all
their hues, for he knew if color made them different, misery
The book is remarkably contemporary also in its treat-
ment of international relations. The author here discusses
poverty as a source of world instability and the arrogance of
yyjw
foreword
wealthy nations toward the deprived world. It is our com-
mon tragedy that we have lost his prophetic voice but it
would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate
The glowing spirit and the sharp insights of Martin Lu-
ther King, Jr., are embodied in this book. The solutions he
offered can still save our society from self-destruction. I hope
that it will be seen as a testament, and that the grief that fol-
lowed his death will be transmuted to a universal determina-
tion to realize the economic and social justice for which he
coretta scott king
Nbz!2:79
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
Xifsf!Bsf!Xf?
n August 6, 1965, the President’s Room of the
Capitol could scarcely hold the multitude of white
and Negro leaders crowding it. President Lyndon
Johnson’s high spirits were marked as he circulated among
the many guests whom he had invited to witness an event he
con�dently felt to be historic, the signing of the 1965 Voting
Rights Act. The legislation was designed to put the ballot
eƒectively into Negro hands in the South after a century of
The bill that lay on the polished mahogany desk was born
in violence in Selma, Alabama, where a stubborn sheriƒ han-
dling Negroes in the Southern tradition had stumbled against
the future. During a nonviolent demonstration for voting
rights, the sheriƒ had directed his men in teargassing and
beating the marchers to the ground. The nation had seen
and heard, and exploded in indignation. In protest, Negroes
and whites marched �fty miles through Alabama, and arrived
at the state capital of Montgomery in a demonstration �fty
thousand strong. President Johnson, describing Selma as a
modern Concord, addressed a joint session of Congress be-
fore a television audience of millions. He pledged that “We
shall overcome,” and declared that the national government
martin luther king, jr.
must by law insure to every Negro his full rights as a citizen.
The Voting Rights Bill of 1965 was the result. In signing the
measure, the President announced that “Today is a triumph
for freedom as huge as any victory that’s ever been won on
any battle�eld
today we strike away the last major shackle
One year later, some of the people who had been brutal-
ized in Selma and who were present at the Capitol ceremo-
nies were leading marchers in the suburbs of Chicago amid
a rain of rocks and bottles, among burning automobiles, to
the thunder of jeering thousands, many of them waving Nazi
A year later, some of the Negro leaders who had been
present in Selma and at the Capitol ceremonies no longer
held o¤ce in their organizations. They had been discarded
A year later, the white backlash had become an emotional
electoral issue in California, Maryland and elsewhere. In sev-
eral Southern states men long regarded as political clowns
had become governors or only narrowly missed election,
their magic achieved with a “witches’
” brew of bigotry,
During the year, white and Negro civil rights workers
had been murdered in several Southern communities. The
swift and easy acquittals that followed for the accused had
shocked much of the nation but sent a wave of unabashed
triumph through Southern segregationist circles. Many of us
During the year, in several Northern and Western cities,
most tragically in Watts, young Negroes had exploded in vio-
lence. In an irrational burst of rage they had sought to say
something, but the �ames had blackened both themselves
where do we go from here
A year later,
magazine was asserting, “After
more than a decade of the Civil Rights Movement the black
American in Harlem, Haynesville, Baltimore and Bogalousa
is worse oƒ today than he was ten years ago
the Move-
ment’s leaders know it and it is the source of their despair.
The Movement is in despair because it has been forced to
Had Negroes fumbled the opportunities described by
the President? Was the movement in despair? Why was
widespread sympathy with the Negro revolution abruptly
submerged in indiƒerence in some quarters or banished
by outright hostility in others? Why was there ideological
A simple explanation holds that Negroes rioted in Watts,
the voice of Black Power was heard through the land and the
white backlash was born; the public became infuriated and
sympathy evaporated. This pat explanation founders, how-
ever, on the hard fact that the change in mood had preceded
Watts and the Black Power slogan. Moreover, the white
backlash had always existed underneath and sometimes on
the surface of American life. No, the answers are both more
With Selma and the Voting Rights Act one phase of
development in the civil rights revolution came to an end.
A new phase opened, but few observers realized it or were
prepared for its implications. For the vast majority of white
Americans, the past decade—the �rst phase—had been a
struggle to treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not of
equality. White America was ready to demand that the Negro
should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation,
but it had never been truly committed to helping him out
of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination. The
outraged white citizen had been sincere when he snatched
martin luther king, jr.
the whips from the Southern sheriƒs and forbade them more
cruelties. But when this was to a degree accomplished, the
emotions that had momentarily in�amed him melted away.
White Americans left the Negro on the ground and in dev-
astating numbers walked oƒ with the aggressor. It appeared
that the white segregationist and the ordinary white citizen
had more in common with one another than either had with
When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realiza-
tion of equality, they found that many of their white allies
had quietly disappeared. The Negroes of America had taken
the President, the press and the pulpit at their word when
they spoke in broad terms of freedom and justice. But the
absence of brutality and unregenerate evil is not the pres-
ence of justice. To stay murder is not the same thing as to
ordain brotherhood. The word was broken, and the free-
running expectations of the Negro crashed into the stone
walls of white resistance. The result was havoc. Negroes felt
cheated, especially in the North, while many whites felt that
the Negroes had gained so much it was virtually impudent
The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converg-
ing crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge. Up
to Selma there had been unity to eliminate barbaric conduct.
Beyond it the unity had to be based on the ful�llment of
equality, and in the absence of agreement the paths began
Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white
America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it
The majority of white Americans consider themselves
where do we go from here
sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe
that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and
to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying
racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-
deception and comfortable vanity. Overwhelmingly America
is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions. It has
been sincere and even ardent in welcoming some change.
But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface
when the next logical steps are to be taken. Laws are passed
in a crisis mood after a Birmingham or a Selma, but no sub-
stantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation. The
recording of the law in itself is treated as the reality of the
This limited degree of concern is a re�ection of an inner
con�ict which measures cautiously the impact of any change
on the status quo. As the nation passes from opposing ex-
tremist behavior to the deeper and more pervasive elements
of equality, white America rea¤rms its bonds to the status
quo. It had contemplated comfortably hugging the shoreline
but now fears that the winds of change are blowing it out
The practical cost of change for the nation up to this
point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been ob-
tained at bargain rates. There are no expenses, and no taxes
are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries,
parks, hotels and other facilities with whites. Even the psy-
chological adjustment is far from formidable. Having exag-
gerated the emotional di¤culties for decades, when demands
for new conduct became inescapable, white Southerners may
Even the more signi�cant changes involved in voter reg-
istration required neither large monetary nor psychological
sacri�ce. Spectacular and turbulent events that dramatized
martin luther king, jr.
the demand created an erroneous impression that a heavy
The real cost lies ahead. The stiƒening of white resistance
is a recognition of that fact. The discount education given
Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price
if quality education is to be realized. Jobs are harder and
costlier to create than voting rolls. The eradication of slums
housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and
The assistant director of the O¤ce of Economic Op
portunity, Hyman Bookbinder, in a frank statement on
December 29, 1966, declared that the long-range costs of ad-
equately implementing programs to �ght poverty, ignorance
and slums will reach one trillion dollars. He was not awed
or dismayed by this prospect but instead pointed out that the
growth of the gross national product during the same period
makes this expenditure comfortably possible. It is, he said,
as simple as this: “The poor can stop being poor if the rich
are willing to become even richer at a slower rate.” Further-
more, he predicted that unless a “substantial sacri�ce is made
by the American people,” the nation can expect further
deterioration of the cities, increased antagonisms between
races and continued disorders in the streets. He asserted that
people are not informed enough to give adequate support to
the government because it “must do more to get people to
Let us take a look at the size of the problem through the
lens of the Negro’s status in 1967. When the Constitution
was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and rep-
resentation declared that the Negro was 60 percent of a per-
Today another curious formula seems to declare he is
50 percent of a person. Of the good things in life he has ap-
where do we go from here
proximately one-half those of whites; of the bad he has twice
those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard
housing, and Negroes have half the income of whites. When
we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has
a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The
rate of infant mortality (widely accepted as an accurate index
of general health) among Negroes is double that of whites.
The equation pursues Negroes even into war. There were
twice as many Negroes as whites in combat in Vietnam at
the beginning of 1967, and twice as many Negro soldiers
died in action (20.6 percent) in proportion to their numbers
In other spheres the �gures are equally alarming. In el-
ementary schools Negroes lag one to three years behind
whites, and their segregated schools receive substantially
less money per student than do the white schools. One-
twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college, and half
Of employed Negroes, 75 percent hold menial jobs.
De-
pressed living standards for Negroes are not simply the con-
sequence of neglect. Nor can they be explained by the myth
of the Negro’s innate incapacities, or by the more sophisti-
cated rationalization of his acquired in�rmities (family disor-
ganization, poor education, etc.). They are a structural part
tries and enterprises are based upon a supply of low-paid,
under-skilled and immobile nonwhite labor. Hand-assembly
factories, hospitals, service industries, housework, agricul-
tural operations using itinerant labor would suƒer economic
Economic discrimination is especially deeply rooted in
the South. In industry after industry there is a signi�cant dif-
ferential in wage scales between North and South. The lower
martin luther king, jr.
scale in the South is directly a consequence of cheap Negro
labor (which ironically not only deprives the Negro but by
its presence drives down the wages of the white worker).
The new South, while undergoing certain marked changes
as a result of industrialization, is adapting the forms of dis-
crimination that keep the Negro in a subordinate role and
The personal torment of discrimination cannot be mea-
sured on a numerical scale, but the grim evidence of its hold
on white Americans is revealed in polls that indicate that 88
percent of them would object if their teenage child dated a
Negro. Almost 80 percent would mind it if a close friend or
relative married a Negro, and 50 percent would not want a
These brief facts disclose the magnitude of the gap be-
tween existing realities and the goal of equality. Yet they
would be less disturbing if it were not for a greater di¤culty.
There is not even a common language when the term
“equality” is used. Negro and white have a fundamentally
Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality
means what it says, and they have taken white Americans
at their word when they talked of it as an objective. But
most whites in America in 1967, including many persons of
goodwill, proceed from a premise that equality is a loose ex-
pression for improvement. White America is not even psy-
chologically organized to close the gap—essentially it seeks
only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most
respects to retain it. Most of the abrasions between Negroes
White America is uneasy with injustice and for ten years
it believed it was righting wrongs. The struggles were often
bravely fought by �ne people. The conscience of man �amed
where do we go from here
high in hours of peril. The days can never be forgotten when
the brutalities at Selma caused thousands all over the land to
rush to our side, heedless of danger and of diƒerences in race,
After the march to Montgomery, there was a delay at
the airport and several thousand demonstrators waited more
than �ve hours, crowding together on the seats, the �oors
and the stairways of the terminal building. As I stood with
them and saw white and Negro, nuns and priests, ministers
and rabbis, labor organizers, lawyers, doctors, housemaids
and shopworkers brimming with vitality and enjoying a rare
comradeship, I knew I was seeing a microcosm of the man-
kind of the future in this moment of luminous and genuine
But these were the best of America, not all of Amer-
ica. Elsewhere the commitment was shallower. Conscience
burned only dimly, and when atrocious behavior was curbed,
the spirit settled easily into well-padded pockets of com-
placency. Justice at the deepest level had but few stalwart
A good many observers have remarked that if equality
could come at once the Negro would not be ready for it. I
The Negro on a mass scale is working vigorously to
overcome his de�ciencies and his maladjustments. Wher-
ever there are job-training programs Negroes are crowding
them. Those who are employed are revealing an eagerness
for advancement never before so widespread and persistent.
In the average Negro home a new appreciation of culture is
manifest. The circulation of periodicals and books written
for Negroes is now in the multimillions while a decade ago it
was scarcely past one hundred thousand. In the schools more
Negro students are demanding courses that lead to college
martin luther king, jr.
and beyond, refusing to settle for the crude vocational train-
Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar
mass eƒort to reeducate themselves out of their racial igno-
rance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the
white people of America believe they have so little to learn.
The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into
the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and
genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too
White America would have liked to believe that in the
past ten years a mechanism had somehow been created that
needed only orderly and smooth tending for the painless ac-
complishment of change. Yet this is precisely what has not
been achieved. Every civil rights law is still substantially
more dishonored than honored. School desegregation is still
90 percent unimplemented across the land; the free exercise
of the franchise is the exception rather than the rule in the
South; open-occupancy laws theoretically apply to popu-
lation centers embracing tens of millions, but grim ghettos
contradict the �ne language of the legislation. Despite the
mandates of law, equal employment still remains a distant
The legal structures have in practice proved to be neither
structures nor law. The sparse and insu¤cient collection of
statutes is not a structure; it is barely a naked framework. Leg-
islation that is evaded, substantially nulli�ed and unenforced
is a mockery of law. Signi�cant progress has eƒectively been
barred by the cunning obstruction of segregationists. It has
been barred by equivocations and retreats of government—
the same government that was exultant when it sought po-
In this light, we are now able to see why the Supreme
where do we go from here
Court decisions, on school desegregation, which we de-
scribed at the time as historic, have not made history. After
twelve years, barely 12 percent school integration existed in
the whole South, and in the Deep South the �gure hardly
reached 2 percent.
And even these few schools were in many
cases integrated only with a handful of Negroes. The deci-
sions indeed mandated a profound degree of genuine equal-
ity; for that very reason, they failed of implementation. They
were, in a sense, historical errors from the point of view of
Even the Supreme Court, despite its original courage and
integrity, curbed itself only a little over a year after the 1954
landmark cases, when it handed down its Pupil Placement
decision, in eƒect returning to the states the power to deter-
mine the tempo of change. This subsequent decision became
the keystone in the structure that slowed school desegrega-
tion down to a crawl. Thus America, with segregationist ob-
struction and majority indiƒerence, silently nibbled away at a
These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions
between the races. Loose and easy language about equal-
ity, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on
the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he can-
not overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance
the white population promptly raises the argument that the
Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an
This characterization is necessarily general. It would be
grossly unfair to omit recognition of a minority of whites
who genuinely want authentic equality. Their commitment
is real, sincere, and is expressed in a thousand deeds. But
they are balanced at the other end of the pole by the unre-
generate segregationists who have declared that democracy
martin luther king, jr.
is not worth having if it involves equality. The segregationist
goal is the total reversal of all reforms, with reestablishment
of naked oppression and if need be a native form of fas-
cism. America had a master race in the antebellum South.
Reestablishing it with a resurgent Klan and a totally disen-
franchised lower class would realize the dream of too many
The great majority of Americans are suspended between
these opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but
The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning
awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural
changes in society have generated a new phase of white re-
sistance in North and South. Based on the cruel judgment
that Negroes have come far enough, there is a strong mood
to bring the civil rights movement to a halt or reduce it to a
crawl. Negro demands that yesterday evoked admiration and
support, today—to many—have become tiresome, unwar-
ranted and a disturbance to the enjoyment of life. Cries of
Black Power and riots are not the causes of white resistance,
Meanwhile frustration and a loss of con�dence in white
power have engendered among many Negroes a response
that is essentially a loss of con�dence in themselves. They are
First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period
a movement may follow a straight line and then it encoun-
ters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a
mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as
though you were moving backward, and you lose sight of
where do we go from here
your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you
We are encountering just such an experience today. The
inevitable counterrevolution that succeeds every period of
progress is taking place. Failing to understand this as a nor-
mal process of development, some Negroes are falling into
unjusti�ed pessimism and despair. Focusing on the ultimate
goal, and discovering it still distant, they declare no progress
This mood illustrates another fact that has been misin-
terpreted. A �nal victory is an accumulation of many short-
term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does
not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to compre-
hend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates
the value of confrontation and dissolves the con�dence born
The argument that the Negro has made no progress in
a decade of turbulent eƒort rests on demonstrable facts that
paint an ugly picture of stagnation in many areas, includ-
ing income levels, housing and schools. But from a deeper
perspective a diƒerent conclusion emerges. The increases in
segregated schools and the expanded slums are developments
con�ned largely to the North. Substantial progress has been
achieved in the South. The struggles of the past decade were
not national in scope; they were Southern; they were spe-
ci�cally designed to change life in the South, and the prin-
cipal role of the North was supportive. It would be a serious
error to misconstrue the movement’s strategy by measuring
Northern accomplishments when virtually all programs were
applied in the South and sought remedies applicable solely
The historic achievement is found in the fact that the
martin luther king, jr.
movement in the South has profoundly shaken the entire ed-
i�ce of segregation. This is an accomplishment whose conse-
quences are deeply felt by every Southern Negro in his daily
life. It is no longer possible to count the number of public
establishments that are open to Negroes. The persistence of
segregation is not the salient fact of Southern experience;
the proliferating areas in which the Negro moves freely is the
The South was the stronghold of racism. In the white
migrations through history from the South to the North
and West, racism was carried to poison the rest of the na-
tion. Prejudice, discrimination and bigotry had been intri-
cately imbedded in all institutions of Southern life, political,
social and economic. There could be no possibility of life-
transforming change anywhere so long as the vast and solid
in�uence of Southern segregation remained unchallenged
and unhurt. The ten-year assault at the roots was fundamen-
tal to undermining the system. What distinguished this pe-
riod from all preceding decades was that it constituted the
Since before the Civil War, the alliance of Southern rac-
ism and Northern reaction has been the major roadblock to
all social advancement. The cohesive political structure of
the South working through this alliance enabled a minor-
ity of the population to imprint its ideology on the nation’s
laws. This explains why the United States is still far behind
European nations in all forms of social legislation. England,
France, Germany, Sweden, all distinctly less wealthy than us,
Hence in attacking Southern racism the Negro has al-
ready bene�ted not only himself but the nation as a whole.
Until the disproportionate political power of the reactionary
where do we go from here
South in Congress is ended, progress in the United States
Since the beginning of the civil rights revolution, Negro
registration in almost every Southern state has increased by
at least 100 percent, and in Virginia and Alabama, by 300
and 600 percent, respectively.
There are no illusions among
Southern segregationists that these gains are unimportant.
The old order has already lost ground; its retreats are symbol-
ized by the departure from public life of Sheriƒs Clark and
Bull Connor. Far more important, the racists have restruc-
tured old parties to cope with the emerging challenge. In
some states, such as Georgia and Alabama, white supremacy
temporarily holds the State House, but it would be a foolish
and shortsighted politician who felt secure with this victory.
In both of these states the most serious contender in recent
elections was a white former governor who publicly wel-
comed the Negro vote, shaped his policies to it and worked
with Negro political organizations in the campaign. This
change is itself a revolutionary event. This amazing transfor-
mation took place in one decade of struggle after ten decades
of virtually total disenfranchisement. The future shape of
Southern politics will never again operate without a strong
Even in Mississippi, where electoral advances are not yet
marked, a diƒerent form of change is manifest. When Ne-
groes decided to march for freedom across the state, they
boldly advanced to the capital itself, in a demonstration of
thirty thousand people. Ten years before, a Mississippi Ne-
gro would have submissively stepped to the gutter to leave
the sidewalk for a white man. Ten years before, to plan a
meeting, Negroes would have come together at night in the
martin luther king, jr.
A decade ago, not a single Negro entered the legislative
chambers of the South except as a porter or chauƒeur. Today
Ten years ago, Negroes seemed almost invisible to the
larger society, and the facts of their harsh lives were un-
known to the majority of the nation. Today civil rights is
a dominating issue in every state, crowding the pages of the
In this decade of change the Negro stood up and con-
fronted his oppressor—he faced the bullies and the guns, the
dogs and the tear gas, he put himself squarely before the
vicious mobs and moved with strength and dignity toward
For more than a century of slavery and another century
of segregation Negroes did not �nd mass unity nor could
they mount mass actions. The American brand of servitude
tore them apart and held them in paralyzed solitude. But
in the last decade Negroes united and marched. And out of
the new unity and action vast monuments of dignity were
For hundreds of years Negroes had fought to stay alive
by developing an endurance to hardship and heartbreak. In
this decade the Negro stepped into a new role. He no longer
would endure; he would resist and win. He still had the age-
old capacity to live in hunger and want, but now he banished
these as his lifelong companions. He could tolerate humilia-
tion and scorn, but now he armed himself with dignity and
For the �rst time in his history the Negro did not have
to use subterfuge as a defense, or solicit pity. His endurance
was not employed for compromise with evil but to supply
He came out of his struggle integrated only slightly in the
where do we go from here
external society but powerfully integrated within. This was
He made his government write new laws to alter some
of the cruelest injustices that aƒected him. He made an
indiƒerent and unconcerned nation rise from lethargy and
recognize his oppression and struggle with a newly aroused
conscience. He gained manhood in the nation that had al-
These were the values he won that enlivened hope even
while sluggish progress made no substantial changes in the
The great deal the Negro has won in spiritual under-
girding and the great deal he has not won in material prog-
ress indicate the strengths and weaknesses in the life of the
Negro in 1967. They also reveal that no matter how many
obstacles persist the Negro’s forward march can no longer
The �ght is far from over, because it is neither won, as
Negroes have irrevocably undermined the foundations
of Southern segregation; they have assembled the power
through self-organization and coalition to place their de-
mands on all signi�cant national agendas. And beyond this,
they have now accumulated the strength to change the qual-
ity and substance of their demands. From issues of personal
dignity they are now advancing to programs that impinge
upon the basic system of social and economic control. At
this level Negro programs go beyond race and deal with eco-
nomic inequality, wherever it exists. In the pursuit of these
goals, the white poor become involved, and the potentiality
Another momentous gain of the last decade is now being
taken for granted. Negroes forged their own tactical theory
martin luther king, jr.
of nonviolent direct action. It was born in Montgomery, Al-
abama, and for a time was considered of only limited appli-
cation. But as it inspired and informed far-�ung movements
that included sit-ins, boycotts and mass marches, it became
When legal contests were the sole form of activity, the
ordinary Negro was involved as a passive spectator. His in-
terest was stirred, but his energies were unemployed. Mass
marches transformed the common man into the star per-
former and engaged him in a total commitment. Yet nonvi-
olent resistance caused no explosions of anger—it instigated
no riots—it controlled anger and released it under discipline
for maximum eƒect. What lobbying and imploring could
not do in legislative halls, marching feet accomplished a
thousand miles away. When the Southern Christian Leader-
ship Conference went into Birmingham in 1963, it intended
to change that city. But the eƒect of its campaign was so
extensive that President Kennedy was forced to conclude
that national legislation was indispensable, and the �rst civil
rights bill with substance was enacted in 1964. Nonviolent
direct action had proved to be the most eƒective generator
of change that the movement had seen, and by 1965 all civil
In the past year nonviolent direct action has been pro-
nounced for the tenth time dead. New tactics have been
proposed to replace it. The Black Power slogan was de-
scribed as a doctrine that reached Negro hearts with so deep
an appeal that no alternative method could withstand its
magnetic force. Rioting was described as a new Negro form
of action that evoked results when disciplined demonstration
Yet Black Power has proved to be a slogan without a
program, and with an uncertain following. If it is true that
where do we go from here
the controversy is not yet resolved, it is also true that no
new alternatives to nonviolence within the movement have
found viable expression. Confusion has been created, but ex-
tensive despair and dissipation of �ghting strength have not
By 1967 the resounding shout of the Negro’s protest had
shattered the myth of his contentment. The courage with
which he confronted enraged mobs dissolved the stereo-
type of the grinning, submissive Uncle Tom. Indeed, by the
end of a turbulent decade there was a new quality to Ne-
gro life. The Negro was no longer a subject of change; he
was the active organ of change. He powered the drive. He
At the same time it had become clear that though white
opposition could be defeated it remained a formidable force
capable of hardening its resistance when the cost of change
The daily life of the Negro is still lived in the base-
ment of the Great Society. He is still at the bottom despite
the few who have penetrated to slightly higher levels. Even
where the door has been forced partially open, mobility for
the Negro is still sharply restricted. There is often no bottom
at which to start, and when there is, there is almost always
The Northern ghetto dweller still lives in a schizophrenic
social milieu. In the past decade he supported and derived
pride from Southern struggles and accomplishment. Yet the
civil rights revolution appeared to drain energy from the
North, energy that �owed South to transform life there
while stagnation blanketed Northern Negro communities.
This was a decade of role reversal. The North, hereto-
31
martin luther king, jr.
fore vital, languished, while the traditionally passive South
burst with dynamic vigor. The North at best stood still as the
Civil rights leaders had long thought the North would ben-
e�t derivatively from the Southern struggle. They assumed
that without massive upheavals certain systemic changes were
inevitable as the whole nation reexamined and searched its
conscience. This was a miscalculation. It was founded on the
belief that opposition in the North was not intransigent, that
it was �exible and was, if not fully, at least partially hospitable
to corrective in�uences. We forgot what we knew daily in
the South: freedom is not given, it is won. Concentration
of eƒort in the large Northern cities can no longer be post-
poned in favor of Southern campaigns. Both must now be
In assessing the results of the Negro revolution so far, it
can be concluded that Negroes have established a foothold,
no more. We have written a Declaration of Independence,
itself an accomplishment, but the eƒort to transform the
The hard truth is that neither Negro nor white has yet
done enough to expect the dawn of a new day. While much
has been done, it has been accomplished by too few and on a
scale too limited for the breadth of the goal. Freedom is not
won by a passive acceptance of suƒering. Freedom is won by
a struggle
suƒering. By this measure, Negroes have
not yet paid the full price for freedom. And whites have not
The brunt of the Negro’s past battles was borne by a very
small striking force. Though millions of Negroes were ar-
dent and passionate supporters, only a modest number were
actively engaged, and these were relatively too few for a
where do we go from here
broad war against racism, poverty and discrimination. Ne-
groes fought and won, but our engagements were skirmishes,
No great victories are won in a war for the transformation
of a whole people without total participation. Less than this
will not create a new society; it will only evoke more so-
phisticated token amelioration. The Negro has been wrong
to toy with the optimistic thought that the breakdown of
white resistance could be accomplished at small cost. He will
have to do more before his pressure crystallizes new white
principles and new responses. The two forces must continue
to collide as Negro aspirations burst against the ancient for-
This should not be construed as a prediction of violence.
On the one hand, there will certainly be new expressions
of nonviolent direct action on an enlarged scale. If one hun-
dred thousand Negroes march in a major city to a strate-
gic location, they will make municipal operations di¤cult
to conduct; they will exceed the capacity of even the most
reckless local government to use force against them; and they
will repeat this action daily if necessary. Without harming
persons or property they can draw as much attention to their
grievances as the outbreak at Watts, and they will have as-
serted their unwavering determination while retaining their
But on the other hand, it cannot be taken for granted
that Negroes will adhere to nonviolence under any and all
conditions. When there is rocklike intransigence or sophisti-
cated manipulation that mocks the empty-handed petitioner,
rage replaces reason. Nonviolence is a powerful demand for
reason and justice. If it is rudely rebuked, it is not trans-
formed into resignation and passivity. Southern segregation-
33
martin luther king, jr.
ists in many places yielded to it because they realized that the
alternatives could be intolerable. Northern white leadership
has relied too much on tokens and substitutes, and on Negro
patience. The end of this road is clearly in sight. The cohe-
sive, potentially explosive Negro community in the North
has a short fuse and a long train of abuses. Those who argue
that it is hazardous to give warnings, lest the expression of
apprehension lead to violence, are in error. Violence has al-
ready been practiced too often, and always because remedies
It is understandable that the white community should fear
the outbreak of riots. They are indefensible as weapons of
struggle, and Negroes must sympathize with whites who feel
menaced by them. Indeed, Negroes are themselves no less
menaced, and those living in the ghetto always suƒer most
Yet the average white person also has a responsibility. He
has to resist the impulse to seize upon the rioter as the ex-
clusive villain. He has to rise up with indignation against his
own municipal, state and national governments to demand
that the necessary reforms be instituted which alone will pro-
tect him. If he reserves his resentment only for the Negro, he
will be the victim by allowing those who have the greatest
Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors
of riot prevention. There is no other answer. Constructive
social change will bring certain tranquillity; evasions will
Negroes hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful
change. The other is in the hands of the white community.
Cmbdl!Qpxfs
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon on a
Monday in June 1966, and I was presiding over the
regular staƒ meeting of the Southern Christian Lead-
ership Conference in our Atlanta headquarters. When we
heard that Meredith had been shot in the back only a day
after he had begun his Freedom March through Mississippi,
there was a momentary hush of anger and dismay through-
the early reports announced that Meredith was dead. Soon
the silence was broken, and from every corner of the room
came expressions of outrage. The business of the meeting
was forgotten in the shock of this latest evidence that a Ne-
gro’s life is still worthless in many parts of his own country.
When order was �nally restored, our executive staƒ im-
mediately agreed that the march must continue. After all,
we reasoned, Meredith had begun his lonely journey as a
pilgrimage against fear. Wouldn’t failure to continue only
intensify the fears of the oppressed and deprived Negroes of
Mississippi? Would this not be a setback for the whole civil
After several calls between Atlanta and Memphis, we
martin luther king, jr.
learned that the earlier reports of Meredith’s death were false
and that he would recover. This news brought relief, but it
did not alter our feeling that the civil rights movement had
a moral obligation to continue along the path that Meredith
The next morning I was oƒ to Memphis along with sev-
eral members of my staƒ. Floyd McKissick, national director
of CORE [Congress of Racial Equality], �ew in from New
York and joined us on the �ight from Atlanta to Memphis.
After landing we went directly to the Municipal Hospital to
visit Meredith. We were happy to �nd him resting well. Af-
ter expressing our sympathy and gratitude for his courageous
witness, Floyd and I shared our conviction with him that the
march should continue in order to demonstrate to the nation
and the world that Negroes would never again be intimi-
dated by the terror of extremist white violence. Realizing
that Meredith was often a loner and that he probably wanted
to continue the march without a large group, we felt that it
would take a great deal of persuasion to convince him that
the issue involved the whole civil rights movement. Fortu-
nately, he soon saw this and agreed that we should continue
without him. We spent some time discussing the character
and logistics of the march, and agreed that we would consult
As we prepared to leave, the nurse came to the door and
said, “Mr. Meredith, there is a Mr. Carmichael in the lobby
who would like to see you and Dr. King. Should I give him
permission to come in?” Meredith consented. Stokely Car-
michael entered with his associate, Cleveland Sellers, and im-
mediately reached out for Meredith’s hand. He expressed his
concern and admiration and brought messages of sympathy
from his colleagues in the Student Nonviolent Coordinat-
ing Committee. After a brief conversation we all agreed that
where do we go from here
James should get some rest and that we should not burden
him with any additional talk. We left the room assuring him
that we would conduct the march in his spirit and would
seek as never before to expose the ugly racism that pervaded
Mississippi and to arouse a new sense of dignity and man-
hood in every Negro who inhabited that bastion of man’s
In a brief conference Floyd, Stokely and I agreed that
the march would be jointly sponsored by CORE, SNCC
[Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] and SCLC
[Southern Christian Leadership Conference], with the un-
derstanding that all other civil rights organizations would be
invited to join. It was also agreed that we would issue a na-
One hour later, after making staƒ assignments and setting
up headquarters at the Rev. James Lawson’s church in Mem-
phis, a group of us packed into four automobiles and made
our way to that desolate spot on Highway 51 where James
Meredith had been shot the day before. So began the second
As we walked down the meandering highway in the
sweltering heat, there was much talk and many questions
“I’m not for that nonviolence stuƒ any more,” shouted
“If one of these damn white Mississippi crackers touches
me, I’m gonna knock the hell out of him,” shouted an-
Later on a discussion of the composition of the march
“This should be an all-black march,” said one marcher.
“We don’t need any more white phonies and liberals invad-
martin luther king, jr.
Once during the afternoon we stopped to sing “We Shall
Overcome.” The voices rang out with all the traditional fer-
vor, the glad thunder and gentle strength that had always
characterized the singing of this noble song. But when we
came to the stanza which speaks of “black and white to-
gether,” the voices of a few of the marchers were muted.
I asked them later why they refused to sing that verse. The
“This is a new day, we don’t sing those words any more.
In fact, the whole song should be discarded. Not ‘We Shall
As I listened to all these comments, the words fell on
my ears like strange music from a foreign land. My hearing
was not attuned to the sound of such bitterness. I guess I
should not have been surprised. I should have known that
in an atmosphere where false promises are daily realities,
where deferred dreams are nightly facts, where acts of un-
punished violence toward Negroes are a way of life, non-
violence would eventually be seriously questioned. I should
have been reminded that disappointment produces despair
and despair produces bitterness, and that the one thing cer-
tain about bitterness is its blindness. Bitterness has not the ca-
pacity to make the distinction between some and
some members of the dominant group, particularly those in
power, are racist in attitude and practice, bitterness accuses
At the end of the march that �rst day we all went back
to Memphis and spent the night in a Negro motel, since
we had not yet secured the tents that would serve as shelter
each of the following nights on our journey. The discus-
sion continued at the motel. I decided that I would plead
patiently with my brothers to remain true to the time-hon-
ored principles of our movement. I began with a plea for
where do we go from here
nonviolence. This immediately aroused some of our friends
from the Deacons for Defense, who contended that self-de-
fense was essential and that therefore nonviolence should not
be a prerequisite for participation in the march. They were
joined in this view by some of the activists from CORE and
I tried to make it clear that besides opposing violence on
principle, I could imagine nothing more impractical and di-
sastrous than for any of us, through misguided judgment,
to precipitate a violent confrontation in Mississippi. We had
neither the resources nor the techniques to win. Further-
more, I asserted, many Mississippi whites, from the govern-
ment on down, would enjoy nothing more than for us to
turn to violence in order to use this as an excuse to wipe
out scores of Negroes in and out of the march. Finally, I
contended that the debate over the question of self-defense
was unnecessary since few people suggested that Negroes
should not defend themselves as individuals when attacked.
The question was not whether one should use his gun when
his home was attacked, but whether it was tactically wise to
use a gun while participating in an organized demonstration.
If they lowered the banner of nonviolence, I said, Mississippi
injustice would not be exposed and the moral issues would
Next the question of the participation of whites was raised.
Stokely Carmichael contended that the inclusion of whites
in the march should be de-emphasized and that the domi-
nant appeal should be made for black participation. Others
in the room agreed. As I listened to Stokely, I thought about
the years that we had worked together in communities all
across the South, and how joyously we had then welcomed
and accepted our white allies in the movement. What ac-
39
martin luther king, jr.
I surmised that much of the change had its psychological
roots in the experience of SNCC in Mississippi during the
summer of 1964, when a large number of Northern white
students had come down to help in that racially torn state.
What the SNCC workers saw was the most articulate, pow-
erful and self-assured young white people coming to work
with the poorest of the Negro people—and simply over-
whelming them. That summer Stokely and others in SNCC
had probably unconsciously concluded that this was no good
for Negroes, for it simply increased their sense of their own
inadequacies. Of course, the answer to this dilemma was not
to give up, not to conclude that blacks must work with blacks
in order for Negroes to gain a sense of their own meaning.
The answer was only to be found in persistent trying, per-
Like life, racial understanding is not something that we
�nd but something that we must create. What we �nd when
we enter these mortal plains is existence; but existence is the
raw material out of which all life must be created. A pro-
ductive and happy life is not something that you �nd; it
is something that you make. And so the ability of Negroes
and whites to work together, to understand each other, will
not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of
Along these lines, I implored everyone in the room to
see the morality of making the march completely interra-
cial. Consciences must be enlisted in our movement, I said,
not merely racial groups. I reminded them of the dedicated
whites who had suƒered, bled and died in the cause of racial
justice, and suggested that to reject white participation now
would be a shameful repudiation of all for which they had
where do we go from here
Finally, I said that the formidable foe we now faced de-
manded more unity than ever before and that I would stretch
every point to maintain this unity, but that I could not in
good conscience agree to continue my personal involve-
ment and that of SCLC in the march if it were not publicly
a¤rmed that it was based on nonviolence and the partici-
pation of both black and white. After a few more minutes
of discussion Floyd and Stokely agreed that we could unite
around these principles as far as the march was concerned.
The next morning we had a joint press conference a¤rming
that the march was nonviolent and that whites were wel-
As the days progressed, debates and discussions contin-
ued, but they were usually pushed to the background by the
onrush of enthusiasm engendered by the large crowds that
turned out to greet us in every town. We had been march-
ing for about ten days when we passed through Grenada on
the way to Greenwood. Stokely did not conceal his growing
eagerness to reach Greenwood. This was SNCC territory,
in the sense that the organization had worked courageously
As we approached the city, large crowds of old friends
and new turned out to welcome us. At a huge mass meeting
that night, which was held in a city park, Stokely mounted
the platform and after arousing the audience with a powerful
attack on Mississippi justice, he proclaimed: “What we need
is black power.” Willie Ricks, the �ery orator of SNCC,
leaped to the platform and shouted, “What do you want?”
The crowd roared, “Black Power.” Again and again Ricks
cried, “What do you want?” and the response “Black Power”
So Greenwood turned out to be the arena for the birth
martin luther king, jr.
of the Black Power slogan in the civil rights movement. The
phrase had been used long before by Richard Wright and
others, but never until that night had it been used as a slo-
gan in the civil rights movement. For people who had been
crushed so long by white power and who had been taught
Immediately, however, I had reservations about its use.
I had the deep feeling that it was an unfortunate choice of
words for a slogan. Moreover, I saw it bringing about divi-
sion within the ranks of the marchers. For a day or two there
was �erce competition between those who were wedded to
the Black Power slogan and those wedded to Freedom Now.
Speakers on each side sought desperately to get the crowds to
Sensing this widening split in our ranks, I asked Stokely
and Floyd to join me in a frank discussion of the problem.
We met the next morning, along with members of each of
our staƒs, in a small Catholic parish house in Yazoo City.
For �ve long hours I pleaded with the group to abandon
the Black Power slogan. It was my contention that a leader
has to be concerned about the problem of semantics. Each
word, I said, has a denotative meaning—its explicit and rec-
ognized sense—and a connotative meaning—its suggestive
sense. While the concept of legitimate Black Power might
be denotatively sound, the slogan “Black Power” carried the
wrong connotations. I mentioned the implications of vio-
lence that the press had already attached to the phrase. And
I went on to say that some of the rash statements on the part
Stokely replied by saying that the question of violence
versus nonviolence was irrelevant. The real question was the
need for black people to consolidate their political and eco-
where do we go from here
nomic resources to achieve power. “Power,” he said, “is
the only thing respected in this world, and we must get it
at any cost.” Then he looked me squarely in the eye and
said, “Martin, you know as
well as I do that practically every
other ethnic group in America has done just this. The Jews,
“That is just the point,” I answered. “No one has ever
heard the Jews publicly chant a slogan of Jewish power, but
they have power. Through group unity, determination and
creative endeavor, they have gained it. The same thing is true
of the Irish and Italians. Neither group has used a slogan of
Irish or Italian power, but they have worked hard to achieve
it. This is exactly what we must do,” I said. “We must use
every constructive means to amass economic and political
power. This is the kind of legitimate power we need. We
must work to build racial pride and refute the notion that
black is evil and ugly. But this must come through a pro-
Stokely and Floyd insisted that the slogan itself was im-
portant. “How can you arouse people to unite around a pro-
gram without a slogan as a rallying cry? Didn’t the labor
movement have slogans? Haven’t we had slogans all along in
the freedom movement? What we need is a new slogan with
I conceded the fact that we must have slogans. But why
have one that would confuse our allies, isolate the Negro
community and give many prejudiced whites, who might
otherwise be ashamed of their anti-Negro feeling, a ready
“Why not use the slogan ‘black consciousness’ or ‘black
equality’?” I suggested. “These phrases would be less vulner-
able and would more accurately describe what we are about.
martin luther king, jr.
The words ‘black’ and ‘power’ together give the impression
that we are talking about black domination rather than black
Stokely responded that neither would have the ready ap-
peal and persuasive force of Black Power. Throughout the
lengthy discussion, Stokely and Floyd remained adamant,
and Stokely concluded by saying, with candor, “Martin, I
deliberately decided to raise this issue on the march in order
to give it a national forum, and force you to take a stand for
I laughed. “I have been used before,” I said to Stokely.
The meeting ended with the SCLC staƒ members still
agreeing with me that the slogan was unfortunate and would
only divert attention from the evils of Mississippi, while most
CORE and SNCC staƒ members joined Stokely and Floyd
in insisting that it should be projected nationally. In a �nal
attempt to maintain unity I suggested that we compromise
by not chanting either “Black Power” or “Freedom Now”
for the rest of the march. In this way neither the people nor
the press would be confused by the apparent con�ict, and
staƒ members would not appear to be at loggerheads. They
But while the chant died out, the press kept the debate
going. News stories now centered, not on the injustices of
Mississippi, but on the apparent ideological division in the
civil rights movement. Every revolutionary movement has
its peaks of united activity and its valleys of debate and in-
ternal confusion. This debate might well have been little
more than a healthy internal diƒerence of opinion, but the
press loves the sensational and it could not allow the issue
to remain within the private domain of the movement. In
where do we go from here
every drama there has to be an antagonist and a protago-
nist, and if the antagonist is not there the press will �nd and
So Black Power is now a part of the nomenclature of the
national community. To some it is abhorrent, to others dy-
namic; to some it is repugnant, to others exhilarating; to some
it is destructive, to others it is useful. Since Black Power
means diƒerent things to diƒerent people and indeed, being
essentially an emotional concept, can mean diƒerent things
to the same person on diƒering occasions, it is impossible to
attribute its ultimate meaning to any single individual or
organization. One must look beyond personal styles, ver-
bal �ourishes and the hysteria of the mass media to assess its
First, it is necessary to understand that Black Power is
a cry of disappointment. The Black Power slogan did not
spring full grown from the head of some philosophical Zeus.
It was born from the wounds of despair and disappoint-
ment. It is a cry of daily hurt and persistent pain. For cen-
turies the Negro has been caught in the tentacles of white
jority because “white power” with total control has left them
empty-handed. So in reality the call for Black Power is a
It is no accident that the birth of this slogan in the civil
rights movement took place in Mississippi—the state symbol-
izing the most blatant abuse of white power. In Mississippi
the murder of civil rights workers is still a popular pastime.
In that state more than forty Negroes and whites have either
been lynched or murdered over the last three years, and not
martin luther king, jr.
a single man has been punished for these crimes. More than
�fty Negro churches have been burned or bombed in Mis-
sissippi in the last two years, yet the bombers still walk the
streets surrounded by the halo of adoration.
This is white
Many of the young people proclaiming Black Power
today were but yesterday the devotees of black-white co-
operation and nonviolent direct action. With great sacri�ce
and dedication and a radiant faith in the future they labored
courageously in the rural areas of the South; with idealism
they accepted blows without retaliating; with dignity they
allowed themselves to be plunged into �lthy, stinking jail
cells; with a majestic scorn for risk and danger they nonvio-
lently confronted the Jim Clarks and the Bull Connors of the
South, and exposed the disease of racism in the body politic.
If they are America’s angry children today, this anger is not
congenital. It is a response to the feeling that a real solution
is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance
and faintheartedness of those in power. If Stokely Carmichael
now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a
dedicated veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes
the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white
Their frustration is further fed by the fact that even when
blacks and whites die together in the cause of justice, the
death of the white person gets more attention and concern
than the death of the black person. Stokely and his colleagues
from SNCC were with us in Alabama when Jimmy Lee Jack-
son, a brave young Negro man, was killed and when James
Reeb, a committed Unitarian white minister, was fatally
clubbed to the ground. They remembered how President
Johnson sent �owers to the gallant Mrs. Reeb, and in his elo-
quent “We Shall Overcome” speech paused to mention that
where do we go from here
46
one person, James Reeb, had already died in the struggle.
Somehow the President forgot to mention Jimmy, who died
�rst. The parents and sister of Jimmy received no �owers
from the President. The students felt this keenly. Not that
they felt that the death of James Reeb was less than tragic,
but because they felt that the failure to mention Jimmy Jack-
son only reinforced the impression that to white America the
There is also great disappointment with the federal gov-
ernment and its timidity in implementing the civil rights laws
on its statute books. The gap between promise and ful�ll-
ment is distressingly wide. Millions of Negroes are frustrated
and angered because extravagant promises made little more
than a year ago are a mockery today. When the 1965 Vot-
ing Rights Law was signed, it was proclaimed as the dawn
of freedom and the open door to opportunity. What was
minimally required under the law was the appointment of
hundreds of registrars and thousands of federal marshals to
inhibit Southern terror. Instead, fewer than sixty registrars
were appointed and not a single federal law o¤cer capable
of making arrests was sent into the South. As a consequence
the old way of life—economic coercion, terrorism, murder
and inhuman contempt—has continued unabated. This gulf
between the laws and their enforcement is one of the basic
reasons why Black Power advocates express contempt for the
The disappointment mounts as they turn their eyes to the
North. In the Northern ghettos, unemployment, housing
discrimination and slum schools mock the Negro who tries
to hope. There have been accomplishments and some mate-
rial gain, but these beginnings have revealed how far we have
yet to go. The economic plight of the masses of Negroes has
worsened. The gap between the wages of the Negro worker
martin luther king, jr.
and those of the white worker has widened. Slums are
worse and Negroes attend more thoroughly segregated
The Black Power advocates are disenchanted with the in-
consistencies in the militaristic posture of our government.
Over the last decade they have seen America applauding
nonviolence whenever the Negroes have practiced it. They
have watched it being praised in the sit-in movements of
1960, in the Freedom Rides of 1961, in the Albany move-
ment of 1962, in the Birmingham movement of 1963 and
in the Selma movement of 1965. But then these same black
young men and women have watched as America sends
black young men to burn Vietnamese with napalm, to slaugh
ter men, women and children; and they wonder what kind
of nation it is that applauds nonviolence whenever Negroes
face white people in the streets of the United States but then
applauds violence and burning and death when these same
All of this represents disappointment lifted to astronom-
ical proportions. It is disappointment with timid white
moderates who feel that they can set the timetable for the
Negro’s freedom. It is disappointment with a federal admin-
istration that seems to be more concerned about winning an
ill-considered war in Vietnam than about winning the war
against poverty here at home. It is disappointment with white
legislators who pass laws on behalf of Negro rights that they
never intended to implement. It is disappointment with the
Christian church that appears to be more white than Chris-
tian, and with many white clergymen who prefer to remain
silent behind the security of stained-glass windows. It is dis-
appointment with some Negro clergymen who are more
concerned about the size of the wheel base on their auto-
mobiles than about the quality of their service to the Ne-
where do we go from here
gro community. It is disappointment with the Negro middle
class that has sailed or struggled out of the muddy ponds into
the relatively fresh-�owing waters of the mainstream, and in
the process has forgotten the stench of the backwaters where
Second, Black Power, in its broad and positive meaning,
is a call to black people to amass the political and economic
strength to achieve their legitimate goals. No one can deny
that the Negro is in dire need of this kind of legitimate
power. Indeed, one of the great problems that the Negro
confronts is his lack of power. From the old plantations of
the South to the newer ghettos of the North, the Negro
has been con�ned to a life of voicelessness and powerless-
ness. Stripped of the right to make decisions concerning his
life and destiny, he has been subject to the authoritarian and
sometimes whimsical decisions of the white power structure.
The plantation and the ghetto were created by those who
had power both to con�ne those who had no power and to
perpetuate their powerlessness. The problem of transforming
the ghetto is, therefore, a problem of power—a confronta-
tion between the forces of power demanding change and the
Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve pur-
pose. It is the strength required to bring about social, po-
litical or economic changes. In this sense power is not only
desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands
of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history
as polar opposites. Love is identi�ed with a resignation of
power and power with a denial of love. It was this misin-
terpretation that caused Nietzsche, the philosopher of the
“will to power,” to reject the Christian concept of love.
It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian
49
martin luther king, jr.
theologians to reject Nietzsche’s philosophy of the “will to
power” in the name of the Christian idea of love. What is
needed is a realization that power without love is reckless
and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and
anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands
of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that
There is nothing essentially wrong with power. The
problem is that in America power is unequally distributed.
This has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals
through love and moral suasion devoid of power and white
Americans to seek their goals through power devoid of love
and conscience. It is leading a few extremists today to ad-
vocate for Negroes the same destructive and conscienceless
power that they have justly abhorred in whites. It is precisely
this collision of immoral power with powerless morality
In his struggle for racial justice, the Negro must seek to
transform his condition of powerlessness into creative and
positive power. One of the most obvious sources of this
power is political. In
Xiz!Xf!Dbo(u!Xbju
I wrote at length
of the need for Negroes to unite for political action in order
to compel the majority to listen. I urged the development of
political awareness and strength in the Negro community,
the election of blacks to key positions, and the use of the
bloc vote to liberalize the political climate and achieve our
just aspirations for freedom and human dignity. To the ex-
tent that Black Power advocates these goals, it is a positive
and legitimate call to action that we in the civil rights move-
ment have sought to follow all along and which we must
Black Power is also a call for the pooling of black �nancial
where do we go from here
resources to achieve economic security. While the ultimate
answer to the Negroes’ economic dilemma will be found in
a massive federal program for all the poor along the lines of
A. Philip Randolph’s Freedom Budget, a kind of Marshall
Plan for the disadvantaged, there is something that the Ne-
gro himself can do to throw oƒ the shackles of poverty. Al-
though the Negro is still at the bottom of the economic
ladder, his collective annual income is upwards of $30 bil-
lion. This gives him a considerable buying power that can
make the diƒerence between pro�t and loss in many busi-
Through the pooling of such resources and the develop-
ment of habits of thrift and techniques of wise investment, the
Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of
economic deprivation. If Black Power means the develop-
ment of this kind of strength within the Negro community,
Finally, Black Power is a psychological call to manhood.
For years the Negro has been taught that he is nobody, that
his color is a sign of his biological depravity, that his being has
been stamped with an indelible imprint of inferiority, that his
whole history has been soiled with the �lth of worthlessness.
All too few people realize how slavery and racial segregation
have scarred the soul and wounded the spirit of the black
man. The whole dirty business of slavery was based on the
premise that the Negro was a thing to be used, not a person
The historian Kenneth Stampp, in his remarkable book
Uif!Qfdvmjbs!Jotujuvujpo-
has a fascinating section on the psy-
chological indoctrination that was necessary from the mas-
ter’s viewpoint to make a good slave. He gathered the
material for this section primarily from the manuals and
martin luther king, jr.
other documents which were produced by slaveowners on
the subject of training slaves. Stampp notes �ve recurring
First, those who managed the slaves had to maintain strict
discipline. One master said, “Unconditional submission is
the only footing upon which slavery should be placed.”
Another said, “The slave must know that his master is to
govern absolutely and he is to obey implicitly, that he is
never, for a moment, to exercise either his will or judgment
in opposition to a positive order.” Second, the masters felt
that they had to implant in the bondsman a consciousness of
personal inferiority. This sense of inferiority was deliberately
extended to his past. The slaveowners were convinced that
in order to control the Negroes, the slaves “had to feel that
African ancestry tainted them, that their color was a badge of
degradation.” The third step in the training process was to
awe the slaves with a sense of the masters’ enormous power.
It was necessary, various owners said, “to make them stand
in fear.” The fourth aspect was the attempt to “persuade the
bondsman to take an interest in the master’s enterprise and
to accept his standards of good conduct.” Thus the master’s
criteria of what was good and true and beautiful were to be
accepted unquestioningly by the slaves. The �nal step, ac-
cording to Stampp’s documents, was “to impress Negroes
with their helplessness: to create in them a habit of perfect
Here, then, was the way to produce a perfect slave. Ac-
custom him to rigid discipline, demand from him uncon-
ditional submission, impress upon him a sense of his innate
inferiority, develop in him a paralyzing fear of white men,
train him to adopt the master’s code of good behavior, and
Out of the soil of slavery came the psychological roots of
where do we go from here
the Black Power cry. Anyone familiar with the Black Power
movement recognizes that de�ance of white authority and
white power is a constant theme; the de�ance almost be-
comes a kind of taunt. Underneath it, however, there is a
legitimate concern that the Negro break away from “uncon-
Another obvious reaction of Black Power to the Ameri-
can system of slavery is the determination to glory in black-
ness and to resurrect joyously the African past. In response
to the emphasis on their masters’ “enormous power,” Black
Power advocates contend that the Negro must develop his
own sense of strength. No longer are “fear, awe and obedi-
ence” to rule. This accounts for, though it does not justify,
some Black Power advocates who encourage contempt and
even uncivil disobedience as alternatives to the old patterns
of slavery. Black Power assumes that Negroes will be slaves
unless there is a new power to counter the force of the men
who are still determined to be masters rather than brothers.
It is in the context of the slave tradition that some of the
ideologues of the Black Power movement call for the need
to develop new and indigenous codes of justice for the ghet-
tos, so that blacks may move entirely away from their former
masters’ “standards of good conduct.” Those in the Black
Power movement who contend that blacks should cut them-
selves oƒ from every level of dependence upon whites for
advice, money or other help are obviously reacting against
Black Power is a psychological reaction to the psycho-
logical indoctrination that led to the creation of the perfect
slave. While this reaction has often led to negative and unre-
alistic responses and has frequently brought about intemper-
ate words and actions, one must not overlook the positive
value in calling the Negro to a new sense of manhood, to
53
martin luther king, jr.
a deep feeling of racial pride and to an audacious apprecia-
tion of his heritage. The Negro must be grasped by a new
realization of his dignity and worth. He must stand up amid
a system that still oppresses him and develop an unassailable
and majestic sense of his own value. He must no longer be
The job of arousing manhood within a people that have
been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not
easy. Even semantics have conspired to make that which is
black seem ugly and degrading. In
Sphfu(t!Uiftbvsvt
there are
some 120 synonyms for “blackness” and at least 60 of them
are oƒensive—such words as “blot,” “soot,” “grime,” “devil”
and “foul.” There are some 134 synonyms for “whiteness,”
and all are favorable, expressed in such words as “purity,”
“cleanliness,” “chastity” and “innocence.” A white lie is bet-
ter than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family
is the “black sheep,” not the “white sheep.” Ossie Davis has
suggested that maybe the English language should be “re-
constructed” so that teachers will not be forced to teach the
Negro child 60 ways to despise himself and thereby perpetu-
ate his false sense of inferiority and the white child 134 ways
to adore himself and thereby perpetuate his false sense of
The history books, which have almost completely ignored
the contribution of the Negro in American history, have only
served to intensify the Negroes’ sense of worthlessness and to
augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy. All
too many Negroes and whites are unaware of the fact that
the �rst American to shed blood in the revolution which
freed this country from British oppression was a black sea-
man named Crispus Attucks. Negroes and whites are almost
totally oblivious of the fact that it was a Negro physician,
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the �rst successful
where do we go from here
operation on the heart in America, and that another Negro
veloping the method of separating blood plasma and storing
it on a large scale, a process that saved thousands of lives in
World War II and has made possible many of the important
advances in postwar medicine. History books have virtually
overlooked the many Negro scientists and inventors who
have enriched American life. Although a few refer to George
Washington Carver, whose research in agricultural products
helped to revive the economy of the South when the throne
of King Cotton began to totter, they ignore the contribu-
tion of Norbert Rillieux, whose invention of an evaporating
pan revolutionized the process of sugar re�ning. How many
people know that the multimillion-dollar United Shoe Ma-
chinery Company developed from the shoe-lasting machine
invented in the last century by a Negro from Dutch Guiana,
Jan Matzeliger; or that Granville T. Woods, an expert in
electric motors, whose many patents speeded the growth and
improvement of the railroads at the beginning of this cen-
Even the Negroes’ contribution to the music of America
is sometimes overlooked in astonishing ways. Two years ago
my oldest son and daughter entered an integrated school in
Atlanta. A few months later my wife and I were invited to
attend a program entitled “Music That Has Made America
Great.” As the evening unfolded, we listened to the folk
songs and melodies of the various immigrant groups. We
were certain that the program would end with the most
original of all American music, the Negro spiritual. But we
were mistaken. Instead, all the students, including our chil-
As we rose to leave the hall, my wife and I looked at each
other with a combination of indignation and amazement.
martin luther king, jr.
All the students, black and white, all the parents present that
night, and all the faculty members had been victimized by
just another expression of America’s penchant for ignoring
the Negro, making him invisible and making his contri-
butions insigni�cant. I wept within that night. I wept for
my children and all black children who have been denied a
knowledge of their heritage; I wept for all white children,
who, through daily miseducation, are taught that the Negro
is an irrelevant entity in American society; I wept for all the
white parents and teachers who are forced to overlook the
fact that the wealth of cultural and technological progress
in America is a result of the commonwealth of inpouring
The tendency to ignore the Negro’s contribution to
American life and strip him of his personhood is as old as the
earliest history books and as contemporary as the morning’s
newspaper. To oƒset this cultural homicide, the Negro must
rise up with an a¤rmation of his own Olympian manhood.
Any movement for the Negro’s freedom that overlooks this
necessity is only waiting to be buried. As long as the mind
is enslaved the body can never be free. Psychological free-
dom, a �rm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful
weapon against the long night of physical slavery. No Lin-
colnian Emancipation Proclamation or Kennedyan or John-
sonian civil rights bill can totally bring this kind of freedom.
The Negro will only be truly free when he reaches down
to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen
and ink of assertive selfhood his own emancipation procla-
mation. With a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the
Negro must boldly throw oƒ the manacles of self-abnegation
and say to himself and the world: “I am somebody. I am a
person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich
and noble history, however painful and exploited that his-
where do we go from here
tory has been. I am black
comely.” This self-a¤rmation
is the black man’s need made compelling by the white man’s
crimes against him. This is positive and necessary power for
Nevertheless, in spite of the positive aspects of Black Power,
which are compatible with what we have sought to do in the
civil rights movement all along without the slogan, its nega-
tive values, I believe, prevent it from having the substance
Beneath all the satisfaction of a gratifying slogan, Black
Power is a nihilistic philosophy born out of the conviction
that the Negro can’t win. It is, at bottom, the view that
American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed
in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within.
Although this thinking is understandable as a response to a
white power structure that never completely committed it-
self to true equality for the Negro, and a die-hard mentality
that sought to shut all windows and doors against the winds
of change, it nonetheless carries the seeds of its own doom.
Before this century, virtually all revolutions had been
based on hope and hate. The hope was expressed in the ris-
ing expectation of freedom and justice. The hate was an
expression of bitterness toward the perpetrators of the old
order. It was the hate that made revolutions bloody and vio-
India was that he mounted a revolution on hope and love,
hope and nonviolence. This same new emphasis character-
ized the civil rights movement in our country dating from
the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 to the Selma move-
ment of 1965. We maintained the hope while transforming
martin luther king, jr.
the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent
power. As long as the hope was ful�lled there was little ques-
tioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted,
when people came to see that in spite of progress their con-
ditions were still insuƒerable, when they looked out and saw
more poverty, more school segregation and more slums, de-
Unfortunately, when hope diminishes, the hate is often
turned most bitterly toward those who originally built up the
hope. In all the speaking that I have done in the United States
before varied audiences, including some hostile whites, the
only time that I have been booed was one night in a Chicago
mass meeting by some young members of the Black Power
movement. I went home that night with an ugly feeling.
Sel�shly I thought of my suƒerings and sacri�ces over the
last twelve years. Why would they boo one so close to them?
But as I lay awake thinking, I �nally came to myself, and I
could not for the life of me have less than patience and un-
derstanding for those young people. For twelve years I, and
others like me, had held out radiant promises of progress. I
had preached to them about my dream. I had lectured to
them about the not too distant day when they would have
freedom, “all, here and now.” I had urged them to have faith
in America and in white society. Their hopes had soared.
They were now booing because they felt that we were un-
able to deliver on our promises. They were booing because
we had urged them to have faith in people who had too of-
ten proved to be unfaithful. They were now hostile because
they were watching the dream that they had so readily ac-
But revolution, though born of despair, cannot long be
sustained by despair. This is the ultimate contradiction of the
Black Power movement. It claims to be the most revolution-
where do we go from here
58
ary wing of the social revolution taking place in the United
States. Yet it rejects the one thing that keeps the �re of
revolutions burning: the ever-present �ame of hope. When
hope dies, a revolution degenerates into an undiscriminat-
ing catchall for evanescent and futile gestures. The Negro
cannot entrust his destiny to a philosophy nourished solely
on despair, to a slogan that cannot be implemented into a
The Negro’s disappointment is real and a part of the daily
menu of our lives. One of the most agonizing problems of
human experience is how to deal with disappointment. In
our individual lives we all too often distill our frustrations
into an essence of bitterness, or drown ourselves in the deep
waters of self-pity, or adopt a fatalistic philosophy that what-
ever happens must happen and all events are determined by
necessity. These reactions poison the soul and scar the per-
sonality, always harming the person who harbors them more
than anyone else. The only healthy answer lies in one’s hon-
est recognition of disappointment even as he still clings to
hope, one’s acceptance of �nite disappointment even while
We Negroes, who have dreamed for so long of freedom,
are still con�ned in a prison of segregation and discrimina-
tion. Must we respond with bitterness and cynicism? Cer-
tainly not, for this can lead to black anger so desperate that it
ends in black suicide. Must we turn inward in self-pity? Of
course not, for this can lead to a self-defeating black para-
noia. Must we conclude that we cannot win? Certainly not,
for this will lead to a black nihilism that seeks disruption for
disruption’s sake. Must we, by fatalistically concluding that
segregation is a foreordained pattern of the universe, resign
ourselves to oppression? Of course not, for passively to co-
operate with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil
martin luther king, jr.
as the oppressors. Our most fruitful course is to stand �rm,
move forward nonviolently, accept disappointments and
cling to hope. Our determined refusal not to be stopped will
eventually open the door to ful�llment. By recognizing the
necessity of suƒering in a righteous cause, we may achieve
our humanity’s full stature. To guard ourselves from bitter-
ness, we need the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals
the opportunity to trans�gure both ourselves and American
In 1956 I �ew from New York to London in the pro-
peller-type aircraft that required nine and a half hours for
a �ight now made in six hours by jet. Returning from Lon-
don to the United States, the stewardess announced that the
�ying time would be twelve and a half hours. The distance
was the same. Why an additional three hours? When the
pilot entered the cabin to greet the passengers, I asked him
“You must understand about the winds,” he said. “When
we leave New York, a strong tail wind is in our favor, but
when we return, a strong head wind is against us.” Then he
added, “Don’t worry. These four engines are capable of bat-
In any social revolution there are times when the tail
winds of triumph and ful�llment favor us, and other times
when strong head winds of disappointment and setbacks beat
against us relentlessly. We must not permit adverse winds to
overwhelm us as we journey across life’s mighty Atlantic; we
must be sustained by our engines of courage in spite of the
winds. This refusal to be stopped, this “courage to be,” this
determination to go on “in spite of” is the hallmark of any
The Black Power movement of today, like the Garvey
“Back to Africa” movement of the 1920s, represents a dash-
where do we go from here
ing of hope, a conviction of the inability of the Negro to
win and a belief in the in�nitude of the ghetto. While there
is much grounding in past experience for all these feelings, a
revolution cannot succumb to any of them. Today’s despair
Black Power is an implicit and often explicit belief in
black separatism. Notice that I do not call it black racism. It
is inaccurate to refer to Black Power as racism in reverse, as
some have recently done. Racism is a doctrine of the con-
genital inferiority and worthlessness of a people. While a few
angry proponents of Black Power have, in moments of bit-
terness, made wild statements that come close to this kind
of racism, the major proponents of Black Power have never
Yet behind Black Power’s legitimate and necessary con-
cern for group unity and black identity lies the belief that
there can be a separate black road to power and ful�llment.
Few ideas are more unrealistic. There is no salvation for the
One of the chief a¤rmations of Black Power is the call
for the mobilization of political strength for black people.
But we do not have to look far to see that eƒective politi-
cal power for Negroes cannot come through separatism.
Granted that there are cities and counties in the coun-
try where the Negro is in a majority, they are so few that
concentration on them alone would still leave the vast ma-
jority of Negroes outside the mainstream of American politi-
Out of the eighty-odd counties in Alabama, the state
where SNCC sought to develop an all-black party, only nine
have a majority of Negroes. Even if blacks could control
each of these counties, they would have little in�uence in
over-all state politics and could do little to improve condi-
martin luther king, jr.
tions in the major Negro population centers of Birmingham,
Mobile and Montgomery. There are still relatively few con-
gressional districts in the South that have such large black
majorities that Negro candidates could be elected without
the aid of whites. Is it a sounder program to concentrate on
the election of two or three Negro congressmen from pre-
dominantly Negro districts or to concentrate on the election
of �fteen or twenty Negro congressmen from Southern dis-
tricts where a coalition of Negro and white moderate voters
Moreover, any program that elects all black candidates sim-
ply because they are black and rejects all white candidates
simply because they are white is politically unsound and mor-
ally unjusti�able. It is true that in many areas of the South
Negroes still must elect Negroes in order to be eƒectively
represented. SNCC staƒ members are eminently correct
when they point out that in Lowndes County, Alabama,
there are no white liberals or moderates and no possibility for
cooperation between the races at the present time. But the
Lowndes County experience cannot be made a measuring
rod for the whole of America. The basic thing in determin-
Black Power alone is no more insurance against social
injustice than white power. Negro politicians can be as op-
portunistic as their white counterparts if there is not an
informed and determined constituency demanding social re-
form. What is most needed is a coalition of Negroes and
liberal whites that will work to make both major parties truly
responsive to the needs of the poor. Black Power does not
Just as the Negro cannot achieve political power in isola-
tion, neither can he gain economic power through separat-
where do we go from here
for blacks to pool their economic resources and withdraw
consumer support from discriminating �rms, we must not
be oblivious to the fact that the larger economic problems
confronting the Negro community will only be solved by
federal programs involving billions of dollars. One unfor-
tunate thing about Black Power is that it gives priority to
race precisely at a time when the impact of automation and
other forces have made the economic question fundamental
for blacks and whites alike. In this context a slogan “Power
for Poor People” would be much more appropriate than the
However much we pool our resources and “buy black,”
this cannot create the multiplicity of new jobs and pro-
vide the number of low-cost houses that will lift the Negro
out of the economic depression caused by centuries of depri-
vation. Neither can our resources supply quality integrated
education. All of this requires billions of dollars which only
an alliance of liberal-labor-civil-rights forces can stimulate.
In short, the Negroes’ problem cannot be solved unless the
whole of American society takes a new turn toward greater
In a multiracial society no group can make it alone. It is a
myth to believe that the Irish, the Italians and the Jews—the
ethnic groups that Black Power advocates cite as justi�cation
for their views—rose to power through separatism. It is true
that they stuck together. But their group unity was always
enlarged by joining in alliances with other groups such as
political machines and trade unions. To succeed in a plu-
ralistic society, and an often hostile one at that, the Negro
obviously needs organized strength, but that strength will
only be eƒective when it is consolidated through construc-
Those proponents of Black Power who have urged Ne-
martin luther king, jr.
groes to shun alliances with whites argue that whites as a
group cannot have a genuine concern for Negro progress.
Therefore, they claim, the white man’s main interest in col-
laborative eƒort is to diminish Negro militancy and de�ect it
Undeniably there are white elements that cannot be
trusted, and no militant movement can aƒord to relax its
vigilance against halfhearted associates or conscious betray-
ers. Every alliance must be considered on its own merits.
Negroes may embrace some and walk out on others where
their interests are imperiled. Occasional betrayals, however,
do not justify the rejection of the principle of Negro-white
The oppression of Negroes by whites has left an under-
standable residue of suspicion. Some of this suspicion is a
healthy and appropriate safeguard. An excess of skepticism,
however, becomes a fetter. It denies that there can be reliable
white allies, even though some whites have died heroically
The history of the movement reveals that Negro-white
alliances have played a powerfully constructive role, espe-
cially in recent years. While Negro initiative, courage and
imagination precipitated the Birmingham and Selma con-
frontations and revealed the harrowing injustice of segre-
gated life, the organized strength of Negroes alone would
have been insu¤cient to move Congress and the administra-
tion without the weight of the aroused conscience of white
America. In the period ahead Negroes will continue to need
this support. Ten percent of the population cannot by ten-
Within the white majority there exists a substantial group
who cherish democratic principles above privilege and who
where do we go from here
have demonstrated a will to �ght side by side with the Ne-
gro against injustice. Another and more substantial group is
composed of those having common needs with the Negro
and who will bene�t equally with him in the achievement of
social progress. There are, in fact, more poor white Ameri-
cans than there are Negro. Their need for a war on poverty
is no less desperate than the Negro’s. In the South they have
been deluded by race prejudice and largely remained aloof
from common action. Ironically, with this posture they were
�ghting not only the Negro but themselves. Yet there are al-
ready signs of change. Without formal alliances, Negroes and
whites have supported the same candidates in many de facto
electoral coalitions in the South because each su¤ciently
The ability of Negroes to enter alliances is a mark of our
growing strength, not of our weakness. In entering an alli-
ance, the Negro is not relying on white leadership or ideol-
ogy; he is taking his place as an equal partner in a common
endeavor. His organized strength and his new indepen-
dence pave the way for alliances. Far from losing inde-
pendence in an alliance, he is using it for constructive and
Negroes must shun the very narrow-mindedness that in
others has so long been the source of our own a‰ictions.
We have reached the stage of organized strength and inde-
pendence to work securely in alliances. History has demon-
strated with major victories the eƒectiveness, wisdom and
moral soundness of Negro-white alliance. The cooperation
of Negro and white based on the solid ground of honest
conscience and proper self-interest can continue to grow in
scope and in�uence. It can attain the strength to alter basic
institutions by democratic means. Negro isolation can never
martin luther king, jr.
In the �nal analysis the weakness of Black Power is its
failure to see that the black man needs the white man and
the white man needs the black man. However much we
may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black
path to power and ful�llment that does not intersect white
paths, and there is no separate white path to power and
ful�llment, short of social disaster, that does not share that
power with black aspirations for freedom and human dig-
nity. We are bound together in a single garment of destiny.
The language, the cultural patterns, the music, the material
prosperity and even the food of America are an amalgam of
James Baldwin once related how he returned home from
school and his mother asked him whether his teacher was
colored or white. After a pause he answered: “She is a little
bit colored and a little bit white.”
This is the dilemma of be-
ing a Negro in America. In physical as well as cultural terms
every Negro is a little bit colored and a little bit white. In our
Every man must ultimately confront the question “Who
am I?” and seek to answer it honestly. One of the �rst prin-
ciples of personal adjustment is the principle of self-accep-
tance. The Negro’s greatest dilemma is that in order to be
healthy he must accept his ambivalence. The Negro is the
child of two cultures—Africa and America. The problem
is that in the search for wholeness all too many Negroes
seek to embrace only one side of their natures. Some, seeking
to reject their heritage, are ashamed of their color, ashamed
of black art and music, and determine what is beautiful and
good by the standards of white society. They end up frus-
trated and without cultural roots. Others seek to reject ev-
erything American and to identify totally with Africa, even
to the point of wearing African clothes. But this approach
where do we go from here
leads also to frustration because the American Negro is not
an African. The old Hegelian synthesis still oƒers the best
answer to many of life’s dilemmas. The American Negro
is neither totally African nor totally Western. He is Afro-
Who are we? We are the descendants of slaves. We are
the oƒspring of noble men and women who were kidnaped
from their native land and chained in ships like beasts. We
are the heirs of a great and exploited continent known as
Africa. We are the heirs of a past of rope, �re and murder. I
for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those
who became so inhuman that they could in�ict this torture
But we are also Americans. Abused and scorned though
we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of Amer-
ica. In spite of the psychological appeals of identi�cation with
Africa, the Negro must face the fact that America is now his
home, a home that he helped to build through “blood, sweat
and tears.” Since we are Americans the solution to our prob-
lem will not come through seeking to build a separate black
nation within a nation, but by �nding that creative minor-
ity of the concerned from the ofttimes apathetic majority,
and together moving toward that colorless power that we all
In the �rst century
BC
Cicero said: “Freedom is partic-
ipation in power.” Negroes should never want all power
because they would deprive others of their freedom. By
the same token, Negroes can never be content without par-
ticipation in power. America must be a nation in which its
multiracial people are partners in power. This is the essence
of democracy toward which all Negro struggles have been
directed since the distant past when he was transplanted here
martin luther king, jr.
Probably the most destructive feature of Black Power is
its unconscious and often conscious call for retaliatory vio-
lence. Many well-meaning persons within the movement
rationalize that Black Power does not really mean black vio-
lence, that those who shout the slogan don’t really mean
it that way, that the violent connotations are solely the dis-
tortions of a vicious press. That the press has fueled the �re
is true. But as one who has worked and talked intimately
with devotees of Black Power, I must admit that the slogan
is mainly used by persons who have lost faith in the method
and philosophy of nonviolence. I must make it clear that no
guilt by association is intended. Both Floyd McKissick and
Stokely Carmichael have declared themselves opponents of
aggressive violence. This clari�cation is welcome and useful,
despite the persistence of some of their followers in examin-
Over cups of coƒee in my home in Atlanta and my
apartment in Chicago, I have often talked late at night and
over into the small hours of the morning with proponents
of Black Power who argued passionately about the validity
of violence and riots. They don’t quote Gandhi or Tolstoy.
Their Bible is Frantz Fanon’s
Uif!Xsfudife!pg!uif!Fbsui/
This
black psychiatrist from Martinique, who went to Algeria to
work with the National Liberation Front in its �ght against
the French, argues in his book—a well-written book, inci-
dentally, with many penetrating insights—that violence is a
psychologically healthy and tactically sound method for the
oppressed. And so, realizing that they are a part of that vast
company of the “wretched of the earth,” these young Amer-
ican Negroes, who are predominantly involved in the Black
Power movement, often quote Fanon’s belief that violence
is the only thing that will bring about liberation. As they
where do we go from here
say, “Sing us no songs of nonviolence, sing us no songs of
progress, for nonviolence and progress belong to middle-
class Negroes and whites and we are not interested in you.”
As we have seen, the �rst public expression of disenchant-
ment with nonviolence arose around the question of “self-
defense.” In a sense this is a false issue, for the right to defend
one’s home and one’s person when attacked has been guar-
anteed through the ages by common law. In a nonviolent
demonstration, however, self-defense must be approached
The cause of a demonstration is the existence of some
form of exploitation or oppression that has made it neces-
sary for men of courage and goodwill to protest the evil. For
example, a demonstration against de facto
school segrega-
tion is based on the awareness that a child’s mind is crippled
by inadequate educational opportunities. The demonstrator
agrees that it is better to suƒer publicly for a short time to
end the crippling evil of school segregation than to have
generation after generation of children suƒer in ignorance.
In such a demonstration the point is made that the schools
are inadequate. This is the evil one seeks to dramatize; any-
thing else distracts from that point and interferes with the
confrontation of the primary evil. Of course no one wants
to suƒer and be hurt. But it is more important to get at the
cause than to be safe. It is better to shed a little blood from
a blow on the head or a rock thrown by an angry mob than
to have children by the thousands �nishing high school who
Furthermore, it is dangerous to organize a movement
around self-defense. The line of demarcation between de-
fensive violence and aggressive violence is very thin. The
minute a program of violence is enunciated, even for self-
martin luther king, jr.
defense, the atmosphere is �lled with talk of violence, and
the words falling on unsophisticated ears may be interpreted
One of the main questions that the Negro must confront
in his pursuit of freedom is that of eƒectiveness. What is the
most eƒective way to achieve the desired goal? If a method
is not eƒective, no matter how much steam it releases, it is
an expression of weakness, not of strength. Now the plain,
inexorable fact is that any attempt of the American Negro to
overthrow his oppressor with violence will not work. We
do not need President Johnson to tell us this by remind-
ing Negro rioters that they are outnumbered ten to one.
The courageous eƒorts of our own insurrectionist brothers,
such as Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, should be eternal
reminders to us that violent rebellion is doomed from the
start. In violent warfare one must be prepared to face
the fact that there will be casualties by the thousands. Any-
one leading a violent rebellion must be willing to make
an honest assessment regarding the possible casualties to a
minority population confronting a well-armed, wealthy ma-
jority with a fanatical right wing that would delight in exter-
Arguments that the American Negro is a part of a world
which is two-thirds colored and that there will come a day
when the oppressed people of color will violently rise to-
gether to throw oƒ the yoke of white oppression are beyond
the realm of serious discussion. There is no colored nation,
including China, that now shows even the potential of lead-
ing a violent revolution of color in any international propor-
tions. Ghana, Zambia, Tanganyika and Nigeria are so busy
�ghting their own battles against poverty, illiteracy and the
subversive in�uence of neocolonialism that they oƒer little
hope to Angola, Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, much
where do we go from here
less to the American Negro. The hard cold facts today indi-
cate that the hope of the people of color in the world may
well rest on the American Negro and his ability to reform
the structure of racist imperialism from within and thereby
turn the technology and wealth of the West to the task of
The futility of violence in the struggle for racial justice
has been tragically etched in all the recent Negro riots. There
is something painfully sad about a riot. One sees screaming
youngsters and angry adults �ghting hopelessly and aimlessly
against impossible odds. Deep down within them you per-
ceive a desire for self-destruction, a suicidal longing. Occa
sionally Negroes contend that the 1965 Watts riot and the
other riots in various cities represented eƒective civil rights
action. But those who express this view always end up with
stumbling words when asked what concrete gains have been
won as a result. At best the riots have produced a little ad-
ditional antipoverty money, allotted by frightened govern-
ment o¤cials, and a few water sprinklers to cool the children
of the ghettos. It is something like improving the food in a
prison while the people remain securely incarcerated behind
bars. Nowhere have the riots won any concrete improve-
It is not overlooking the limitations of nonviolence and
the distance we have yet to go to point out the remarkable
record of achievements that have already come through non-
in more than 150 cities within a year. The 1961 Freedom
Rides put an end to segregation in interstate travel. The
1956 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, ended segre-
gation on the buses not only of that city but in practically
every city of the South. The 1963 Birmingham movement
and the climactic March on Washington won passage of the
71
martin luther king, jr.
most powerful civil rights law in a century. The 1965 Selma
movement brought enactment of the Voting Rights Law.
Our nonviolent marches in Chicago last summer brought
about a housing agreement which, if implemented, will be
the strongest step toward open housing taken in any city in
the nation. Most signi�cant is the fact that this progress oc-
curred with minimum human sacri�ce and loss of life. Fewer
people have been killed in ten years of nonviolent demon-
strations across the South than were killed in one night of
When one tries to pin down advocates of violence as to
what acts would be eƒective, the answers are blatantly il-
logical. Sometimes they talk of overthrowing racist state and
local governments. They fail to see that no internal revolu-
tion has ever succeeded in overthrowing a government by
violence unless the government had already lost the allegiance
and eƒective control of its armed forces. Anyone in his right
mind knows that this will not happen in the United States.
In a violent racial situation, the power structure has the local
police, the state troopers, the national guard and �nally the
Furthermore, few if any violent revolutions have been
successful unless the violent minority had the sympathy and
support of the nonresisting majority. Castro may have had
only a few Cubans actually �ghting with him, but he would
never have overthrown the Batista regime unless he had
had the sympathy of the vast majority of the Cuban people.
It is perfectly clear that a violent revolution on the part of
American blacks would �nd no sympathy and support from
the white population and very little from the majority of the
This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philo-
sophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action.
where do we go from here
What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program
that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American
life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been oƒered by
the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will
end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t
Beyond the pragmatic invalidity of violence is its inability
to appeal to conscience. Some Black Power advocates con-
sider an appeal to conscience irrelevant. A Black Power ex-
ponent said to me not long ago: “To hell with conscience
and morality. We want power.” But power and morality
must go together, implementing, ful�lling and ennobling
each other. In the quest for power I cannot bypass the con-
cern for morality. I refuse to be driven to a Machiavellian
cynicism with respect to power. Power at its best is the right
use of strength. The words of Alfred the Great are still true:
Nonviolence is power, but it is the right and good use
of power. Constructively it can save the white man as well
as the Negro. Racial segregation is buttressed by such irra
tional fears as loss of preferred economic privilege, altered
social status, intermarriage and adjustment to new situations.
Through sleepless nights and haggard days numerous white
people struggle pitifully to combat these fears. By follow-
ing the path of escape, some seek to ignore the questions of
race relations and to close their minds to the issues involved.
Others, placing their faith in legal maneuvers, counsel mas-
sive resistance. Still others hope to drown their fears by en-
gaging in acts of meanness and violence toward their Negro
brethren. But how futile are all these remedies! Instead of
eliminating fear, they instill deeper and more pathological
fears. The white man, through his own eƒorts, through edu-
cation and goodwill, through searching his conscience and
martin luther king, jr.
through confronting the fact of integration, must do a great
deal to free himself of these paralyzing fears. But to master
fear he must also depend on the spirit the Negro generates
toward him. Only through our adherence to nonviolence—
which also means love in its strong and commanding sense
A guilt-ridden white minority fears that if the Negro at-
tains power, he will without restraint or pity act to revenge
the accumulated injustices and brutality of the years. The
Negro must show that the white man has nothing to fear, for
the Negro is willing to forgive. A mass movement exercis-
ing nonviolence and demonstrating power under discipline
should convince the white community that as such a move-
ment attained strength, its power would be used creatively
In a moving letter to his nephew on the one hundredth
anniversary of Emancipation, James Baldwin wrote concern-
The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that
And I mean that very seriously. You
must accept them and accept them with love. For
these innocent people have no other hope. They are,
in eƒect, still trapped in a history which they do not
understand; and until they understand it, they cannot
be released from it. They have had to believe for many
years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are
inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know
better, but, as you will discover, people �nd it very
di¤cult to act on what they know. To act is to be
committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.
In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white
Americans, is the loss of their identity.
. But these
where do we go from here
men are your brothers—your lost, younger broth-
ers. And if the word
means anything, this
is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our
brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease �eeing
The problem with hatred and violence is that they in-
tensify the fears of the white majority, and leave them less
ashamed of their prejudices toward Negroes. In the guilt and
confusion confronting our society, violence only adds to the
chaos. It deepens the brutality of the oppressor and increases
the bitterness of the oppressed. Violence is the antithesis of
creativity and wholeness. It destroys community and makes
My friend John Killens recently wrote in the
Ofhsp!Ej.
“Integration comes after liberation. A slave cannot in-
tegrate with his master. In the whole history of revolts and
revolutions, integration has never been the main slogan of
the revolution. The oppressed �ghts to free himself from his
oppressor, not to integrate with him. Integration is the step
after freedom when the freedman makes up his mind as to
At �rst glance this sounds very good. But after re�ection
one has to face some inescapable facts about the Negro and
American life. This is a multiracial nation where all groups
are dependent on each other, whether they want to recog-
nize it or not. In this vast interdependent nation no racial
group can retreat to an island entire of itself. The phenomena
of integration and liberation cannot be as neatly divided as
There is no theoretical or sociological divorce between
liberation and integration. In our kind of society liberation
cannot come without integration and integration cannot
martin luther king, jr.
come without liberation. I speak here of integration in both
the ethical and the political senses. On the one hand, inte-
gration is true intergroup, interpersonal living. On the other
hand, it is the mutual sharing of power. I cannot see how
the Negro will be totally liberated from the crushing weight
of poor education, squalid housing and economic strangula-
tion until he is integrated, with power, into every level of
Mr. Killens’s assertion might have some validity in a
struggle for independence against a foreign invader. But the
Negro’s struggle in America is quite diƒerent from and more
di¤cult than the struggle for independence. The American
Negro will be living tomorrow with the very people against
whom he is struggling today. The American Negro is not in
a Congo where the Belgians will go back to Belgium after
the battle is over, or in an India where the British will go
back to England after independence is won. In the struggle
for national independence one can talk about liberation now
and integration later, but in the struggle for racial justice in a
multiracial society where the oppressor and the oppressed are
both “at home,” liberation must come through integration.
Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seek-
ing to make the world and our nation better places to live.
If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending
diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may
murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish
the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but
you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases
hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies
violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of
where do we go from here
stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do
The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and
in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil.
With a majestic sense of spiritual power, it seeks to elevate
truth, beauty and goodness to the throne. Therefore I will
continue to follow this method because I think it is the most
practically sound and morally excellent way for the Negro to
In recent months several people have said to me: “Since vio-
lence is the new cry, isn’t there a danger that you will lose
touch with the people in the ghetto and be out of step with
the times if you don’t change your views on nonviolence?”
My answer is always the same. While I am convinced the
vast majority of Negroes reject violence, even if they did not
I would not be interested in being a consensus leader. I re-
fuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of
the trends of the time. I imagine that there were leaders in
Germany who sincerely opposed what Hitler was doing to
the Jews. But they took their poll and discovered that anti-
Semitism was the prevailing trend. In order to “be in step
with the times,” in order to “keep in touch,” they yielded
to one of the most ignominious evils that history has ever
Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consen-
sus but a molder of consensus. I said on one occasion, “If
every Negro in the United States turns to violence, I will
choose to be that one lone voice preaching that this is the
wrong way.” Maybe this sounded like arrogance. But it was
not intended that way. It was simply my way of saying that
77
martin luther king, jr.
I would rather be a man of conviction than a man of con-
formity. Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so
precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end.
One of the greatest paradoxes of the Black Power move-
ment is that it talks unceasingly about not imitating the val-
ues of white society, but in advocating violence it is imitating
the worst, the most brutal and the most uncivilized value of
American life. American Negroes have not been mass mur-
derers. They have not murdered children in Sunday school,
nor have they hung white men on trees bearing strange fruit.
They have not been hooded perpetrators of violence, lynch-
This is not to imply that the Negro is a saint who abhors
violence. Unfortunately, a check of the hospitals in any Ne-
gro community on any Saturday night will make you pain-
fully aware of the violence within the Negro community.
By turning his hostility and frustration with the larger society
inward, the Negro often in�icts terrible acts of violence on
his own black brother. This tragic problem must be solved.
But I would not advise Negroes to solve the problem by
turning these inner hostilities outward through the murder-
ing of whites. This would substitute one evil for another.
Nonviolence provides a healthy way to deal with under-
I am concerned that Negroes achieve full status as citizens
and as human beings here in the United States. But I am also
concerned about our moral uprightness and the health of our
souls. Therefore I must oppose any attempt to gain our free-
dom by the methods of malice, hate and violence that have
characterized our oppressors. Hate is just as injurious to the
hater as it is to the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, hate
corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Many
where do we go from here
of our inner con�icts are rooted in hate. This is why the
psychiatrists say, “Love or perish.” I have seen hate expressed
in the countenances of too many Mississippi and Alabama
sheriƒs to advise the Negro to sink to this miserable level.
Of course, you may say, this is not
life is a matter
of getting even, of hitting back, of dog eat dog. Maybe in
some distant Utopia, you say, that idea will work, but not
in the hard, cold world in which we live. My only answer is
that mankind has followed the so-called practical way for a
long time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion
and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of individu-
als and communities that surrendered to hatred and violence.
For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind,
we must follow another way. This does not mean that we
abandon our militant eƒorts. With every ounce of our en-
ergy we must continue to rid our nation of the incubus of
racial injustice. But we need not in the process relinquish our
So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by cre-
ating states, institutions and societies which draw their
Humanity is waiting for something other from us
than such an imitation, which would be almost an ob-
If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and
America into a new Europe, then let us leave the des-
tiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know
But if we want humanity to advance a step further,
if we want to bring it up to a diƒerent level than that
martin luther king, jr.
which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and
If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations,
Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations
of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them
back a re�ection, even an ideal re�ection, of their so-
ciety and their thought with which from time to time
For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, com-
rades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work
These are brave and challenging words; I am happy that
young black men and women are quoting them. But the
problem is that Fanon and those who quote his words are
seeking “to work out new concepts” and “set afoot a new
man” with a willingness to imitate old concepts of violence.
Is there not a basic contradiction here? Violence has been the
inseparable twin of materialism, the hallmark of its grandeur
and misery. This is the one thing about modern civilization
Humanity is waiting for something other than blind imi-
tation of the past. If we want truly to advance a step further,
if we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new man
afoot, we must begin to turn mankind away from the long
and desolate night of violence. May it not be that the new
man the world needs is the nonviolent man? Longfellow
said, “In this world a man must either be an anvil or a ham-
mer.” We must be hammers shaping a new society rather
than anvils molded by the old. This not only will make us
new men, but will give us a new kind of power. It will not
be Lord Acton’s image of power that tends to corrupt or
where do we go from here
absolute power that corrupts absolutely. It will be power in-
fused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays
into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair
to the buoyancy of hope. A dark, desperate, confused and
sin-sick world waits for this new kind of man and this new
Sbdjtn!boe!uif!Xijuf!Cbdlmbti
t is time for all of us to tell each other the truth about
who and what have brought the Negro to the condi-
tion of deprivation against which he struggles today. In
human relations the truth is hard to come by, because most
groups are deceived about themselves. Rationalization and
the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cata-
racts that blind us to our individual and collective sins. But
the day has passed for bland euphemisms. He who lives with
untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus
we receive for knowing the truth. “Ye shall know the truth,
It would be neither true nor honest to say that the Negro’s
status is what it is because he is innately inferior or because
he is basically lazy and listless or because he has not sought to
lift himself by his own bootstraps. To �nd the origins of the
Negro problem we must turn to the white man’s problem.
As Earl Conrad says in a recent book,
Uif!Jowfoujpo!pg!uif!
“I have sought out these new routes in the unshakable
conviction that the question involved there cannot be and
never could be answered merely by examining the Negro
himself, his ghettos, his history, his personality, his culture.
For the answer to how the Negro’s status came to be what
martin luther king, jr.
it is does not lie essentially in the world of the Negro, but in
the world of the white.”
In short, white America must as-
Ever since the birth of our nation, white America has
had a schizophrenic personality on the question of race. She
has been torn between selves—a self in which she proudly
professed the great principles of democracy and a self in
which she sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. This
tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and am-
bivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step
backward simultaneously with every step forward on the
question of racial justice, to be at once attracted to the Ne-
gro and repelled by him, to love and to hate him. There has
never been a solid, uni�ed and determined thrust to make
The step backward has a new name today. It is called the
“white backlash.” But the white backlash is nothing new. It
is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences
that have always been there. It was caused neither by the
cry of Black Power nor by the unfortunate recent wave of
riots in our cities. The white backlash of today is rooted
in the same problem that has characterized America ever
since the black man landed in chains on the shores of this
nation. The white backlash is an expression of the same vac-
illations, the same search for rationalizations, the same lack of
commitment that have always characterized white America
What is the source of this perennial indecision and vacil-
lation? It lies in the “congenital deformity” of racism that has
crippled the nation from its inception. The roots of racism
are very deep in America. Historically it was so acceptable
in the national life that today it still only lightly burdens the
conscience. No one surveying the moral landscape of our
where do we go from here
84
nation can overlook the hideous and pathetic wreckage of
commitment twisted and turned to a thousand shapes under
This does not imply that all white Americans are racists—
far from it. Many white people have, through a deep moral
compulsion, fought long and hard for racial justice. Nor does
it mean that America has made no progress in her attempt
to cure the body politic of the disease of racism, or that the
dogma of racism has not been considerably modi�ed in re-
cent years. However, for the good of America, it is necessary
to refute the idea that the dominant ideology in our country
even today is freedom and equality while racism is just an
occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few
What is racism? Dr. George Kelsey, in a profound book
Sbdjtn!boe!uif!Disjtujbo!Voefstuboejoh!pg!Nbo-!
Racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry.
. In its early
modern beginnings, racism was a justi�catory device.
It did not emerge as a faith. It arose as an ideologi-
cal justi�cation for the constellations of political and
economic power which were expressed in colonial-
ism and slavery. But gradually the idea of the superior
race was heightened and deepened in meaning and
value so that it pointed beyond the historical struc-
tures of relation, in which it emerged, to human ex-
In her
Sbdf;!Tdjfodf!boe!Qpmjujdt-!
Ruth Benedict expands
on the theme by de�ning racism as “the dogma that one eth-
nic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority
and another group is destined to hereditary superiority. It is
martin luther king, jr.
the dogma that the hope of civilization depends upon elimi-
nating some races and keeping others pure. It is the dogma
that one race has carried progress throughout human history
Since racism is based on the dogma “that the hope of civ-
ilization depends upon eliminating some races and keeping
others pure,” its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler, in his mad
and ruthless attempt to exterminate the Jews, carried the logic
of racism to its ultimate tragic conclusions. While America
has not literally sought to eliminate the Negro in this �nal
sense, it has, through the system of segregation, substituted a
If a man asserts that another man, because of his race, is
not good enough to have a job equal to his, or to eat at a
lunch counter next to him, or to have access to certain ho-
tels, or to attend school with him, or to live next door to
him, he is by implication a¤rming that that man does not
deserve to exist. He does not deserve to exist because his
Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It
is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value
and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel
in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is re-
sponsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure
the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It
separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it
descends to in�icting spiritual or physical homicide upon the
Of the two dominant and contradictory strains in the
American psyche, the positive one, our democratic heritage,
was the later development on the American continent. De-
mocracy, born in the eighteenth century, took from John
Locke of England the theory of natural rights and the justi�-
where do we go from here
cation of revolution and imbued it with the ideal of a society
governed by the people. When Jeƒerson wrote the Decla-
ration of Independence, the �rst government of the world
to be based on these principles was established on Ameri-
can soil. A contemporary description of Benjamin Franklin
might have described the new nation: “He has torn lightning
from the sky; soon he will tear their sceptres from the kings.”
And Thomas Paine in his enthusiasm declared, “We have
Yet even amid these electrifying expressions of the rights
of man, racism—the myth of inferior peoples—was �our-
ishing here to contradict and qualify the democratic ideal.
Slavery was not only ignored in de�ning democracy, but its
enlargement was tolerated in the interests of strengthening
For more than two hundred years before the Declaration
of Independence, Africa had been raped and plundered by
Britain and Europe, her native kingdoms disorganized, and
her people and rulers demoralized. For a hundred years af-
terward, the infamous trade continued in America virtually
without abatement, even after it had ceased to be legal on
In fact, this ghastly blood tra¤c was so immense and
its pro�ts were so stupendous that the economies of sev-
eral European nations owed their growth and prosperity to
it and New England rested heavily on it for its develop-
ment. [Charles A.] Beard declared it was fair to say of whole
towns in New England and Great Britain: “The stones of
your houses are cemented with the blood of African slaves.”
Conservatively estimated, several million Africans died in the
It is important to understand that the basis for the birth,
martin luther king, jr.
growth and development of slavery in America was primarily
economic. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the
British Empire had established colonies all along the Atlantic
seaboard, from Massachusetts to the West Indies, to serve as
producers of raw materials for British manufacturing, a mar-
ket for goods manufactured in Britain and a source of staple
cargoes for British shipping engaged in world trade. So the
colonies had to provide an abundance of rice, sugar, cotton
and tobacco. In the �rst few years of the various settlements
along the East Coast, so-called indentured servants, mostly
white, were employed on plantations. But within a genera-
tion the plantation operators were demanding outright and
lifetime slavery for the Africans they imported. As a function
of this new economic policy, Africans were reduced to the
status of property by law, and this status was enforced by
the most rigid and brutal police power of the existing gov-
ernments. By 1650 slavery had been legally established as a
Since the institution of slavery was so important to the
economic development of America, it had a profound impact
in shaping the social-political-legal structure of the nation.
Land and slaves were the chief forms of private property,
property was wealth and the voice of wealth made the law
and determined politics. In the service of this system, human
beings were reduced to propertyless property. Black men,
the creators of the wealth of the New World, were stripped
of all human and civil rights. And this degradation was sanc-
tioned and protected by institutions of government, all for
one purpose: to produce commodities for sale at a pro�t,
It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot con-
tinue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some
rationalization to clothe their acts in the garments of righ-
where do we go from here
teousness. And so, with the growth of slavery, men had to
convince themselves that a system which was so economi-
cally pro�table was morally justi�able. The attempt to give
moral sanction to a pro�table system gave birth to the doc-
Religion and the Bible were cited and distorted to sup-
port the status quo. It was argued that the Negro was infe-
rior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children
of Ham. The Apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword:
“Servant, be obedient to your master.” In this strange way
theology became a ready ally of commerce. The great Pu-
ritan divine Cotton Mather culled the Bible for passages to
give comfort to the plantation owners and merchants. He
went so far as to set up some “Rules for the Society of Ne-
groes,” in which, among other things, Negroes disobedient
to their masters were to be rebuked and denied attendance
at church meetings, and runaway slaves were to be brought
back and severely punished. All of this, he reasoned, was in
line with the Apostle Paul’s injunction that servants should
Logic was manipulated to give intellectual credence to
the system of slavery. Someone formulated the argument for
Academicians eventually climbed on the bandwagon and
gave their prestige to the myth of the superior race. Their
contribution came through the so-called Teutonic Origins
theory, a doctrine of white supremacy surrounded by the halo
of academic respectability. The theorists of this concept ar-
martin luther king, jr.
gued that all Anglo-Saxon institutions of any worth had their
historical roots in the Teutonic tribal institutions of ancient
Germany, and furthermore that “only the Teutonic race had
been imbued with the ability to build stable governments.”
Historians from the lofty academic towers of Oxford, like
Bishop William Stubbs and Edward A. Freeman, expounded
the Teutonic Origins theory in British intellectual circles. It
leaped the Atlantic and found lodging in the mind of Herbert
Baxter Adams, one of the organizers of the graduate school
at Johns Hopkins University and founder of the American
Historical Association. He expanded Freeman’s views by as-
serting that the Teutonic Origins theory really had “three
homes—England, Germany and the United States.” Pretty
soon this distorted theory dominated the thinking of Ameri-
can historians at leading universities like Harvard, Cornell,
Even natural science, that discipline committed to the in-
ductive method, creative appraisal and detached objectivity,
was invoked and distorted to give credence to a political po-
sition. A whole school of racial ethnologists developed using
such terms as “species,” “genus” and “race.” It became fash-
ionable to think of the slave as a “species of property.” It was
during this period that the word “race” came into fashion.
Dr. Samuel G. Morton, a Philadelphia physician, emerged
with the head-size theory which a¤rmed that the larger the
skull, the superior the individual. This theory was used by
other ethnologists to prove that the large head size of Cau-
casians signi�ed more intellectual capacity and more native
worth. A Dr. Josiah C. Nott, in his
Dpmmfdujpot!po!uif!Obuvsbm!
Ijtupsz!pg!uif!Dbvdbtjbo!boe!Ofhsp!Sbdft-!
used pseudoscienti�c
evidence to prove that the black man was little above the
level of an ape. A Frenchman, Count Arthur de Gobineau,
in his book
Uif!Jofrvbmjuz!pg!uif!Ivnbo!Sbdft-!
where do we go from here
8:
defended the theory of the inferiority of the black man and
used the experience of the United States as his prime source
of evidence. It was this kind of “science” that pervaded
the atmosphere in the nineteenth century, and these pseudo-
scientists became the authoritative references for any and all
Generally we think of white supremacist views as having
their origins with the unlettered, underprivileged, poorer-
class whites. But the social obstetricians who presided at the
birth of racist views in our country were from the aristoc-
racy: rich merchants, in�uential clergymen, men of medical
science, historians and political scientists from some of the
leading universities of the nation. With such a distinguished
company of the elite working so assiduously to disseminate
racist views, what was there to inspire poor, illiterate, un-
Soon the doctrine of white supremacy was imbedded in
every textbook and preached in practically every pulpit. It
became a structural part of the culture. And men then em-
braced this philosophy, not as the rationalization of a lie,
but as the expression of a �nal truth. In 1857 the system of
slavery was given its ultimate legal support by the Supreme
Court of the United States in the Dred Scott decision, which
a¤rmed that the Negro had no rights that the white man was
The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was
exploitation of the Negro. What greater heresy has religion
known? Ethical Christianity vanished and the moral nerve
of religion was atrophied. This terrible distortion sullied the
Virtually all of the Founding Fathers of our nation, even
those who rose to the heights of the presidency, those whom
martin luther king, jr.
we cherish as our authentic heroes, were so enmeshed in
the ethos of slavery and white supremacy that not one ever
emerged with a clear, unambiguous stand on Negro rights.
No human being is perfect. In our individual and collec-
tive lives every expression of greatness is followed, not by a
period symbolizing completeness, but by a comma implying
partialness. Following every a¤rmation of greatness is the
conjunction “but.” Naaman “was a great man,” says the Old
Testament, “but
.”—that “but” reveals something tragic
and disturbing—“but he was a leper.” George Washington,
Thomas Jeƒerson, Patrick Henry, John Quincy Adams, John
Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln were great men, but—that
“but” underscores the fact that not one of these men had a
strong, unequivocal belief in the equality of the black man.
No one doubts the valor and commitment that charac-
terized George Washington’s life. But to the end of his days
he maintained a posture of exclusionism toward the slave.
He was a fourth-generation slaveholder. He only allowed
Negroes to enter the Continental Army because His Majes-
ty’s Crown was attempting to recruit Negroes to the British
cause. Washington was not without his moments of tor-
ment, those moments of conscience when something within
told him that slavery was wrong. As he searched the future
of America one day, he wrote to his nephew: “I wish from
my soul that the legislature of this State could see the policy
of gradual abolition of slavery. It might prevent much future
mischief.” In spite of this, Washington never made a public
statement condemning slavery. He could not pull away from
the system. When he died he owned, or had on lease, more
Here, in the life of the father of our nation, we can see
the developing dilemma of white America: the haunting am-
where do we go from here
bivalence, the intellectual and moral recognition that slavery
is wrong, but the emotional tie to the system so deep and
pervasive that it imposes an in�exible unwillingness to root
Thomas Jeƒerson reveals the same ambivalence. There is
much in the life of Jeƒerson that can serve as a model for
political leaders in every age; he came close to the ideal “phi-
losopher-king” that Plato dreamed of centuries ago. But in
spite of this, Jeƒerson was a child of his culture who had
been in�uenced by the pseudoscienti�c and philosophical
thought that rationalized slavery. In his
Opuft!po!Wjshjojb-!
Jeƒerson portrayed the Negro as inferior to the white man
in his endowments of body, mind and imagination, although
he observed that the Negro appeared to be superior at pick-
ing out tunes on the “banjar.” Jeƒerson’s majestic words, “all
men are created equal,” meant for him, as for many others,
Yet in his heart Jeƒerson knew that slavery was wrong
and that it degraded the white man’s mind and soul. In the
Opuft!po!Wjshjojb!
he wrote: “For if a slave can have a
country in this world, it must be any other in preference to
that in which he is born to live and labor for another.
Indeed I tremble for my country when I re�ect that God is
just, that his justice cannot sleep forever
the Almighty
has no attribute which can take sides with us in such a con-
test.” And in 1820, six years before his death, he wrote these
melancholy words: “But the momentous question [slavery]
like a �re-bell in the night, awakened and �lled me with ter-
ror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union.
. I
regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacri-
�ce of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-
government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown
martin luther king, jr.
away by the unwise and unworthy passion of their sons, and
that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep
This strange duality toward the Negro and slavery vexed
have anchored their lives more deeply in moral convictions
than Abraham Lincoln, but on the question of slavery Lin-
As early as 1837, as a state legislator, Lincoln referred to
the injustice and impracticality of slavery. Later he wrote
of the physical diƒerences between blacks and whites and
made it clear that he felt whites were superior. At times he
concluded that the white man could not live with the Ne-
gro. This accounted for his conviction that the only answer
to the problem was to colonize the black man—send him
back to Africa, or to the West Indies or some other isolated
spot. This view was still in his mind toward the height of the
Civil War. Delegation after delegation—the Quakers above
all, great abolitionists like Charles Sumner, Horace Greeley
and William Lloyd Garrison—pleaded with Lincoln to free
the slaves, but he was �rm in his resistance. Frederick Doug-
lass, a Negro of towering grandeur, sound judgment and
militant initiative, sought, without success, to persuade Lin-
coln that slavery, not merely the preservation of the union,
was at the root of the war. At the time, Lincoln could not
A civil war raged within Lincoln’s own soul, a tension
between the Dr. Jekyll of freedom and the Mr. Hyde of
slavery, a struggle like that of Plato’s charioteer with two
head-strong horses each pulling in diƒerent directions. Mor-
ally Lincoln was for black emancipation, but emotionally,
like most of his white contemporaries, he was for a long time
where do we go from here
94
But Lincoln was basically honest and willing to admit his
confusions. He saw that the nation could not survive half
slave and half free; and he said, “If we could �rst know
where we are and whither we are tending, we could better
judge what to do and how to do it.” Fortunately for the na-
tion, he �nally came to see “whither we were tending.” On
January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation,
freeing the Negro from the bondage of chattel slavery. By
this concrete act of courage his reservations of the past were
overshadowed. The conclusion of his search is embodied
in these words: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure
freedom to the free,—honourable alike is what we give and
The signi�cance of the Emancipation Proclamation was
Unquestionably, for weal or for woe, the First of Jan-
uary is to be the most memorable day in American
Annals. The Fourth of July was great, but the First of
January, when we consider it in all its relations and
bearings, is incomparably greater. The one had respect
to the mere political birth of a nation; the last con-
cerns the national life and character, and is to deter-
mine whether that life and character shall be radiantly
glorious with all high and noble virtues, or infamously
But underneath, the ambivalence of white America to-
ward the Negro still lurked with painful persistence. With
all the beautiful promise that Douglass saw in the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation, he soon found that it left the Negro with
only abstract freedom. Four million newly liberated slaves
found themselves with no bread to eat, no land to cultivate,
martin luther king, jr.
no shelter to cover their heads. It was like freeing a man who
had been unjustly imprisoned for years, and on discovering
his innocence sending him out with no bus fare to get home,
no suit to cover his body, no �nancial compensation to atone
for his long years of incarceration and to help him get a sound
footing in society; sending him out with only the assertion:
“Now you are free.” What greater injustice could society
perpetrate? All the moral voices of the universe, all the codes
of sound jurisprudence, would rise up with condemnation
at such an act. Yet this is exactly what America did to the
Negro. In 1863 the Negro was given abstract freedom ex-
pressed in luminous rhetoric. But in an agrarian economy he
was given no land to make liberation concrete. After the war
the government granted white settlers, without cost, millions
of acres of land in the West, thus providing America’s new
white peasants from Europe with an economic �oor. But at
the same time its oldest peasantry, the Negro, was denied
everything but a legal status he could not use, could not
consolidate, could not even defend. As Frederick Douglass
came to say, “Emancipation granted the Negro freedom to
hunger, freedom to winter amid the rains of heaven. Eman-
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty refers to America
as the “mother of exiles.” The tragedy is that while Amer-
ica became the mother of her white exiles, she evinced no
motherly concern or love for her exiles from Africa. It is
no wonder that out of despair and estrangement the Negro
cries out in one of his sorrow songs: “Sometimes I feel like a
motherless child.” The marvel is, as Frederick Douglass once
In dealing with the ambivalence of white America, we
must not overlook another form of racism that was relent-
lessly pursued on American shores: the physical extermina-
where do we go from here
tion of the American Indian. The South American example
of absorbing the indigenous Indian population was ignored
in the United States, and systematic destruction of a whole
people was undertaken. The common phrase, “The only
good Indian is a dead Indian,” was virtually elevated to na-
tional policy. Thus the poisoning of the American mind was
accomplished not only by acts of discrimination and exploi-
tation but by the exaltation of murder as an expression of
the courage and initiative of the pioneer. Just as Southern
culture was made to appear noble by ignoring the cruelty
of slavery, the conquest of the Indian was depicted as an ex-
Thus through two centuries a continuous indoctrination
of Americans has separated people according to mythically
superior and inferior qualities while a democratic spirit of
equality was evoked as the national ideal. These concepts
of racism, and this schizophrenic duality of conduct, remain
deeply rooted in American thought today. This tendency of
the nation to take one step forward on the question of racial
justice and then to take a step backward is still the pattern.
Just as an ambivalent nation freed the slaves a century ago
with no plan or program to make their freedom meaning-
ful, the still ambivalent nation in 1954 declared school seg-
regation unconstitutional with no plan or program to make
integration real. Just as the Congress passed a civil rights bill
in 1868 and refused to enforce it, the Congress passed a civil
rights bill in 1964 and to this day has failed to enforce it in
all its dimensions. Just as the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870
proclaimed Negro suƒrage, only to permit its de facto
drawal in half the nation, so in 1965 the Voting Rights Law
was passed and then permitted to languish with only frac-
The civil rights measures of the 1960s engraved solemn
97
martin luther king, jr.
rights in the legal literature. But after writing piecemeal
and incomplete legislation and proclaiming its historic im-
portance in magni�cent prose, the American government
left the Negro to make the unworkable work. Against en-
trenched segregationist state power, with almost total depen-
dence economically on those they had to contend with, and
without political experience, the impoverished Negro was
When the war against poverty came into being in 1964,
it seemed to herald a new day of compassion. It was the bold
assertion that the nation would no longer stand complacently
by while millions of its citizens smothered in poverty in the
midst of opulence. But it did not take long to discover that
the government was only willing to appropriate such a lim-
ited budget that it could not launch a good skirmish against
Moreover, the poverty program, which in concept elated
the Negro poor, became so embroiled in political turmoil
that its insu¤ciencies were magni�ed and its operations par-
alyzed. Big-city machines felt threatened by it and small
towns, especially in the South, directed it away from Ne-
groes. Its good intentions and limited objectives were frus-
trated by the skillful maneuvers of experienced politicians.
The worst eƒect of these manipulations was to cast doubt
upon the program as a whole and discredit those Negroes
In 1965 the President presented a new plan to Congress
—which it �nally passed in 1966—for rebuilding entire
slum neighborhoods. With other elements of the program
it would, in his words, make the decaying cities of the pres-
ent into “the masterpieces of our civilization.” This Demon-
stration Cities plan is imaginative; it embodies social vision
and properly de�nes racial discrimination as a central evil.
where do we go from here
98
However, the ordinary Negro, though no social or political
analyst, will be skeptical. He will be skeptical, �rst, because
of the insu¤cient funds assigned to the program. He will
be skeptical, second, because he knows how many laws exist
in Northern states and cities prohibiting discrimination in
housing, in education and in employment; he knows how
many overlapping commissions exist to enforce the terms
of these laws—and he knows how he lives. The ubiquitous
discrimination in his daily life tells him that laws on paper,
no matter how imposing their terms, will not guarantee that
Throughout our history, laws a¤rming Negro rights have
consistently been circumvented by ingenious evasions which
render them void in practice. Laws that aƒect the whole
population—draft laws, income-tax laws, tra¤c laws—man-
age to work even though they may be unpopular; but laws
passed for the Negro’s bene�t are so widely unenforced that
it is a mockery to call them laws. There is a tragic gulf be-
tween civil rights laws passed and civil rights laws imple-
mented. There is a double standard in the enforcement of
law and a double standard in the respect for particular laws.
All of this tells us that the white backlash is nothing new.
White America has been backlashing on the fundamen-
tal God-given and human rights of Negro Americans for
more than three hundred years. With all of her dazzling
achievements and stupendous material strides, America has
maintained its strange ambivalence on the question of racial
To de�ne much of white America as self-deluded on the
commitment to equality and to apprehend the broad base on
which it rests are not to enthrone pessimism. The racism of
martin luther king, jr.
today is real, but the democratic spirit that has always faced
it is equally real. The value in pulling racism out of its ob-
scurity and stripping it of its rationalizations lies in the con�-
dence that it can be changed. To live with the pretense that
racism is a doctrine of a very few is to disarm us in �ghting
it frontally as scienti�cally unsound, morally repugnant and
socially destructive. The prescription for the cure rests with
the accurate diagnosis of the disease. A people who began a
national life inspired by a vision of a society of brotherhood
can redeem itself. But redemption can come only through a
humble acknowledgment of guilt and an honest knowledge
Jesus once told a parable of a young man who left home
and wandered into a far country, where he sought life in
adventure after adventure. But he found only frustration and
bewilderment. The farther he moved from his father’s house,
the closer he came to the house of despair. After the boy had
wasted all, a famine developed in the land, and he ended up
seeking food in a pig’s trough. But the story does not end
here. In a state of disillusionment, frustration and homesick-
ness, the boy “came to himself” and said, “I will arise and go
to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned
against heaven, and before thee.” The prodigal son was not
himself when he left his father’s house or when he dreamed
that pleasure was the end of life. Only when he made up his
mind to go home and be a son again did he come to himself.
The boy returned home to �nd a loving father waiting with
This is an analogy to what white America confronts to-
day. Like all human analogies, it is imperfect, but it does sug-
gest some parallels worth considering. America has strayed
to the far country of racism. The home that all too many
where do we go from here
Americans left was solidly structured idealistically. Its pil-
lars were soundly grounded in the insights of our Judeo-
Christian heritage: all men are made in the image of God;
all men are brothers; all men are created equal; every man is
heir to a legacy of dignity and worth; every man has rights
that are neither conferred by nor derived from the state, they
are God-given. What a marvelous foundation for any home!
What a glorious place to inhabit! But America strayed away;
and this excursion has brought only confusion and bewilder-
ment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted
with irrationality. It has driven wisdom from the throne.
This long and callous sojourn in the far country of racism has
Cvu!ju!jt!opu!upp!mbuf!up!sfuvso!ipnf/!
If America would come
to herself and return to her true home, “one nation, indi-
visible, with liberty and justice for all,” she would give the
democratic creed a new authentic ring, enkindle the imagi-
nation of mankind and �re the souls of men. If she fails, she
will be victimized with the ultimate social psychosis that can
In 1944 Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist, wrote
The Negro problem is not only America’s greatest
failure but also America’s incomparably great oppor-
tunity for the future. If America should follow its own
deepest convictions, its well-being at home would be
increased directly. At the same time America’s pres-
tige and power abroad would rise immensely. The
century-old dream of American patriots, that America
should give to the entire world its own freedoms and
its own faith, would come true. America can demon-
martin luther king, jr.
strate that justice, equality and cooperation are pos-
sible between white and colored people.
jt!gsff!up!dipptf!xifuifs!uif!Ofhsp!tibmm!sfnbjo!ifs!mjbcjmjuz!
This is white America’s most urgent challenge today. If
America is to respond creatively to the challenge, many indi-
viduals, groups and agencies must rise above the hypocrisies
of the past and begin to take an immediate and determined
part in changing the face of their nation. If the country has
not yet emerged with a massive program to end the blight
surrounding the life of the Negro, one is forced to believe
that the answers have not been forthcoming because there is
as yet no genuine and widespread conviction that such fun-
As a �rst step on the journey home, the journey to full
equality, we will have to engage in a radical reordering of
national priorities. As the
Dbsofhjf!Rvbsufsmz!
declares: “A
great deal of money is spent in this country every day, for
education and for housing, freeways, war, national parks, li-
quor, cosmetics, advertising and a lot of other things. It is a
question of the allocation of money, which means the estab-
Are we more concerned with the size, power and wealth
of our society or with creating a more just society? The fail-
ure to pursue justice is not only a moral default. Without it
social tensions will grow and the turbulence in the streets will
persist despite disapproval or repressive action. Even more,
a withered sense of justice in an expanding society leads to
corruption of the lives of all Americans. All too many of
those who live in a‰uent America ignore those who exist
in poor America; in doing so, the a‰uent Americans will
where do we go from here
eventually have to face themselves with the question that
Eichmann chose to ignore: how responsible am I for the
well-being of my fellows? To ignore evil is to become an
Today the exploration of space is engaging not only our
enthusiasm but our patriotism. Developing it as a global race
we have intensi�ed its inherent drama and brought its ad-
venture into every living room, nursery, shop and o¤ce.
No such fervor or exhilaration attends the war on poverty.
There is impatience with its problems, indiƒerence toward
its progress and hostility toward its errors. Without denying
the value of scienti�c endeavor, there is a striking absurdity
in committing billions to reach the moon where no people
live, while only a fraction of that amount is appropriated to
service the densely populated slums. If these strange values
persist, in a few years we can be assured that when we set
a man on the moon, with an adequate telescope he will be
able to see the slums on earth with their intensi�ed conges-
tion, decay and turbulence. On what scale of values is this a
In the wasteland of war, the expenditure of resources
knows no restraints; here our abundance is fully recognized
and enthusiastically squandered. The recently revealed mis-
estimate of the war budget amounts to $10 billion for a single
year. The error alone is more than �ve times the amount
committed to antipoverty programs. If we reversed invest-
ments and gave the armed forces the antipoverty budget,
the generals could be forgiven if they walked oƒ the bat
tle�eld in disgust. The
has calculated that
we spend $332,000 for each enemy we kill. It challenges the
imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if
we were to cease killing. The security we profess to seek in
martin luther king, jr.
foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The
bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes
A considerable part of the Negro’s eƒorts of the past de-
cades has been devoted, particularly in the South, to attaining
a sense of dignity. For us, enduring the sacri�ces of beatings,
jailings and even death was acceptable merely to have ac-
cess to public accommodations. To sit at a lunch counter or
occupy the front seat of a bus had no eƒect on our material
standard of living, but in removing a caste stigma it revolu-
tionized our psychology and elevated the spiritual content
of our being. Instinctively we struck out for dignity �rst be-
cause personal degradation as an inferior human being was
But dignity is also corroded by poverty no matter how po-
etically we invest the humble with simple graces and charm.
No worker can maintain his morale or sustain his spirit if in
the market place his capacities are declared to be worthless to
society. The Negro is no longer ashamed that he is black—
he should never have permitted himself to accept the absurd
concept that white is more virtuous than black, but he was
crushed by the propaganda that superiority had a pale coun-
tenance. That day is fast coming to an end. However, in his
search for human dignity he is handicapped by the stigma of
poverty in a society whose measure of value revolves about
money. If the society changes its concepts by placing the re-
sponsibility on its system, not on the individual, and guaran-
tees secure employment or a minimum income, dignity will
come within reach of all. For Negroes, the goal on which
they have placed the highest priority, which the emancipa-
tion from slavery was intended to assure, will �nally be at-
Meanwhile, any discussion of the problems of inequality
where do we go from here
is meaningless unless a time dimension is given to programs
for their solution. The Great Society is only a phrase so long
as no date is set for the achievement of its promises. It is
disquieting to note that President Johnson in his message to
Congress on the Demonstration Cities program stated, “If
we can begin now the planning from which action will �ow,
the hopes of the twentieth century will become the realities
of the twenty-�rst.” On this timetable many Negroes not yet
born and virtually all now alive will not experience equal-
ity. The virtue of patience will become a vice if it accepts so
A leading voice in the chorus of social transition belongs to
the white liberal, whether he speak through the govern-
ment, the church, the voluntary welfare agencies or the civil
rights movement. Over the last few years many Negroes
have felt that their most troublesome adversary was not the
obvious bigot of the Ku Klux Klan or the John Birch Soci-
ety, but the white liberal who is more devoted to “order”
than to justice, who prefers tranquillity to equality. In a sense
the white liberal has been victimized with some of the same
ambivalence that has been a constant part of our national
heritage. Even in areas where liberals have great in�uence—
labor unions, schools, churches and politics—the situation of
the Negro is not much better than in areas where they are
not dominant. This is why many liberals have fallen into the
trap of seeing integration in merely aesthetic terms, where a
token number of Negroes adds color to a white-dominated
power structure. They say, “Our union is integrated from
top to bottom, we even have one Negro on the executive
board”; or “Our neighborhood is making great progress in
integrated housing, we now have two Negro families”; or
martin luther king, jr.
“Our university has no problem with integration, we have
one Negro faculty member and even one Negro chairman
Often white liberals are unaware of their latent preju-
dices. A while ago I ran into a white woman who was anx-
ious to discuss the race problem with me. She said: “I am
very liberal. I have no prejudices toward Negroes. I believe
Negroes should have the right to vote, the right to a good
job, the right to a decent home and the right to have access
to public accommodations. Of course, I must confess that I
would not want my daughter to marry a Negro.” This lady
could not see that her failure to accept intermarriage negated
her claim to genuine liberalism. She failed to see that implicit
in her rejection was the feeling that her daughter had some
pure, superior nature that should not be contaminated by
the impure, inferior nature of the Negro. It is the Teutonic
Origins theory warmed over. The question of intermarriage
Yet in spite of this latent prejudice, in spite of the hard
reality that many blatant forms of injustice could not exist
without the acquiescence of white liberals, the fact remains
that a sound resolution of the race problem in America will
rest with those white men and women who consider them-
selves as generous and decent human beings. Edmund Burke
said on one occasion: “When evil men combine, good men
must unite.” This is the pressing challenge confronting the
white liberal. When evil men plot, good men must plan.
When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and
bind. When evil men conspire to preserve an unjust status
quo, good men must unite to bring about the birth of a soci-
ety undergirded by justice. Nothing can be more detrimental
to the health of America at this time than for liberals to sink
where do we go from here
The white liberal must see that the Negro needs not only
love but also justice. It is not enough to say, “We love Ne-
groes, we have many Negro friends.” They must demand
justice for Negroes. Love that does not satisfy justice is no
love at all. It is merely a sentimental aƒection, little more
than what one would have for a pet. Love at its best is justice
concretized. Love is unconditional. It is not conditional upon
one’s staying in his place or watering down his demands in
order to be considered respectable. He who contends that he
“used to love the Negro, but
.” did not truly love him in
the beginning, because his love was conditioned upon the
The white liberal must a¤rm that absolute justice for the
Negro simply means, in the Aristotelian sense, that the Ne-
gro must have “his due.” There is nothing abstract about
this. It is as concrete as having a good job, a good education,
a decent house and a share of power. It is, however, impor-
tant to understand that giving a man his due may often mean
giving him special treatment. I am aware of the fact that
this has been a troublesome concept for many liberals, since
it con�icts with their traditional ideal of equal opportunity
and equal treatment of people according to their individual
merits. But this is a day which demands new thinking and
the reevaluation of old concepts. A society that has done
something special
the Negro for hundreds of years
must now do something special
him, in order to equip
The white liberal must rid himself of the notion that there
can be a tensionless transition from the old order of injustice
to the new order of justice. Two things are clear to me, and
I hope they are clear to white liberals. One is that the Ne-
gro cannot achieve emancipation through violent rebellion.
The other is that the Negro cannot achieve emancipation
martin luther king, jr.
by passively waiting for the white race voluntarily to grant it
to him. The Negro has not gained a single right in America
without persistent pressure and agitation. However lamen-
table it may seem, the Negro is now convinced that white
America will never admit him to equal rights unless it is co-
Nonviolent coercion always brings tension to the sur-
face. This tension, however, must not be seen as destructive.
There is a kind of tension that is both healthy and necessary
for growth. Society needs nonviolent gad�ies to bring its
tensions into the open and force its citizens to confront the
ugliness of their prejudices and the tragedy of their racism.
It is important for the liberal to see that the oppressed
person who agitates for his rights is not the creator of ten-
sion. He merely brings out the hidden tension that is already
alive. Last summer when we had our open housing marches
in Chicago, many of our white liberal friends cried out in
horror and dismay: “You are creating hatred and hostility in
the white communities in which you are marching. You are
only developing a white backlash.” I never could understand
this logic. They failed to realize that the hatred and the hos-
tilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our
marches merely brought them to the surface. How strange it
would be to condemn a physician who, through persistent
work and the ingenuity of his medical skills, discovered can-
cer in a patient. Would anyone be so ignorant as to say he
caused the cancer? Through the skills and discipline of direct
action we reveal that there is a dangerous cancer of hatred
and racism in our society. We did not cause the cancer; we
merely exposed it. Only through this kind of exposure will
the cancer ever be cured. The committed white liberal must
see the need for powerful antidotes to combat the disease of
where do we go from here
The white liberal must escalate his support for the strug-
gle for racial justice rather than de-escalate it. This would be
a tragic time to forsake and withdraw from the struggle. The
need for commitment is greater today than ever. Admittedly,
hostile words are being uttered by a few Negroes against all
whites, and some would like to read whites out of the move-
ment entirely. But these represent a very small minority in
the Negro community. Most Negroes are still committed to
Admittedly, too, a few Negroes have uttered anti-Semitic
sentiments. Because racism is a shameful evil wherever it
may exist, and because among Negroes anti-Semitism is a
particularly freakish phenomenon, it warrants examination.
One fact is decisive for perspective and balance: the
amount of anti-Semitism found among Negroes is no greater
than is found among white groups of the same economic
strata. Two polls cited by Professor Thomas Pettigrew and
a very recent study in depth conducted by Dr. Oscar Lewis
arrive at this same conclusion. These revelations should allay
the alarm that has arisen from exploitation and exaggera-
tion of the issue by some white and Negro publicists whose
appetite for attention exceeds their attachment to truth and
The question that troubles many Jews and other con-
cerned Americans is why oppressed Negroes should harbor
any anti-Semitism at all. Prejudice and discrimination can
only harm them; therefore it would appear they should be
The limited degree of Negro anti-Semitism is substan-
tially a Northern ghetto phenomenon; it virtually does not
exist in the South. The urban Negro has a special and unique
relationship to Jews. He meets them in two dissimilar roles.
On the one hand, he is associated with Jews as some of
martin luther king, jr.
his most committed and generous partners in the civil rights
struggle. On the other hand, he meets them daily as some
of his most direct exploiters in the ghetto as slum landlords
and gouging shopkeepers. Jews have identi�ed with Negroes
voluntarily in the freedom movement, motivated by their
religious and cultural commitment to justice. The other Jews
who are engaged in commerce in the ghettos are remnants
of older communities. A great number of Negro ghettos
were formerly Jewish neighborhoods; some storekeepers and
landlords remained as population changes occurred. They
operate with the ethics of marginal business entrepreneurs,
not Jewish ethics, but the distinction is lost on some Ne-
groes who are maltreated by them. Such Negroes, caught in
frustration and irrational anger, parrot racial epithets. They
foolishly add to the social poison that injures themselves and
It would be a tragic and immoral mistake to identify the
mass of Negroes with the very small number that succumb
to cheap and dishonest slogans, just as it would be a serious
error to identify all Jews with the few who exploit Negroes
Negroes cannot rationally expect honorable Jews to curb
the few who are rapacious; they have no means of disciplin-
ing or suppressing them. We can only expect them to share
our disgust and disdain. Negroes cannot be expected to curb
and eliminate the few who are anti-Semitic, because they are
subject to no controls we can exercise. We can, however,
oppose them and have, in concrete ways. There has never
been an instance of articulated Negro anti-Semitism that was
not swiftly condemned by virtually all Negro leaders with
the support of the overwhelming majority. I have myself
directly attacked it within the Negro community, because it
where do we go from here
::
is wrong. I will continue to oppose it, because it is immoral
History has shown that, like a virulent disease germ,
racism can grow and destroy nations. Negroes, themselves
grossly abused by it, have resolutely preserved a shining vir-
tue: they have never been guilty of crimes against a whole
people. I will always do everything in my power to maintain
There is another mood, however, which represents a large
number of Negroes. It is the feeling that Negroes must be
their own spokesmen, that they must be in the primary lead-
ership of their own organizations. White liberals must un-
derstand this. It is a part of the search for manhood. It is the
psychological need for those who have had such a crushed
and bruised history to feel and know that they are men, that
they have the organizational ability to map their own strat-
egy and shape their own programs, that they can develop
the programs to shape their own destinies, that they can be
their own spokesmen. When the Negro was completely an
underdog, he needed white spokesmen. Liberals played their
parts in this period exceedingly well. In assault after assault,
they led the intellectual revolt against racism, and took the
initiative in founding the civil rights organizations. But now
that the Negro has rejected his role as the underdog, he has
become more assertive in his search for identity and group
This means that white liberals must be prepared to accept
a transformation of their role. Whereas it was once a primary
and spokesman role, it must now become a secondary and
supportive role. This does not mean that whites must work
only with whites and blacks with blacks; such an approach
is always in danger of polarizations that can only intensify
211
martin luther king, jr.
distrust and despair. Every time a Negro in the slums of Chi-
cago or on the plantations of Mississippi sees Negroes and
whites honestly working together for a common goal, he
sees new grounds for hope. This is why I always have in the
past and will in the future insist that my staƒ in SCLC be in-
terracial. By insisting on racial openness in our organizations,
we are setting a pattern for the racially integrated society
Therefore whites must continue to support and work in
the civil rights movement. No vitriolic words on the part
of some Negroes, no misguided shouts of “We don’t want
you,” no abuse of the concept of Black Power should cause
committed whites to curtail their support of civil rights. The
issue is injustice and immorality. This was the issue before
shouts of “Black Power” came into being and this will be the
During the Meredith Mississippi March, when some of
the young activists were saying, “We don’t want whites,”
Bishop Moore of the Episcopal Church said to Walter Faun-
troy of the Washington o¤ce of SCLC: “I don’t care what
they say. That march is protesting a moral evil, an evil det-
rimental to me and every American. I am going down there
whether they want me or not.” This is a bold way of putting
it, and this boldness says something to every white liberal.
The white liberal must honestly ask himself why he sup-
ported the movement in the �rst place. If he supported it
for the right reasons, he will continue to support it in spite
of the confusions of the present moment. But if he sup-
ported the movement for the wrong reasons, he will �nd
every available excuse to withdraw from it now, and he will
discover that he was inoculated with so mild a form of com-
As Negroes move forward toward a fundamental altera-
where do we go from here
212
tion of their lives, some bitter white opposition is bound
to grow, even within groups that were hospitable to earlier
super�cial amelioration. Con�icts are unavoidable because a
stage has been reached in which the reality of equality will
require extensive adjustments in the way of life of some of
the white majority. Many of our former supporters will fall
by the wayside as the movement presses against �nancial
privilege. Others will withdraw as long-established cultural
privileges are threatened. During this period we will have to
The hope of the world is still in dedicated minorities.
The trailblazers in human, academic, scienti�c and religious
freedom have always been in the minority. That creative mi-
nority of whites absolutely committed to civil rights can
make it clear to the larger society that vacillation and pro-
crastination on the question of racial justice can no longer
be tolerated. It will take such a small committed minority to
work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such
a group may well transform America’s greatest dilemma into
Among the forces of white liberalism the church has a special
obligation. It is the voice of moral and spiritual authority
on earth. Yet no one observing the history of the church
in America can deny the shameful fact that it has been an
accomplice in structuring racism into the architecture of
American society. The church, by and large, sanctioned slav-
ery and surrounded it with the halo of moral respectability. It
also cast the mantle of its sanctity over the system of segrega-
tion. The unpardonable sin, thought the poet Milton, was
when a man so repeatedly said, “Evil, be thou my good,” so
consistently lived a lie, that he lost the capacity to distinguish
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martin luther king, jr.
between good and evil. America’s segregated churches come
Of course, there have been marvelous exceptions. Over
the last �ve years many religious bodies—Catholic, Prot-
estant and Jewish—have been in the vanguard of the civil
rights struggle, and have sought desperately to make the
ethical insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage relevant on
the question of race. But the church as a whole has been all
too negligent on the question of civil rights. It has too often
blessed a status quo that needed to be blasted, and reassured a
social order that needed to be reformed. So the church must
acknowledge its guilt, its weak and vacillating witness, its all
too frequent failure to obey the call to servanthood. Today
the judgment of God is upon the church for its failure to be
true to its mission. If the church does not recapture its pro-
phetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without
A religion true to its mission knows that segregation is
morally wrong and sinful. Segregation is established on pride,
hatred and falsehood. It is unbrotherly and impersonal. Two
segregated souls never meet in God. Segregation denies the
Deeply rooted in our religious heritage is the conviction
that every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth.
Our Judeo-Christian tradition refers to this inherent dignity
of man in the Biblical term “the image of God.” “The image
of God” is universally shared in equal portions by all men.
There is no graded scale of essential worth. Every human
being has etched in his personality the indelible stamp of the
Creator. Every man must be respected because God loves
him. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure
of his intellect, his racial origin or his social position. Human
worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value
where do we go from here
214
because he has value to God. Whenever this is recognized,
“whiteness” and “blackness” pass away as determinants in a
relationship and “son” and “brother” are substituted. Im-
manuel Kant said that “all men must be treated as
never as mere
” The immorality of segregation is that
it treats men as means rather than ends, and thereby reduces
But man is not a thing. He must be dealt with not as an
“animated tool” but as a person sacred in himself. To do oth-
erwise is to depersonalize the potential person and desecrate
what he is. So long as the Negro or any other member of a
minority group is treated as a means to an end, the image of
God is abused in him and consequently and proportionately
Segregation is also morally wrong because it deprives man
of freedom, that quality which makes him man. The very
character of the life of man demands freedom. In speaking of
freedom I am not referring to the freedom of a thing called
the will. The very phrase, “freedom of the will,” abstracts
freedom from the person to make it an object; and an object
almost by de�nition is not free. But freedom cannot thus be
abstracted from the person, who is always subject as well as
object and who himself still does the abstracting. So I am
speaking of the freedom of man, the whole man, and not the
Neither am I implying that there are no limits to free-
dom. Freedom always operates within the limits of an al-
ready determined structure. Thus the mathematician is free
to draw a circle, but he is not free to make a circle square. A
man is free to walk through an open door, but he is not free
to walk through a brick wall. A man is free to go to Chicago
or New York, but he is not free to go to both cities at one
and the same time. Freedom is always within destiny. It is
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martin luther king, jr.
the chosen ful�llment of our destined nature. We are always
The essence of man is found in freedom. This is what
Paul Tillich means when he a¤rms, “Man is man because
What is freedom? It is, �rst, the capacity to deliberate
or to weigh alternatives. “Shall I be a doctor or a lawyer?”
“Shall I be a Democrat, Republican or Socialist?” “Shall
I be a humanist or a theist?” Moment by moment we go
through life engaged in this strange conversation with our-
selves. Second, freedom expresses itself in decision. The
word “decision,” like the word “incision,” involves the im-
age of cutting. Incision means to cut in, decision means to
cut oƒ. When I make a decision, I cut oƒ alternatives and
make a choice. The existentialists say we must choose, that
we are choosing animals, and that if we do not choose, we
sink into thinghood and the mass mind. A third expression of
freedom is responsibility. This is the obligation of the person
to respond if he is questioned about his decisions. No one
else can respond for him. He alone must respond, for his acts
The immorality of segregation is that it is a sel�shly con-
trived system which cuts oƒ one’s capacity to deliberate, de-
The absence of freedom imposes restraint on my delib-
erations as to what I shall do, where I shall live or the kind of
task I shall pursue. I am robbed of the basic quality of man-
ness. When I cannot choose what I shall do or where I shall
live, it means in fact that someone or some system has already
made these decisions for me, and I am reduced to an animal.
Then the only resemblance I have to a man is in my motor
responses and functions. I cannot adequately assume respon-
where do we go from here
216
sibility as a person because I have been made the victim of a
This is why segregation has wreaked havoc with the Ne-
gro. It is sometimes di¤cult to determine which are the
deepest wounds, the physical or the psychological. Only a
Negro understands the social leprosy that segregation in�icts
upon him. Like a nagging ailment, it follows his every activ-
ity, leaving him tormented by day and haunted by night. The
suppressed fears and resentments and the expressed anxieties
and sensitivities make each day a life of turmoil. Every con-
frontation with the restrictions against him is another emo-
tional battle in a never-ending war. Nothing can be more
diabolical than a deliberate attempt to destroy in any man his
will to be a man and to withhold from him that something
The church has an opportunity and a duty to lift up its
voice like a trumpet and declare unto the people the immo-
rality of segregation. It must a¤rm that every human life is
a re�ection of divinity, and that every act of injustice mars
and defaces the image of God in man. The undergirding
philosophy of segregation is diametrically opposed to the un-
dergirding philosophy of our Judeo-Christian heritage, and
all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down
But declarations against segregation, however sincere, are
not enough. The church must take the lead in social re-
form. It must move out into the arena of life and do battle
for the sanctity of religious commitments. And it must lead
men along the path of true integration, something the law
Genuine integration will come when men are obedient
to the unenforceable. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick has made
an impressive distinction between enforceable and unen-
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martin luther king, jr.
forceable obligations. The former are regulated by the codes
of society and the vigorous implementation of law-enforce-
ment agencies. Breaking these obligations, spelled out on
thousands of pages in lawbooks, has �lled numberless pris-
ons. But unenforceable obligations are beyond the reach of
the laws of society. They concern inner attitudes, expressions
of compassion which lawbooks cannot regulate and jails can-
not rectify. Such obligations are met by one’s commitment
to an inner law, a law written on the heart. Man-made laws
assure justice, but a higher law produces love. No code of
conduct ever compelled a father to love his children or a
husband to show aƒection to his wife. The law court may
force him to provide bread for the family, but it cannot make
him provide the bread of love. A good father is obedient to
The ultimate solution to the race problem lies in the will-
ingness of men to obey the unenforceable. Court orders
and federal enforcement agencies are of inestimable value in
achieving desegregation, but desegregation is only a partial,
though necessary, step toward the �nal goal which we seek
to realize, genuine intergroup and interpersonal living. De-
segregation will break down the legal barriers and bring men
together physically, but something must touch the hearts and
souls of men so that they will come together spiritually be-
cause it is natural and right. A vigorous enforcement of civil
rights will bring an end to segregated public facilities, but it
cannot bring an end to fears, prejudice, pride and irrational-
ity, which are the barriers to a truly integrated society. These
dark and demonic responses will be removed only as men
are possessed by the invisible inner law which etches on their
hearts the conviction that all men are brothers and that love
is mankind’s most potent weapon for personal and social
where do we go from here
218
transformation. True integration will be achieved by men
In the �nal analysis the white man cannot ignore the
Negro’s problem, because he is a part of the Negro and
the Negro is a part of him. The Negro’s agony diminishes
the white man, and the Negro’s salvation enlarges the white
What is needed today on the part of white America is
a committed altruism which recognizes this truth. True al-
truism is more than the capacity to pity; it is the capacity
to empathize. Pity is feeling sorry for someone; empathy is
feeling sorry with someone. Empathy is fellow feeling for
the person in need—his pain, agony and burdens. I doubt if
the problems of our teeming ghettos will have a great chance
to be solved until the white majority, through genuine em-
pathy, comes to feel the ache and anguish of the Negroes’
21:
Uif!Ejmfnnb!pg!Ofhsp!Bnfsjdbot
he dilemma of white America is the source and cause
of the dilemma of Negro America. Just as the am-
bivalence of white Americans grows out of their op-
pressor status, the predicament of Negro Americans grows
out of their oppressed status. It is impossible for white Amer-
icans to grasp the depths and dimensions of the Negro’s di-
lemma without understanding what it means to be a Negro
in America. Of course it is not easy to perform this act of
empathy. Putting oneself in another person’s place is always
fraught with di¤culties. Over and over again it is said in the
black ghettos of America that “no white person can ever
understand what it means to be a Negro.” There is good rea-
son for this assumption, for there is very little in the life and
experience of white America that can compare to the curse
this society has put on color. And yet, if the present chasm
of hostility, fear and distrust is to be bridged, the white man
must begin to walk in the pathways of his black brothers and
feel some of the pain and hurt that throb without letup in
The central quality in the Negro’s life is pain—pain so
old and so deep that it shows in almost every moment of
his existence. It emerges in the cheerlessness of his sorrow
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martin luther king, jr.
songs, in the melancholy of his blues and in the pathos of
his sermons. The Negro while laughing sheds invisible tears
that no hand can wipe away. In a highly competitive world,
the Negro knows that a cloud of persistent denial stands be-
tween him and the sun, between him and life and power,
between him and whatever he needs. In the words of a noble
life! Being a Negro in America means being scarred
by a history of slavery and family disorganization. Negroes
have grown accustomed now to hearing unfeeling and in-
sensitive whites say: “Other immigrant groups such as the
Irish, the Jews and the Italians started out with similar handi-
caps, and yet they made it. Why haven’t the Negroes done
the same?” These questioners refuse to see that the situa-
tion of other immigrant groups a hundred years ago and the
situation of the Negro today cannot be usefully compared.
Negroes were brought here in chains long before the Irish
to leave Ireland or the Italians thought of
leaving Italy. Some Jews may have left their homes in Europe
involuntarily, but they were not in chains when they arrived
on these shores. Other immigrant groups came to America
with language and economic handicaps, but not with the
stigma of color. Above all, no other ethnic group has been a
slave on American soil, and no other group has had its family
Today there is considerable discussion about the disinte-
where do we go from here
gration of the Negro family in the urban ghettos. We need
only to learn something about the special origins of the Ne-
gro family to discover the root of the problem. The Negro
family for three hundred years has been on the tracks of the
racing locomotives of American history, dragged along man-
gled and crippled. Pettigrew has pointed out that American
slavery is distinguished from all other forms of slavery be-
cause it consciously dehumanized the Negro. In Greece and
Rome, for example, slaves preserved dignity and a measure
of family life. Our institution of slavery, on the other hand,
began with the breakup of families on the coasts of Africa.
Because the middle passage was long and expensive, Afri-
can families were torn apart in the interest of selectivity, as if
the members were beasts. In the ships’ holds, black captives
were packed spoon fashion to live on a voyage often lasting
two to six months in a space for each the size of a co¤n. If
water ran short, or famine threatened, or a plague broke out,
whole cargoes of living and dead were thrown overboard.
The sheer physical torture was su¤cient to murder millions
of men, women and children. But even more incalculable
Of those families who survived the voyage, many more
were ripped apart on the auction block as soon as they
reached American shores. Against this ghastly background the
Negro family began life in the United States. On the plan-
tation the institution of legal marriage for slaves did not ex-
ist. The masters might direct mating, or if they did not
intervene, marriage occurred without sanctions. There were
polygamous relationships, fragile monogamous relationships,
illegitimacies, abandonment and the repetitive tearing apart
of families as children, husbands or wives were sold to other
plantations. But these cruel conditions were not yet the
whole story. Masters and their sons used Negro women to
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martin luther king, jr.
satisfy their spontaneous lust or, when more humane atti-
tudes prevailed, as concubines. The depths were reached in
Virginia, which we sentimentally call the State of Presidents.
There slaves were bred for sale, not casually or incidentally,
but in a vast deliberate program which produced enormous
wealth for slaveowners. This breeding program was one an-
swer to the legal halting of the slave tra¤c early in the nine-
Against these odds the Negro family struggled to survive
through the antebellum era, and miraculously many did. In
all this psychological and physical horror many slaves man-
aged to hold on to their children and developed warmth and
aƒection and family loyalties against the smashing tides of
The liberation from slavery in 1863, which should have
initiated the birth of a stable Negro family life, meant a for-
mal legal freedom but, as Henrietta Buckmaster put it, “With
Appomattox, four million black people in the South owned
their skins and nothing more.” With civil war still dividing
the nation, a new inferno engulfed the Negro and his family.
Thrown oƒ the plantations, penniless, homeless, still largely
in the territory of their enemies and in the grip of fear, be-
wilderment and aimlessness, hundreds of thousands became
wanderers. For security they �ed to Union Army camps that
were unprepared to help. One writer describes a mother car-
eight other children with their hands tied to one rope held
by the mother, who struggled after Sherman’s army and trav-
eled hundreds of miles to safety. All were not so fortunate.
In the starvation-induced madness some Negroes killed their
These are historical facts. If they cause the mind to reel
with horror, it is still necessary to realize that this is but a tiny
where do we go from here
224
glimpse of the reality of the era, and it does justice neither
to the enormous extent of the tragedy nor to the degree of
Following the Civil War, millions returned to a new
form of slavery, once again imprisoned on plantations devoid
of human rights and plunged into searing poverty genera-
tion after generation. Some families found their way to the
North, in a movement E. Franklin Frazier aptly describes as
“into the city of destruction.” Illiterate, afraid and crushed
by want, they were herded into the slums. The bewildering
complexity of the city undermined the con�dence of fathers
and mothers, causing them to lose control of their children,
Once more the Negro’s problem had two cutting edges.
Because the institution of marriage had been illegal under
slavery, and because of indiscriminate sex relations, often
with their white masters, mothers could identify their chil-
dren but frequently not their children’s fathers. Moreover,
the women, being more generally in the house and charged
with the care of the white master’s children, were more often
exposed to some education and a sense—though minimal—
of personal worth. Hence a matriarchy had early developed.
After slavery it persisted because in the cities there was more
employment for women than for men. Though both were
unskilled, the women could be used in domestic service at
low wages. The woman became the support of the house-
hold and the matriarchy was reinforced. The Negro male
existed in a larger society dominated by men, but he was
The quest of the Negro male for employment was always
frustrating. If he lacked skill, he was only occasionally wanted
because such employment as he could �nd had little regular-
ity and even less remuneration. If he had a skill, he also had
225
martin luther king, jr.
his black skin, and discrimination locked doors against him.
In the competition for scarce jobs he was a loser because he
His rage and torment were frequently turned inward, be-
cause if they gained outward expression their consequences
could be fatal. The Negro father became resigned to hope-
lessness, and he communicated this to his children. Some
men, unable to contain the emotional storms, struck out at
those who would be least likely to destroy them. They beat
their wives and their children in order to protest a social
injustice, and the tragedy was that none of them understood
The shattering blows on the Negro family have made it
fragile, deprived and often psychopathic. This is doubly tragic
because nothing is so much needed as a secure family life for
a people seeking to rise out of poverty and backwardness.
History continues to mock the Negro today, because just as
he needs ever greater family integrity, severe strains are as-
sailing family life in the white community. Delinquency is
not con�ned to the underprivileged; it is rampant among the
middle and upper social strata, and more than one observer
argues that juvenile delinquency is a product of widespread
adult delinquency. In short, the larger society is not at this
The dark side of the picture appears to make the future
bleak, if not hopeless. Yet something says this is not true. Back
on the coasts of Africa, mothers fought slave traders �ercely
to save their children. They oƒered their bodies to slavers if
they would leave the children behind. On some slave ships
that are known, and many that will never be known, man-
acled Negroes crawled from the holds and fought unarmed
against guns and knives. On slave plantations parents fought,
stole, sacri�ced and died for their families. After liberation
where do we go from here
226
countless mothers wandered over roadless states looking for
the children who had been taken from them and sold. And
�nally, in the past decade mothers, fathers and their children
have marched together against clubs, guns, cattle prods and
mobs, not for conquest but only to be allowed to live as hu-
mans. The Negro was crushed, battered and brutalized, but
he never gave up. He proves again that life is stronger than
death. The Negro family is scarred; it is submerged; but it
A hundred times I have been asked why we have al-
lowed little children to march in demonstrations, to freeze
and suƒer in jails, to be exposed to bullets and dynamite.
The questions imply that we have revealed a want of family
feeling or a recklessness toward family security. The answer
is simple. Our children and our families are maimed a little
every day of our lives. If we can end an incessant torture
by a single climactic confrontation, the risks are acceptable.
Moreover, our family life will be born anew if we �ght to-
gether. Other families may be fortunate enough to be able
to protect their young from danger. Our families, as we have
seen, are diƒerent. Oppression has again and again divided
and splintered them. We are a people torn apart from era to
era. It is logical, moral and psychologically constructive for
us to resist oppression united as families. Out of this unity,
out of the bond of �ghting together, forges will come. The
The most optimistic element revealed in any review of
the Negro family’s experience is that the causes for its pres-
ent crisis are culturally and socially induced. What man has
torn down, he can rebuild. At the root of the di¤culty in
Negro life today is pervasive and persistent economic want.
To grow from within, the Negro family—and especially the
Negro man—needs only fair opportunity for jobs, educa-
227
martin luther king, jr.
tion, housing and access to culture. To be strengthened from
the outside requires protection from the grim exploitation
The Negro family lived in nature’s jungle in Africa and
subdued the hostile environment. In the United States it has
lived in a man-made social and psychological jungle which
it could not subdue. Many have been destroyed by it. Yet
others have survived and developed a formidable capacity for
hardships. It is on this strength that society must now begin
As public awareness of the predicament of the Negro fam-
ily increases, there will be danger and opportunity. The op-
portunity will be to deal fully rather than haphazardly with
the problem as a whole—to see it as a social catastrophe
brought on by long years of brutality and oppression and to
meet it as other disasters are met, with an adequacy of re-
sources. The danger will be that the problems will be attrib-
uted to innate Negro weaknesses and used to justify further
Many of the ugly pages of American history have been
obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover
misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can
fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the
present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only
begun to pay. If it loses the will to �nish or slackens in its
determination, history will recall its crimes and the country
that would be great will lack the most indispensable element
Being a Negro in America means not only living with the
consequences of a past of slavery and family disorganization,
the society, with unmitigated cruelty, has made the Negro’s
color anathema, every Negro child suƒers a traumatic emo-
where do we go from here
228
tional burden when he encounters the reality of his black
skin. In Dr. Kenneth Clark’s classic study,
Qsfkvejdf!boe
there is a simple test for color sensitivity in young
children. This involves having a child draw a tree, an apple
and a child, and then proceed to color each one at will. One
of my colleagues reports conducting this test with his three-
year-old daughter. The child, holding the crayon deftly and
delicately, colored the tree green and then in the same way
shaded the apple red. But when it came to coloring the child,
she gripped the crayon with her �st and in a violent pattern
This was a child living in a Long Island suburb, not in the
Deep South. Her parents were well educated and sensitive to
the child’s emotional health, but in America there is no es-
cape from the awareness of color and the fact that our society
Every Negro comes face to face with this color shock,
by a sort of fatiguing, wearisome hopelessness. If one is re-
jected because he is uneducated, he can at least be consoled
by the fact that it may be possible for him to get an educa-
tion. If one is rejected because he is low on the economic
ladder, he can at least dream of the day that he will rise from
his dungeon of economic deprivation. If one is rejected be-
cause he speaks with an accent, he can at least, if he desires,
work to bring his speech in line with the dominant group.
If, however, one is rejected because of his color, he must
face the anguishing fact that he is being rejected because of
something in himself that cannot be changed. All prejudice
is evil, but the prejudice that rejects a man because of the
color of his skin is the most despicable expression of man’s
Being a Negro in America means being herded in ghet-
229
martin luther king, jr.
tos, or reservations, being constantly ignored and made to
feel invisible. You long to be seen, to be heard, to be re-
spected. But it is like blowing in the wind. As I think about
the anatomy of the ghetto, I am often reminded of a passage
It is di¤cult to let others see the full psychological
meaning of caste segregation. It is as though one, look-
ing out from a dark cave in a side of an impending
mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it;
speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them
how these entombed souls are hindered in their natu-
ral movement, expression, and development; and how
their loosening from prison would be a matter not
simply of courtesy, sympathy, and help to them, but
aid to all the world. One talks on evenly and logi-
cally in this way but notices that the passing throng
does not even turn its head, or if it does, glances curi-
ously and walks on. It gradually penetrates the minds
of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear;
that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible
plate glass is between them and the world.
the people within may become hysterical. They may
scream and hurl themselves against the barriers, hardly
realizing in their bewilderment that they are screaming
in a vacuum unheard and that their antics may actually
seem funny to those outside looking in. They may
even, here and there, break through in blood and dis-
�gurement, and �nd themselves faced by a horri�ed,
implacable, and quite overwhelming mob of people
Most people are totally unaware of the darkness of the
cave in which the Negro is forced to live. A few individuals
where do we go from here
22:
can break out, but the vast majority remain its prisoners. Our
cities have constructed elaborate expressways and elevated
skyways, and white Americans speed from suburb to inner
city through vast pockets of black deprivation without ever
But while so many white Americans are unaware of con-
ditions inside the ghetto, there are very few ghetto dwellers
who are unaware of the life outside. Their television sets
bombard them day by day with the opulence of the larger
society. From behind the ghetto walls they see glistening
towers of glass and steel springing up almost overnight. They
hear jet liners speeding over their heads at six hundred miles
an hour. They hear of satellites streaking through outer space
Then they begin to think of their own conditions. They
know that they are always given the hardest, ugliest, most
menial work to do. They look at these impressive buildings
under construction and realize that almost certainly they can-
not get those well-paying construction jobs, because build-
ing trade unions reserve them for whites only. They know
that people who built the bridges, the mansions and docks
of the South could build modern buildings if they were only
given a chance for apprenticeship training. They realize that
it is hard, raw discrimination that shuts them out. It is not
only poverty that torments the Negro; it is the fact of pov-
erty amid plenty. It is a misery generated by the gulf between
the a‰uence he sees in the mass media and the deprivation
Living with the daily ugliness of slum life, educational
castration and economic exploitation, some ghetto dwellers
now and then strike out in spasms of violence and self-de-
feating riots. A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.
It is the desperate, suicidal cry of one who is so fed up with
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martin luther king, jr.
the powerlessness of his cave existence that he asserts that he
Touring Watts a few days after that nightmarish riot in
1965, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young and I confronted a
We asked them: “How can you say you won when thirty-
four Negroes are dead, your community is destroyed, and
Their answer: “We won because we made them pay at-
As long as people are ignored, as long as they are voice-
less, as long as they are trampled by the iron feet of exploita-
tion, there is the danger that they, like little children, will
have their emotional outbursts which will break out in vio-
The amazing thing about the ghetto is that so few Ne-
groes have rioted. Ninety-nine percent of American Negroes
have never thrown a Molotov cocktail or lit a match to
comply with the admonition, “Burn, baby, burn.” Even
more amazing is the fact that so many ghetto inhabitants
have maintained hope in the midst of hopeless conditions.
Contrary to the myth held by many white Americans, the
ghetto is not a monolithic unit of dope addicts, alcoholics,
prostitutes and unwed mothers. There are churches in the
ghetto as well as bars. There are stable families in the ghetto
as well as illegitimacies. Ninety percent of the young people
of the ghetto never come in con�ict with the law. We are
constantly made aware of desertions and illegitimacies that
take place in the ghetto, but often forget the vast majority of
families that have stayed together throughout the years. De-
spite the overwhelming odds, the majority of Negroes in the
ghetto go on living, go on striving, go on hoping. This is the
miracle. To be a Negro in America is often to hope against
where do we go from here
232
hope. It means �ghting daily a double battle—a battle against
pathology within and a battle against oppression without.
For the past year I have been living and working in the
ghettos of Chicago. There the problems of poverty and de-
spair are graphically illustrated. The phone rings daily with
countless stories of man’s inhumanity to man, and I �nd my-
self struggling constantly against the depression and hopeless-
ness which the hearts of our cities pump into the spiritual
This is truly an island of poverty in the midst of an ocean
of plenty, for Chicago now boasts the highest per capita in-
come of any city in the world. But you would never believe
it looking out of the windows of my apartment in the slum
of Lawndale. From this vantage point you see only hundreds
of children playing in the streets, and when you go out and
talk to them you see the light of intelligence glowing in their
beautiful dark eyes. Then you realize their overwhelming
joy because someone has simply stopped to say hello; for
they live in a world where even their parents are often forced
to ignore them. In the tight squeeze of economic pressure,
their mothers and fathers both must work; indeed, more of-
ten than not, the father will hold two jobs, one in the day
and another at night. With the long distances ghetto par-
ents must travel to work and the emotional exhaustion that
comes from the daily struggle to survive in a hostile world,
they are left with too little time or energy to attend to the
Too soon you begin to see the eƒects of this emotional
and environmental deprivation. The children’s clothes are
too skimpy to protect them from the Chicago wind, and a
closer look reveals the mucus in the corners of their bright
eyes, and you are reminded that vitamin pills and �u shots
are luxuries which they can ill aƒord. The “runny noses” of
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martin luther king, jr.
ghetto children become a graphic symbol of medical neglect
in a society which has mastered most of the diseases from
which they will too soon die. There is something wrong in
Last summer our own children lived with us in Lawn-
dale, and it was only a few days before we became aware of
the change in their behavior. Their tempers �ared and they
sometimes reverted to almost infantile behavior. As riots
raged around them outside, I realized that the crowded �at
in which we lived was about to produce an emotional explo-
sion in my own family. It was just too hot, too crowded, too
devoid of creative forms of recreation. There was just not
space enough in the neighborhood to run oƒ the energy of
childhood without running into busy, tra¤c-laden streets.
And I understood anew the conditions which make of the
One can only assume that the determining factor in the
destiny of the children of Lawndale and other ghettos is their
color. The evidence of the schools is persuasive. Statistics
revealed in 1964 that Chicago spent an average of $366 a year
per pupil in predominantly white schools and from $450 to
$900 a year per pupil for suburban white neighborhoods, but
the Negro neighborhoods received only $266 per year per
pupil. In this way the system conspires to perpetuate inferior
status and to prepare the Negro for those tasks that no one
else wants, hence creating a mass of unskilled, cheap labor
for the society at large. Already in childhood their lives are
crushed mentally, emotionally and physically, and then so-
ciety develops the myth of inferiority to give credence to its
lifelong patterns of exploitation, which can only be de�ned
As adults, my neighbors pay more rent in the substan-
dard slums of Lawndale than the whites must pay for modern
where do we go from here
234
apartments in the suburbs. The median rent in Lawndale is
$90 per month for four and a half rooms without utilities,
usually without heat on a regular basis, and with only the
most spasmodic janitorial services. Whites in the suburbs
of Gage Park, South Deering and Belmont-Cragen pay a
median rent of less than $80 per month for �ve and a half
The situation is much the same for consumer goods, pur-
chase prices on homes and a variety of other services. Con-
sumer items range from �ve to twelve cents higher in the
ghetto stores than in the suburban stores, both run by
the same supermarket chains; and numerous stores in the
ghetto have been the subject of community protests against
the sale of spoiled meats and vegetables. This exploitation is
possible because so many of the residents of the ghetto have
no personal means of transportation. It is a vicious circle.
You can’t get a job because you are poorly educated, and
you must depend on welfare to feed your children; but if you
receive public aid in Chicago, you cannot own property, not
even an automobile, so you are condemned to the jobs and
shops which are closest to your home. Once con�ned to
this isolated community, one no longer participates in a free
economy, but is subject to price-�xing and wholesale rob-
The Chicago Urban League has documented a 10–20
percent “color tax” which applies on virtually every product
purchased in the segregated community. This is especially
true of housing, for the color tax is applied in every step
of the transaction. First, it swells the purchase price of the
house, for the demand for homes by Negroes far exceeds the
supply, and as long as theirs are closed communities, Negroes
will be forced to pay more. Next it is applied by the bank-
ing and lending institutions, who declare the Negro a poor
235
martin luther king, jr.
credit risk and charge him exorbitant interest rates or refuse
him traditional loans and thereby force him to buy homes
Finally, when a man is able to make his way through the
maze of handicaps and get just one foot out of the jungle of
poverty and exploitation, he is subject to the whims of the
political and economic giants of the city, which move in
impersonally to crush the little �ower of success that has just
One illustration is the community of Englewood in Chi-
cago. Englewood is 85 percent Negro. It is made up of peo-
ple who have worked and saved to become homeowners.
One such homeowner is a redcap in the railroad station who
was somehow able to purchase a home for $17,000. Now
the Urban Renewal Authority has claimed his home along
with six hundred others, not because they are deteriorating
or substandard but because the shopping center wants addi-
tional parking space. The house was appraised at the normal
market price of $14,000, rather than the in�ated Negro mar-
ket price of $17,000, after only four years’ occupancy, during
which time all real estate values in the Chicago area were on
These families have appealed to the local and national of-
�ces of Urban Renewal, and even taken their case into fed-
eral court, but to no avail. The city continues to acquire land
and evict families, returning them to the slums from whence
they came, deeper in debt, bitter and resentful, with no voice
or hope of redress. All attempts to oƒer alternative proposals,
such as double-decking the present parking areas, have been
Here the democratic process breaks down, for the rights
of the individual voter are impossible to organize without
adequate funds, while the business community supplies the
where do we go from here
236
existing political machine with enough funds to organize
Here, too, the North reveals its true ambivalence on the
subject of civil rights. When, in the last session of Congress,
the issue came home to the North through a call for open
housing legislation, white Northern congressmen who had
enthusiastically supported the 1964 and 1965 civil rights bills
now joined in a mighty chorus of anguish and dismay remi-
niscent of Alabama and Mississippi. So the �rst piece of leg-
islation aimed at rectifying a shocking evil in the North went
Nothing today more clearly indicates the residue of rac-
ism still lodging in our society than the responses of white
America to integrated housing. Here the tides of prejudice,
fear and irrationality rise to �ood proportions. This is not a
new backlash caused by the Black Power movement; there
had been no ominous riots in Watts when white Californians
defeated a fair housing bill in 1964. The present resistance to
open housing is based on the same premises that came into
being to rationalize slavery. It is rooted in the fear that the
alleged depravity or defective nature of the out-race will in-
The potential presence of a Negro in a previously all-
white neighborhood often arouses hostility and causes panic
selling. The question of the character of the potential Negro
neighbor is not a matter of inquiry. If it were, a Cicero,
Illinois, would welcome a Ralph Bunche into the commu-
nity rather than an Al Capone. The fact that professional
white hoodlums and racketeers are located in the best neigh-
borhoods of Cicero is �t proof that the opposition to open
housing is not based on behavior or moral standards. The
reason Ralph Bunche could not live in Cicero is that he is
a Negro, pure and simple. His individual culture, brilliance
237
martin luther king, jr.
and character are not considered. To the racist, he, like every
Negro, lacks individuality. He is part of a defective group.
Just as the doctrine of white supremacy came into being
to justify the pro�table system of slavery, through shrewd
and subtle ways some realtors perpetrate the same racist doc-
trine to justify the pro�table real estate business. Real estate
brokers build up �nancial empires by keeping the housing
market closed. Going into white neighborhoods where a few
Negroes have moved in, they urge the whites to leave be-
cause their property values will depreciate. Thereupon, the
real estate broker makes a huge pro�t from the whites that
must be relocated and a doubly huge pro�t from the Ne-
groes, who, in desperate search for better housing, often pay
Many whites who oppose open housing would deny that
they are racists. They turn to sociological arguments—the
crime rate in the Negro community, the lagging cultural
standards, the fear that their schools will become academi-
cally inferior, the fear that property values will depreciate
—in order to �nd excuses for their opposition. They never
stop to realize that criminal responses are environmental,
not racial. To hem a people up in the prison walls of over-
crowded ghettos and to con�ne them in rat-infested slums
is to breed crime, whatever the racial group may be. It is a
strange and twisted logic to use the tragic results of segrega-
tion as an argument for its continuation. As to the argument
that Negroes depreciate property values, study after study has
revealed that it is usually the other way around. When Ne-
groes move into a neighborhood and whites refuse to �ee,
property values are more likely to increase. It is only when
blockbusting takes place and whites begin to move out that
However much it is denied, however many excuses are
where do we go from here
238
made, the hard cold fact is that many white Americans op-
pose open housing because they unconsciously, and often
consciously, feel that the Negro is innately inferior, impure,
depraved and degenerate. It is a contemporary expression of
America’s long dalliance with racism and white supremacy.
No Negro escapes this cycle of modern slavery. Even the
new Negro middle class often �nds itself in ghettoized hous-
ing and in jobs at the mercy of the white world. Some of the
most tragic �gures in our society now are the Negro com-
pany vice presidents who sit with no authority or in�uence
because they were merely employed for window dressing in
an eƒort to win the Negro market or to comply with federal
regulations in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
And so being a Negro in America is not a comfortable ex-
istence. It means being a part of the company of the bruised,
the battered, the scarred and the defeated. Being a Negro
in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It
means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological
death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up
with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means hav-
ing your legs cut oƒ, and then being condemned for being
a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritu-
ally murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation,
and then being hated for being an orphan. Being a Negro
in America means listening to suburban politicians talk el-
oquently against open housing while arguing in the same
breath that they are not racists. It means being harried by day
and haunted by night by a nagging sense of nobodyness and
constantly �ghting to be saved from the poison of bitterness.
It means the ache and anguish of living in so many situations
After 348 years racial injustice is still the Negro’s burden
and America’s shame. Yet for his own inner health and outer
239
martin luther king, jr.
functioning, the Negro is called upon to be as resourceful, as
productive and as responsible as those who have not known
such oppression and exploitation.
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He who starts behind in a race must forever remain behind
or run faster than the man in front. What a dilemma! It is a
call to do the impossible. It is enough to cause the Negro to
And yet there are times when life demands the perpetual
doing of the impossible. The life of our slave forebears is
eternal testimony to the ability of men to achieve the impos-
sible. So, too, we must embark upon this di¤cult, trying
and sometimes bewildering course. With a dynamic will, we
must transform our minus into a plus, and move on aggres-
sively through the storms of injustice and the jostling winds
of daily handicaps, toward the beaconing lights of ful�ll-
ment. Our dilemma is serious and our handicaps are real.
But equally real is the power of a creative will and its ability
Once when Ole Bull, the Norwegian violinist, was giv-
ing a concert in Paris, his A string snapped. Instead of stop-
ping, Ole Bull transposed the composition and �nished the
concert on three strings. This is what the Negro confronts.
Through years of unjust oppression and unmerited suƒering
our A strings of opportunity have snapped. But the perfor-
mance of our lives must go on, and without self-pity or sur-
render we must go forward on three strings. Our lives will
be comparable to the Battle of Marengo—in the morning an
obvious defeat, in the afternoon a resounding victory. It is
something of what Langston Hughes expresses in his poem
where do we go from here
23:
This is the challenge facing every Negro. It is this deter-
mination to “keep climbing” that will transform the dark
What, then, are the challenges that the Negro faces as a result
There is always the understandable temptation to seek
negative and self-destructive solutions. Some seek a passive
way out by yielding to the feeling of inferiority; or by al-
lowing the �oodgates of defeat to open with an avalanche of
despair; or by dropping out of school; or by turning to the
escape valves of narcotics and alcohol. Others seek a de�-
ant way out. Through antisocial behavior, overt delinquency
241
martin luther king, jr.
and gang warfare, they release their pent-up vindictiveness
on the whole society. Meanness becomes their dominating
characteristic. They trust no one and do not expect oth-
ers to trust them. Still others seek to deal with the dilemma
through the path of isolation. They have the fantasy of a
separate black state or a separate black nation within the na-
tion. This approach is the most cynical and nihilistic of all,
because it is based on a loss of faith in the possibilities of
The shattered dreams and blasted hopes of the Negro’s
daily life provide the psychological and sociological expla-
nation for the choice by some of negative paths of escape.
A society that has treated a whole race of people as �otsam
and jetsam in the river of life cannot expect all of them to
grow up healthy and well balanced. But in spite of these
explanations the Negro cannot constructively deal with his
dilemma through negative strategies. In spite of uncertainties
and vicissitudes we must develop the courage to confront
the negatives of circumstance with the positives of inner de-
One positive response to our dilemma is to develop a
rugged sense of somebodyness. The tragedy of slavery and
segregation is that they instilled in the Negro a disastrous
sense of his own worthlessness. To overcome this terrible
feeling of being less than human, the Negro must assert for
all to hear and see a majestic sense of his worth. There is such
a thing as a desegregated mind. We must no longer allow the
outer chains of an oppressive society to shackle our minds.
With courage and fearlessness we must set out daringly to
stabilize our egos. This alone will give us a con�rmation of
This sense of somebodyness means the refusal to be
ashamed of being black. Our children must be taught to
where do we go from here
242
stand tall with their heads proudly lifted. We need not be
duped into purchasing bleaching creams that promise to
make us lighter. We need not process our hair to make it ap-
pear straight. Whether some men, black and white, realize it
or not, black people are very beautiful. Life’s piano can only
produce the melodies of brotherhood when it is recognized
that the black keys are as basic, necessary and beautiful as the
white keys. The Negro, through self-acceptance and self-
appreciation, will one day cause white America to see that
integration is not an obstacle, but an opportunity to partici-
Courage, the determination not to be overwhelmed by
any object, that power of the mind capable of sloughing oƒ
the thingi�cation of the past, will be the Negro’s most potent
weapon in achieving self-respect. Something of the inner
spirit of our slave forebears must be pursued today. From the
inner depths of our being we must sing with them: “Before
I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my
Lord and be free.” This spirit, this drive, this rugged sense of
somebodyness is the �rst and most vital step that the Negro
A second important step that the Negro must take is to
work passionately for group identity. This does not mean
group isolation or group exclusivity. It means the kind of
group consciousness that Negroes need in order to partici-
pate more meaningfully at all levels of the life of our nation.
Group unity necessarily involves group trust and recon-
ciliation. One of the most serious eƒects of the Negro’s dam-
aged ego has been his frequent loss of respect for himself and
for other Negroes. He ends up with an ambivalence toward
his own kind. To overcome this tragic con�ict, it will be
necessary for the Negro to �nd a new self-image. Only by
being reconciled to ourselves will we be able to build upon
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martin luther king, jr.
the resources we already have at our disposal. Too many
Negroes are jealous of other Negroes’ successes and prog-
ress. Too many Negro organizations are warring against each
other with a claim to absolute truth. The Pharaohs had a
favorite and eƒective strategy to keep their slaves in bond-
age: keep them �ghting among themselves. The divide-and-
conquer technique has been a potent weapon in the arsenal
of oppression. But when slaves unite, the Red Seas of history
This plea for unity is not a call for uniformity. There must
always be healthy debate. There will be inevitable differ-
ences of opinion. The dilemma that the Negro confronts is
so complex and monumental that its solution will of neces-
sity involve a diversi�ed approach. But Negroes can diƒer
There are already structured forces in the Negro com-
munity that can serve as the basis for building a powerful
united front—the Negro church, the Negro press, the Ne-
gro fraternities and sororities, and Negro professional asso-
ciations. We must admit that these forces have never given
their full resources to the cause of Negro liberation. There
are still too many Negro churches that are so absorbed in a
future good “over yonder” that they condition their mem-
bers to adjust to the present evils “over here.” Too many
Negro newspapers have veered away from their traditional
role as protest organs agitating for social change, and have
turned to the sensational and the conservative in place of
the substantive and the militant. Too many Negro social
and professional groups have degenerated into snobbish-
ness and a preoccupation with frivolities and trivial activity.
But the failures of the past must not be an excuse for the
inaction of the present and the future. These groups must
be mobilized and motivated. This form of group unity can
where do we go from here
244
do in�nitely more to liberate the Negro than any action of
We have been oppressed as a group and we must
Through this form of group unity we can begin a con-
structive program which will vigorously seek to improve
our personal standards. It is not a sign of weakness, but a
sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism.
Through group unity we must convey to one another that
our women must be respected, and that life is too precious
to be destroyed in a Saturday night brawl, or a gang execu-
tion. Through community agencies and religious institutions
we must develop a positive program through which Ne-
gro youth can become adjusted to urban living and improve
their general level of behavior. While I strongly disagree with
their separatist black supremacy philosophy, I have nothing
but admiration for what our Muslim brothers have done to
rehabilitate ex-convicts, dope addicts and men and women
who, through despair and self-hatred, have sunk to moral
degeneracy. This must be attempted on a much larger scale,
and without the negative overtones that accompany Black
Since crime often grows out of a sense of futility and
hopelessness, Negro parents, in spite of almost insuperable
economic obstacles, must be urged to give their children the
love, attention and sense of belonging that an oppressive so-
ciety deprives them of. While not ignoring the fact that the
ultimate way to diminish our problems of crime, family dis-
organization, illegitimacy and so forth will have to be found
through a government program to help the frustrated Negro
male �nd his true masculinity by placing him on his own
two economic feet, we must do all within our power to ap-
There is a third thing that the Negro must do to grapple
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martin luther king, jr.
with his dilemma. We must make full and constructive use of
the freedom we already possess. We must not wait until the
day of full emancipation before we set out to make our indi-
vidual and collective contributions to the life of our nation.
Even though slavery and segregation were designed to make
the Negro adjust patiently to mediocrity, we must work as-
siduously to aspire to excellence. This is particularly relevant
for the young Negro. Realism impels us to admit that many
older Negroes have been so scarred by long years of oppres-
sion, by limited or no education, that they can no longer be
expected to achieve excellence. There are also some Negro
youth who have faced so many closed doors and so many
crippling defeats that they have lost motivation. For those
youth who are alienated from the routines of work, there
should be subsidized work situations which permit �exibility
so that they can be carried along until they can manage the
But there are a host of Negro youth who still have the
will and the capacity to achieve excellence in their various
�elds of endeavor. Doors of opportunity are gradually open-
ing now that were not open to our mothers and fathers. The
great challenge is to prepare ourselves to enter these doors
We already have the inspiring examples of Negroes who
with determination have broken through the shackles of
circumstance. From an old slave cabin in Virginia’s hills,
Booker T. Washington rose to become one of America’s
great leaders. From the oppressive hills of Gordon County,
Georgia, and the arms of a mother who could neither read
nor write, Roland Hayes emerged as a singer whose melodi-
ous voice was heard in the palaces of kings and the mansions
of queens. Coming from a poverty-stricken environment in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marian Anderson became a dis-
where do we go from here
246
tinguished contralto so honored by the world that Toscanini
said a voice like hers comes only once in a century, and Si-
belius exclaimed that his roof was too low for such a voice.
From crippling beginnings, George Washington Carver cre-
ated for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of sci-
ence. From the racist bastion of Laurel, Mississippi, Leontyne
Price, with a majestic soprano and a brilliant dramatic tal-
ent, rose to the heights of the Metropolitan Opera. Ralph J.
Bunche, the grandson of a slave preacher, sits near the top in
There was a star in the poetic sky, and then came James
Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen,
Claude McKay and Langston Hughes to reach up and touch
it. As musical artists and performers, Harry Belafonte sing-
ing the folk songs of every culture, Sammy Davis exclaim-
ing “Yes I Can,” Mahalia Jackson belting out the powerful
gospel songs of the Negro church, Ray Charles sighing the
blues, Duke Ellington pouring forth his superb jazz and Sid-
ney Poitier acting with powerful talent have all reached the
zenith of achievement and fame. The eloquent pens of Ne-
gro writers like W.
B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Ralph
Ellison and James Baldwin have left their literary marks on
the sands of time. From years of exclusion and denial Joe
Louis, Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Roy
Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron,
Frank Robinson, James Brown, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamber-
lain, Jesse Owens, Buddy Young, Althea Gibson and Arthur
Ashe all rose to the heights of the athletic world. These are
only a few of the examples which remind us that, in spite of
our lack of full freedom, we can make a contribution here
Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs;
even fewer rise to the heights of genius; many are called to
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martin luther king, jr.
be laborers in the factories, �elds and streets. But no work is
insigni�cant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and
worth and should be pursued with respect for excellence.
This clear onward drive to make full and creative use of the
opportunities already available to us will be of immeasurable
value in helping us to deal constructively with our agonizing
The fourth challenge we face is to unite around powerful
action programs to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injus-
tice. We will be greatly misled if we feel that the problem
will work itself out. Structures of evil do not crumble by
passive waiting. If history teaches anything, it is that evil
is recalcitrant and determined, and never voluntarily relin-
quishes its hold short of an almost fanatical resistance. Evil
must be attacked by a counteracting persistence, by the day-
to-day assault of the battering rams of justice.
We must get rid of the false notion that there is some
miraculous quality in the �ow of time that inevitably heals
all evils. There is only one thing certain about time, and that
is that it waits for no one. If it is not used constructively, it
In this generation the children of darkness are still
shrewder than the children of light. They are always zeal-
ous and conscientious in using time for their evil purposes.
If they want to preserve segregation and tyranny, they do
not wait on time; they make time their fellow conspirator. If
they want to defeat a fair housing bill, they don’t say to the
public, “Be patient, wait on time, and our cause will win.”
Rather, they use time to spend big money, to disseminate
half-truths, to confuse the popular mind. But the forces of
light cautiously wait, patiently pray and timidly act. So we
end up with a double destruction: the destructive violence
where do we go from here
248
of the bad people and the destructive silence of the good
Equally fallacious is the notion that ethical appeals and
persuasion alone will bring about justice. This does not mean
that ethical appeals must not be made. It simply means that
those appeals must be undergirded by some form of construc-
tive coercive power. If the Negro does not add persistent
pressure to his patient plea, he will end up empty-handed.
In a not too distant yesterday, Booker T. Washington tried
this path of patient persuasion. I do not share the notion
that he was an Uncle Tom who compromised for the sake
of keeping the peace. Washington sincerely believed that if
the South was not pushed too hard, that if the South was
not forced to do something that it did not for the moment
want to do, it would voluntarily rally in the end to the Ne-
gro’s cause. Washington’s error was that he underestimated
the structures of evil; as a consequence his philosophy of
pressureless persuasion only served as a springboard for racist
Southerners to dive into deeper and more ruthless oppres-
So every ethical appeal to the conscience of the white
man must be accomplished by nonviolent pressure. If �rst-
class citizenship is to become a reality for the Negro, he must
through a powerful action program assume the primary re-
The only answer to the delay, double-dealing, tokenism
and racism that we still confront is through mass nonvio-
lent action and the ballot. At times these may seem too slow
and inadequate, but they are the only real tools we have.
Our course of action must lie neither in passively relying
on persuasion nor in actively succumbing to violent rebel-
lion, but in a higher synthesis that reconciles the truths of
these two opposites while avoiding the inadequacies and
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martin luther king, jr.
ineƒectiveness of both. With the person relying on persua-
sion, we must agree that we will not violently destroy life
or property; but we must balance this by agreeing with the
person of violence that evil must be resisted. By so doing
we avoid the nonresistance of the former and the violent
resistance of the latter. With nonviolent resistance, we need
not submit to any wrong, nor need we resort to violence in
The American racial revolution has been a revolution to
“get in” rather than to overthrow. We want a share in the
American economy, the housing market, the educational
system and the social opportunities. This goal itself indicates
that a social change in America must be nonviolent. If one
is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down
the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shoot-
ing the principal will not help. If housing is the goal, only
building and construction will produce that end. To destroy
anything, person or property, cannot bring us closer to the
So far, we have had constitutional backing for most of our
demands for change, and this has made our work easier, since
we could be sure of legal support from the federal courts.
Now we are approaching areas where the voice of the Con-
stitution is not clear. We have left the realm of constitutional
The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is
no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the
right to an adequate income. And yet, in a nation which
has a gross national product of $750 billion a year, it is mor-
ally right to insist that every person have a decent house,
an adequate education and enough money to provide basic
necessities for one’s family. Achievement of these goals will
where do we go from here
24:
be a lot more di¤cult and require much more discipline,
Mass nonviolent action will continue to be one of the
most eƒective tactics of the freedom movement. Many, es-
pecially in the North, argue that the maximum use of leg-
islation, welfare and antipoverty programs has now replaced
demonstrations, and that overt and visible protest should
now be abandoned. Nothing could prove more erroneous
than to demobilize at this point. It was the mass-action
movement that engendered the changes of the decade, but
the needs which created it are not yet satis�ed. Without the
will to unity and struggle Negroes would have no strength,
and reversal of our successes could be easily eƒected. The
use of creative tensions that broke the barriers of the South
will be as indispensable in the North to obtain and extend
But mass nonviolent demonstrations will not be enough.
They must be supplemented by a continuing job of organiza-
tion. To produce change, people must be organized to work
together in units of power. These units may be political, as in
the case of voters’ leagues and political parties; they may be
economic, as in the case of groups of tenants who join forces
to form a union, or groups of the unemployed and underem-
More and more, the civil rights movement will have
to engage in the task of organizing people into permanent
groups to protect their own interests and produce change in
their behalf. This task is tedious, and lacks the drama of dem-
It is especially important for the Negro middle class to
join this action program. To say that all too many mem-
bers of the Negro middle class have been detached specta-
251
martin luther king, jr.
tors rather than involved participants in the great drama of
social change taking place on the stage of American history
is not to overlook the unswerving dedication and unsel�sh
service of some. But many middle-class Negroes have for-
gotten their roots and are more concerned about “conspicu-
ous consumption” than about the cause of justice. Instead,
they seek to sit in some serene and passionless realm of isola-
tion, untouched and unmoved by the agonies and struggles
of their underprivileged brothers. This kind of sel�sh de-
tachment has caused the masses of Negroes to feel alienated
not only from white society but also from the Negro middle
class. They feel that the average middle-class Negro has no
perience. How many Negroes who have achieved educa-
tional and economic security have forgotten that they are
where they are because of the support of faceless, unlettered
and unheralded Negroes who did ordinary jobs in an ex-
traordinary way? How many successful Negroes have for-
gotten that uneducated and poverty-stricken mothers and
fathers often worked until their eyebrows were scorched and
their hands bruised so that their children could get an educa-
tion? For any middle-class Negro to forget the masses is an
It is time for the Negro haves to join hands with the Ne-
gro have-nots and, with compassion, journey into that other
country of hurt and denial. It is time for the Negro middle
class to rise up from its stool of indiƒerence, to retreat from
its �ight into unreality and to bring its full resources—its
heart, its mind and its checkbook—to the aid of the less for-
tunate brother. The relatively privileged Negro will never be
what he ought to be until the underprivileged Negro is what
where do we go from here
252
he ought to be. The salvation of the Negro middle class is ul-
timately dependent upon the salvation of the Negro masses.
A �nal challenge that we face as a result of our great di-
lemma is to be ever mindful of enlarging the whole society,
and giving it a new sense of values as we seek to solve our
particular problem. As we work to get rid of the economic
strangulation that we face as a result of poverty, we must not
overlook the fact that millions of Puerto Ricans, Mexican
Americans, Indians and Appalachian whites are also poverty-
stricken. Any serious war against poverty must of necessity
include them. As we work to end the educational stagnation
that we face as a result of inadequate segregated schools, we
must not be unmindful of the fact, as Dr. James Conant has
said, the whole public school system is using nineteenth-cen-
tury educational methods in conditions of twentieth-century
urbanization, and that quality education must be enlarged for
all children. By and large, the civil rights movement has fol-
lowed this course, and in so doing has contributed in�nitely
more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice. In
winning rights for ourselves we have produced substantial
In the days ahead we must not consider it unpatriotic to
raise certain basic questions about our national character. We
must begin to ask: Why are there forty million poor people in
a nation over�owing with such unbelievable a‰uence? Why
has our nation placed itself in the position of being God’s
military agent on earth, and intervened recklessly in Viet-
nam and the Dominican Republic? Why have we substi-
tuted the arrogant undertaking of policing the whole world
All these questions remind us that there is a need for a
radical restructuring of the architecture of American society.
253
martin luther king, jr.
For its very survival’s sake, America must reexamine old
presuppositions and release itself from many things that for
centuries have been held sacred. For the evils of racism, pov-
erty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born.
Our economy must become more person-centered than
property- and pro�t-centered. Our government must de-
pend more on its moral power than on its military power.
Let us, therefore, not think of our movement as one that
seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of
American society. Let us be those creative dissenters who
will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new
plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of hu-
We are superbly equipped to do this. We have been
of being the underdog. We have learned from our have-not
status that it pro�ts a nation little to gain the whole world of
means and lose the end, its own soul. We must have a pas-
sion for peace born out of wretchedness and the misery of
war. Giving our ultimate allegiance to the empire of justice,
we must be that colony of dissenters seeking to imbue our
nation with the ideals of a higher and nobler order. So in
dealing with our particular dilemma, we will challenge the
This is the challenge. If we will dare to meet it honestly,
historians in future years will have to say there lived a great
people—a black people—who bore their burdens of oppres-
sion in the heat of many days and who, through tenacity and
creative commitment, injected new meaning into the veins
254
Xifsf!Xf!Bsf!Hpjoh
s the administration has manifested a faltering and �uc-
tuating interest in civil rights during the past year, a
�ood of words rather than deeds has inundated the
One curious explanation of the defaults of the govern-
ment warrants analysis, because it reveals, without intention,
the disadvantages under which the civil rights movement has
labored. After describing the obvious—the President’s over-
whelming preoccupation with the war in Vietnam—it then
argues that in 1965 the President was prepared to implement
measures leading to full equality but waited in vain for the
civil rights movement to oƒer the programs. The movement
is depicted as absorbed in controversy, confused in direction,
venal toward its friends and in such turmoil it has tragically
This argument, by explaining everything in terms of the
presence or absence of programs, illuminates how the insis-
tence on program can be used as a sophisticated device to
evade action. Actually there was no dearth of programs in
1965, ranging from my own proposal, published in 1964, for
a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, to elaborate and de-
255
martin luther king, jr.
tailed programs in the published material of many agencies,
organizations and individual social scientists. If there had
been a sincere disposition seriously to entertain a program, its
preparation in �nal form would have taken but a few weeks.
If the federal government had been consumed with fervor
to strike an eƒective blow for civil rights, it need only have
begun implementing all the existing laws that are a nullity
Underneath the invitation to prepare programs is the
premise that the government is inherently benevolent—it
only awaits presentation of imaginative ideas. When these
issue from fertile minds, they will be accepted, enacted and
implemented. This premise shifts the burden of responsibil-
ity from the white majority, by pretending it is withholding
nothing, and places it on the oppressed minority, by pre-
tending the latter is asking for nothing. This is a fable, not a
fact. Neither our government nor any government that has
sanctioned a century of denial can be depicted as ardent and
When a people are mired in oppression, they realize de-
liverance when they have accumulated the power to enforce
change. When they have amassed such strength, the writ-
ing of a program becomes almost an administrative detail.
It is immaterial who presents the program; what is material
is the presence of an ability to make events happen. The
powerful never lose opportunities—they remain available to
them. The powerless, on the other hand, never experience
The deeper truth is that the call to prepare programs dis-
tracts us excessively from our basic and primary tasks. If we
are seeking a home, there is not much value in discussing
blueprints if we have no money and are barred from acquir-
ing the land. We are, in fact, being counseled to put the cart
where do we go from here
256
before the horse. We have to put the horse (power) before
Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our
strength into compelling power so that government cannot
elude our demands. We must develop, from strength, a situ-
ation in which the government �nds it wise and prudent to
collaborate with us. It would be the height of naïveté to wait
passively until the administration had somehow been infused
with such blessings of goodwill that it implored us for our
programs. The �rst course is grounded in mature realism; the
We do need certain general programs for the movement,
but not for use as supplicants. We require programs to hold
up to our followers which mirror their aspirations. In this
fashion our goals are dramatized and our supporters are in-
We must frankly acknowledge that in past years our cre-
ativity and imagination were not employed in learning how
to develop power. We found a method in nonviolent protest
that worked, and we employed it enthusiastically. We did
not have leisure to probe for a deeper understanding of its
laws and lines of development. Although our actions were
bold and crowned with successes, they were substantially
improvised and spontaneous. They attained the goals set for
When a new dawn reveals a landscape dotted with ob-
stacles, the time has come for sober re�ection, for assessment
of our methods and for anticipating pitfalls. Stumbling and
groping through the wilderness �nally must be replaced by a
None of us can pretend that he knows all the answers. It is
enormously di¤cult for any oppressed people even to arrive
at an awareness of their latent strengths. They are not only
257
martin luther king, jr.
buƒeted by defeats, but they have been schooled assiduously
to believe in their lack of capacity. People struggling from
the depths of society have not been equipped with knowl-
edge of the science of social change. Only when they break
out of the fog of self-denigration can they begin to discover
the forms of action that in�uence events. They can then em-
bark on social experimentation with their own strengths to
This is where the civil rights movement stands today.
We will err and falter as we climb the unfamiliar slopes of
steep mountains, but there is no alternative, well-trod, level
path. There will be agonizing setbacks along with creative
advances. Our consolation is that no one can know the true
For the moment, therefore, we must subordinate pro-
grams to studying the levers of power Negroes must grasp to
in�uence the course of events. In our society power sources
are sometimes obscure and indistinct. Yet they can always
�nally be traced to those forces we describe as ideological,
In the area of ideology, despite the impact of the works of
a few Negro writers on a limited number of white intellec-
tuals, all too few Negro thinkers have exerted an in�uence
on the main currents of American thought. Nevertheless
Negroes have illuminated imperfections in the democratic
structure that were formerly only dimly perceived, and have
forced a concerned reexamination of the true meaning of
American democracy. As a consequence of the vigorous Ne-
gro protest, the whole nation has for a decade probed more
searchingly the essential nature of democracy, both eco-
nomic and political. By taking to the streets and there giving
practical lessons in democracy and its defaults, Negroes have
where do we go from here
258
Lacking su¤cient access to television, publications and
broad forums, Negroes have had to write their most per-
suasive essays with the blunt pen of marching ranks. The
many white political leaders and well-meaning friends who
ask Negro leadership to leave the streets may not realize that
they are asking us eƒectively to silence ourselves. The twice
forgotten man in America has always been the Negro. His
groans were not heard, his needs were unfelt, until he found
the means to state his case in the public square. More white
people learned more about the shame of America, and �nally
faced some aspects of it, during the years of nonviolent pro-
test than during the century before. Nonviolent direct action
will continue to be a signi�cant source of power until it is
The economic highway to power has few entry lanes for
Negroes. Nothing so vividly reveals the crushing impact of
discrimination and the heritage of exclusion as the limited
dimensions of Negro business in the most powerful econ-
omy in the world. America’s industrial production is half
of the world’s total, and within it the production of Negro
business is so small that it can scarcely be measured on any
Yet in relation to the Negro community the value of
Negro business should not be underestimated. In the inter-
nal life of the Negro society it provides a degree of stability.
Despite formidable obstacles it has developed a corps of men
of competence and organizational discipline who constitute
a talented leadership reserve. Their cumulative strength may
be feeble measured against the mammoth of white industry,
but within the community they furnish inspiration and are
a resource for the development of programs and planning.
259
martin luther king, jr.
They are a strength among the weak though they are weak
There exist two other areas, however, where Negroes
can exert substantial in�uence on the broader economy. As
employees and consumers Negro numbers and their strategic
disposition endow them with a certain bargaining strength.
Within the ranks of organized labor there are nearly
two million Negroes. Not only are they found in large
numbers as workers, but they are concentrated in key in-
dustries. In the truck transportation, steel, auto and food
industries, which are the backbone of the nation’s economic
life, Negroes make up nearly 20 percent of the organized
work force, although they are only 10 percent of the general
population. This potential strength is magni�ed further by
the fact of their unity with millions of white workers in these
occupations. As co-workers there is a basic community of
interest that transcends many of the ugly divisive elements of
traditional prejudice. There are undeniably points of friction,
for example, in certain housing and education questions. But
the severity of the abrasions is minimized by the more com-
If manifestations of race prejudice were to erupt within
an organized plant, it would set into motion many correc-
tive forces. It would not �ourish as it does in a neighborhood
with nothing to inhibit it but morbid observers looking
for thrills. In the shop the union o¤cials from highest to
lowest levels would be immediately involved, for internal
discord is no academic matter; it weakens the union in its
contests with the employers. Therefore an important self-
interest motivates harmonious race relations. Here Negroes
have a substantial weight to bring to bear on all measures of
where do we go from here
25:
The labor movement, especially in its earlier days, was
one of the few great institutions where a degree of hospitality
and mobility was available to Negroes. When the rest of the
nation accepted rank discrimination and prejudice as ordi-
nary and usual—like the rain, to be deplored but accepted as
part of nature—trade unions, particularly the CIO, leveled
all barriers to equal membership. In a number of instances
Today the union record in relation to Negro workers
is exceedingly uneven, but the potentiality for in�uencing
union decisions still exists. In many of the larger unions the
white leadership contains some men of ideals and many more
who are pragmatists. Both groups �nd they are bene�ted by
a constructive relationship to their Negro membership. For
those compelling reasons, Negroes, who are almost wholly a
working people, cannot be casual toward the union move-
ment. This is true even though some unions remain incon-
In days to come, organized labor will increase its impor-
tance in the destinies of Negroes. Automation is impercep-
tibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming oƒ
unskilled labor from the industrial force. The displaced are
�owing into proliferating service occupations. These enter-
prises are traditionally unorganized and provide low wage
scales with longer hours. The Negroes pressed into these ser-
vices need union protection, and the union movement needs
their membership to maintain its relative strength in the
whole society. On this new frontier Negroes may well be-
come the pioneers that they were in the early organizing
The trade union movement in the last two decades, de-
spite its potential strength, has been an inarticulate giant with
261
martin luther king, jr.
an unsteady gait, subjected to abuse and confused in its re-
sponses. Some circles of labor, after simmering discontent,
The Teamsters Union, ousted some years ago from the
AFL-CIO, instead of tottering or perishing, launched an ex-
pansion program that has increased its membership to nearly
two million. It is not well known that the Teamsters have
well over a quarter of a million Negroes in their ranks, with
some of the highest rates of pay enjoyed by Negro workers
anywhere in industry. In other mass unions new leaders have
Recently, Walter Reuther and other leaders of one and
a half million auto workers have announced a new policy
directed toward a restoration of the crusading spirit that
characterized the unions of the past. They have fashioned a
program for organizing the poor, Negro and white, in the
South and the North. This will be no simple crusade, be-
cause the poor have many problems to overcome even to get
into motion. Yet they are so many millions in number that
The emergence of social initiatives by a revitalized la-
bor movement would be taking place as Negroes are plac-
ing economic issues on the highest agenda. The coalition of
an energized section of labor, Negroes, unemployed and wel-
fare recipients may be the source of power that reshapes
economic relationships and ushers in a breakthrough to a
new level of social reform. The total elimination of poverty,
now a practical possibility, the reality of equality in race rela-
tions and other profound structural changes in society may
To play our role fully as Negroes we will have to strive
for enhanced representation and in�uence in the labor move-
ment. Our young people need to think of union careers as
where do we go from here
262
earnestly as they do of business careers and professions. They
could do worse than emulate A. Philip Randolph, who rose
to the executive council of the AFL-CIO, and became a
symbol of the courage, compassion and integrity of an en-
lightened labor leader. Indeed, the question may be asked
why we have produced only one Randolph in nearly half
a century. Discrimination is not the whole answer. We al-
lowed ourselves to accept middle-class prejudices toward the
labor movement. Yet this is one of those �elds in which
higher education is not a requirement for high o¤ce. In
shunning it, we have lost an opportunity. Let us try to regain
it now, at a time when the joint forces of Negro and labor
The other economic lever available to the Negro is as a
consumer. As long ago as 1932, in his book
Npsbm!Nbo!boe!Jn.
npsbm!Tpdjfuz-!
Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out that “boycotts
against banks which discriminate against Negroes in quantity
credit, against stores which refuse to employ Negroes while
serving Negro trade, and against public service corporations
which practice racial discrimination, would undoubtedly be
crowned with some measure of success.”
These words have
proved to be prophetic, for we have been seeing the success
SCLC has pioneered in developing mass boycott move-
ments in a frontal attack on discrimination. Our dramatic
demonstrations tended to obscure the role of the boycott
in cities such as Birmingham. It was not the marching alone
that brought about integration of public facilities in 1963.
The downtown business establishments suƒered for weeks
under our almost unbelievably eƒective boycott. The signi�-
cant percentage of their sales that vanished, the 98 percent
of their Negro customers who stayed home, educated them
263
martin luther king, jr.
Later we crystallized our experiences in Birmingham and
elsewhere and developed a department in SCLC called Op-
eration Breadbasket. This has as its primary aim the securing
of more and better jobs for the Negro people. It calls on
the Negro community to support those businesses that will
give a fair share of jobs to Negroes and to withdraw its sup-
port from those businesses that have discriminatory policies.
The key word in Operation Breadbasket is “respect”; it says
in substance, “If you respect my dollars, you must respect
my person. If you respect my quantitative support, then you
must respect the quality of my job and my basic material
Operation Breadbasket is carried out mainly by clergy-
men. First, a team of ministers calls on the management of
a business in the community to request basic facts on the
company’s total number of employees, the number of Negro
employees, the departments or job classi�cations in which
all employees are located, and the salary ranges for each cat-
egory. The team then returns to the steering committee to
evaluate the data and to make a recommendation concern-
ing the number of new and upgraded jobs that should be
requested. The decision on the number of jobs requested is
usually based on population �gures. For instance, if a city has
a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume
that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in
any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than
only in menial areas, as the case almost always happens to be.
The next step is negotiation. The team of clergymen re-
turns to the management of the company and transmits the
request to hire or upgrade a speci�ed number of “quali�-
able” Negroes within a reasonable period of time. The ne-
gotiating sessions are also educational, in that the clergymen
seek to arouse within management an awareness of the dev-
where do we go from here
264
astating problems of the ghetto and point out the immorality
of companies that make pro�ts from Negro consumers while
If negotiations break down, the step of real power and
pressure is taken. This fourth step consists of a massive call
for economic withdrawal from the company’s product and
accompanying demonstrations if necessary. The ministers go
to their pulpits and to other communications media and ask
Negroes to stop buying the employer’s product or patron-
izing his business. Clergy-led teams dramatize the dispute
to the ghetto inhabitants by picketing the stores where the
products in question are sold. The fall-oƒ in trade and the
concomitant silencing of the cash register as a result of this
boycott is a powerful force in causing the company ulti-
In most cases it is not necessary to go to step four, because
most business executives are keenly aware of the Negro’s
buying power and the consequent eƒect of its withdrawal.
At present SCLC has Operation Breadbasket functioning in
some twelve cities, and the results have been remarkable. In
Atlanta, Georgia, for instance, the Negroes’ earning power
has been increased by more than $20 million annually over
the past three years through a carefully disciplined program
of selective buying and negotiation by the Negro ministers.
During the last eight months in Chicago, Operation Bread-
basket successfully completed negotiations with three major
industries: milk, soft drinks and chain grocery stores. Four
of the companies involved concluded reasonable agreements
only after short “don’t buy” campaigns. Seven other com-
panies were able to make the requested changes across the
conference table, without necessitating a boycott. Two other
companies, after providing their employment information to
the ministers, were sent letters of commendation for their
265
martin luther king, jr.
healthy equal-employment practices. The net results add up
to approximately eight hundred new and upgraded jobs for
Negro employees, worth a little over $7 million in new an-
In Chicago we have recently added a new dimension
to Operation Breadbasket. Along with requesting new job
opportunities, we are now requesting that businesses with
stores in the ghetto deposit the income for those establish-
ments in Negro-owned banks, and that Negro-owned prod-
ucts be placed on the counters of all their stores. In this way
we seek to stop the drain of resources out of the ghetto with
nothing remaining there for its rehabilitation. The two chain
grocery stores with which we have so far negotiated, Hi-
Low and National Tea, have readily agreed. They have now
opened accounts in the two Negro banks of Chicago, and
their shelves display every Negro-owned product of the city.
This has given new vibrancy and growth to Negro businesses
in Chicago, and will contribute to the continued economic
The �nal major area of untapped power for the Negro is
in the political arena. Negro population is burgeoning in
major cities as tides of migrants �ow into them in search
of employment and opportunity. These new migrants
have substantially higher birth rates than characterize the
white population. The two trends, along with the exodus
of the white population to the suburbs, are producing fast-
The changing composition of the cities must be seen in
the light of their political signi�cance. Particularly in the
North, the large cities substantially determine the political
destiny of the state. These states, in turn, hold the dominat-
ing electoral votes in presidential contests. The future of the
where do we go from here
266
Democratic Party, which rests so heavily on its coalition of
urban minorities, cannot be assessed without taking into ac-
count which way the Negro vote turns. The wistful hopes of
the Republican Party for large city in�uence will also be de-
cided not in the boardrooms of great corporations but in the
teeming ghettos. Its 1964 disaster with Goldwater, in which
fewer than 6 percent of Negroes voted Republican, indicates
that the illustrious ghost of Abraham Lincoln is not su¤cient
for winning Negro con�dence, not so long as the party fails
The growing Negro vote in the South is another source
of power. As it weakens and enfeebles the Dixiecrats, by con-
centrating its blows against them, it undermines the congres
sional coalition of Southern reactionaries and their Northern
Republican colleagues. That coalition, which has always ex-
ercised a disproportionate power in Congress by controlling
its major committees, will lose its ability to frustrate measures
of social advancement and to impose its perverted de�nition
The Negro vote presently is only a partially realized
strength. It can still be doubled in the South. In the North,
even where Negroes are registered in equal proportion to
whites, they do not vote in the same proportions. Assailed by
a sense of futility, Negroes resist participating in empty ritual.
However, when the Negro citizen learns that united and
organized pressure can achieve measurable results, he will
make his in�uence felt. Out of this consciousness the po-
litical power of the aroused minority will be enhanced and
Up to now that power has been inconsequential because,
paradoxically, although Negroes vote with great discernment
and traditionally as a bloc, essentially we are unorganized,
disunited and subordinated in the decision-making process.
267
martin luther king, jr.
There is no correlation between the numerical importance
of the urban Negro vote to the party it supports and the
in�uence we wield in determining the party’s program and
policies, or its implementation of existing legislation. Our
political leaders are bereft of in�uence in the councils of po-
The new task of the liberation movement, therefore,
is not merely to increase the Negro registration and vote;
equally imperative is the development of a strong voice that
is heard in the smoke-�lled rooms where party debating
and bargaining proceed. A black face that is mute in party
councils is not political representation; the ability to be inde-
pendent, assertive and respected when the �nal decisions are
made is indispensable for an authentic expression of power.
Negroes are traditionally manipulated because the politi-
cal powers take advantage of three major weaknesses. The
�rst relates to the manner in which our political leaders
emerge; the second is our failure so far to achieve eƒective
political alliances; the third is the Negro’s general reluctance
The majority of Negro political leaders do not ascend
to prominence on the shoulders of mass support. Although
genuinely popular leaders are now emerging, most are se-
lected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied
with resources and inevitably subjected to white control. The
mass of Negroes nurtures a healthy suspicion toward these
manufactured leaders. Experience tells them that color is the
chief argument their leaders are oƒering to induce loyalty
and solidarity. The Negro politician they know spends little
time in persuading them that he embodies personal integrity,
commitment and ability; he oƒers few programs and less ser-
vice. Tragically, he is in too many respects not a �ghter for
a new life but a �gurehead of the old one. Hence very few
where do we go from here
268
Negro political leaders are impressive or illustrious to their
constituents. They enjoy only limited loyalty and quali�ed
This relationship in turn hampers the Negro leader in
bargaining with genuine strength and independent �rmness
with white party leaders. The whites are all too well aware
of his impotence and his remoteness from his constituents,
and they deal with him as a powerless subordinate. He is
accorded a measure of dignity and personal respect but not
The Negro politician therefore �nds himself in a vacuum.
He has no base in either direction on which to build in�u-
In Negro life there is a unique and unnatural dichotomy
between community leaders who have the respect of the
masses and professional political leaders who are held in po-
lite disdain. Those who lead civil rights groups, churches,
unions and other social organizations are actually hybrids;
although they bargain for political programs, they generally
operate outside of partisan politics. In two national polls
to
name the most respected Negro leaders, out of the high-
est �fteen, only a single political �gure, Congressman Adam
Clayton Powell, was included and he was in the lower half of
both lists. This is in marked contrast to polls in which white
people choose their most popular leaders; political personali-
ties are always high on the lists and are represented in goodly
numbers. There is no Negro political personality evoking
aƒection, respect and emulation to correspond to John F.
Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman, Earl Warren
The circumstances in which Congressman Powell
emerged into leadership and the experiences of his career
are unique. It would not shed light on the larger picture
269
martin luther king, jr.
to attempt to study the very individual factors that apply to
him. It is fair to say no other Negro political leader is similar,
either in the strengths he possesses, the power he attained or
And so we shall have to do more than register and more
than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody vir-
tues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles
we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally
support for them based on con�dence and trust. We will
have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal
support to those who merit it. We will have to be a reliable
constituency for those who prove themselves to be commit-
ted political warriors in our behalf. When our movement has
partisan political personalities whose unity with their people
is unshakable and whose independence is genuine, they will
be treated in white political councils with the respect those
In addition to the development of genuinely independent
and representative political leaders, we shall have to master
the art of political alliances. Negroes should be natural al-
lies of many white reform and independent political groups,
yet they are more commonly organized by old-line machine
politicians. We will have to learn to refuse crumbs from
the big-city machines and steadfastly demand a fair share
of the loaf. When the machine politicians demur, we must
be prepared to act in unity and throw our support to such in-
dependent parties or reform wings of the major parties as are
prepared to take our demands seriously and �ght for them
vigorously. This is political freedom; this is political matu-
rity expressing our aroused and determined new spirit to be
The future of the deep structural changes we seek will not
where do we go from here
26:
be found in the decaying political machines. It lies in new
alliances of Negroes, Puerto Ricans, labor, liberals, certain
church and middle-class elements. It is noteworthy that the
largest single civil rights action ever conducted was the New
York school boycott, when nearly half a million Negroes
and Puerto Ricans united in a demonstration that emptied
The art of alliance politics is more complex and more in-
tricate than it is generally pictured. It is easy to put exciting
combinations on paper. It evokes happy memories to recall
that our victories in the past decade were won with a broad
coalition of organizations representing a wide variety of in-
terests. But we deceive ourselves if we envision the same
combination backing structural changes in the society. It did
not come together for such a program and will not reas-
A true alliance is based upon some self-interest of each
component group and a common interest into which they
merge. For an alliance to have permanence and loyal com-
mitment from its various elements, each of them must have
a goal from which it bene�ts and none must have an out-
look in basic con�ict with the others. Thus we cannot talk
loosely of an alliance with all labor. Most unions have mu-
tual interests with us; both can pro�t in the relationship. Yet
with some unions that persist in discrimination to retain their
monopoly of jobs we have no common ground. To talk of
alliances with them is to talk of mutual deception and mutual
hypocrisy. The same test must be applied to churches and
church bodies. Some churches recognize that to be relevant
in moral life they must make equality an imperative. With
them the basis for alliance is strong and enduring. But toward
those churches that shun and evade the issue, that are mute
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martin luther king, jr.
or timorous on social and economic questions, we are no
better than strangers even though we sing the same hymns in
If we employ the principle of selectivity along these lines,
we will �nd millions of allies who in serving themselves also
support us, and on such sound foundations unity and mutual
It is no mere academic exercise to scrutinize alliance rela-
tionships. They are the keys to political progress. Of late some
scholars have begun to question the usefulness of the Negro
vote as a tool for social advancement. Matthews and Prothro
put it “that the concrete bene�ts to be derived from the
franchise—under the conditions that prevail in the South—
have often been exaggerated.
. The concrete, measurable
payoƒs from Negro voting in the South will
be revo-
They point to the limited gains Negroes have
attained in the North and apply them to the South. Their
conclusion has some validity because they con�ne them to
conditions that
in the South. But conditions in the
A primary Negro political goal in the South is the elimi-
nation of racism as an electoral issue. No objective observer
can fail to see that even with a half-�nished campaign to en-
franchise Negroes some profound changes have already oc-
curred. For a number of years there were de facto
alliances in
some states in which Negroes voted for the same candidate
as whites because he had shifted from a racist to a moderate
position, even though he did not articulate an appeal for Ne-
gro votes. In recent years the transformation has accelerated,
and many white candidates have entered alliances publicly.
As they perceived that the Negro vote was becoming a sub-
stantial and permanent factor, they could not remain aloof
from it. More and more, competition will develop among
where do we go from here
272
white political forces for such a signi�cant bloc of votes, and
a monolithic white unity based on racism will no longer be
Racism is a tenacious evil, but it is not immutable. Mil-
lions of underprivileged whites are in the process of consid-
ering the contradiction between segregation and economic
progress. White supremacy can feed their egos but not their
stomachs. They will not go hungry or forego the a‰uent
society to remain racially ascendant. Governors [George]
Wallace and [Lester] Maddox, whose credentials as racists are
impeccable, understand this, and for that reason they present
themselves as liberal populists as well. Their demagoguery is
little known to Northerners, who have no opportunity to
hear the speeches they make in local communities. Tempo-
rarily they can carry water on both shoulders, but the ground
is becoming unsteady beneath their feet. Each of them was
faced in the primary with a new breed of white Southerner.
Their opponents were not inconsequential political �gures.
Former governors were in the race, making open public ap-
peals for the Negro vote and for the �rst time in history
meeting with Negro organizations to solicit support. They
championed economic reform without racial demagoguery.
They won signi�cant numbers of white votes, insu¤cient
for victory but su¤cient to point the future directions of the
The time may not be far oƒ when an awakened poor
and backward white voter will heed and support the authen-
tic economic liberalism of former governor [Ellis] Arnall of
Georgia and former lieutenant governor [Richmond] Flow-
ers of Alabama. Then with the growing Negro vote they will
develop an alliance that displaces the Wallaces and with them
It is true that the Negro vote has not transformed the
273
martin luther king, jr.
North; but the fact that Northern alliances and political ac-
tion generally have been poorly executed is no reason to
predict that the negative experiences will be automatically
extended in the North or duplicated in the South. The
Northern Negro has never used direct action on a mass scale
for reforms, and anyone who predicted ten years ago that the
Southern Negro would also neglect it would have dramati-
Everything Negroes need—and many of us need almost
everything—will not like magic materialize from the use of
the ballot. Yet as a lever of power, if it is given studious at-
tention and employed with the creativity we have proved
through our protest activities we possess, it will help to
The �nal reason for our dearth of political strength, par-
ticularly in the North, arises from the grip of an old tradition
on many individual Negroes. They tend to hold themselves
aloof from politics as a serious concern. They sense that they
are manipulated, and their defense is a cynical disinterest.
To safeguard themselves on this front from the exploitation
that torments them in so many areas, they shut the door to
political activity and retreat into the dark shadows of passiv-
ity. Their sense of futility is deep, and in terms of their bitter
experiences it is justi�ed. They cannot perceive political ac-
tion as a source of power. It will take patient and persistent
eƒort to eradicate this mood, but the new consciousness of
strength developed in a decade of stirring agitation can be
utilized to channel constructive Negro activity into political
life and eliminate the stagnation produced by an outdated
In the future we must become intensive political activ-
ists. We must be guided in this direction because we need
political strength more desperately than any other group in
where do we go from here
274
American society. Most of us are too poor to have adequate,
economic power, and many of us are too rejected by the
culture to be part of any tradition of power. Necessity will
draw us toward the power inherent in the creative uses of
Negroes nurture a persisting myth that the Jews of Amer-
ica attained social mobility and status solely because they had
money. It is unwise to ignore the error for many reasons.
In a negative sense it encourages anti-Semitism and over-
estimates money as a value. In a positive sense the full truth
Jews progressed because they possessed a tradition of edu-
cation combined with social and political action. The Jew-
ish family enthroned education and sacri�ced to get it. The
result was far more than abstract learning. Uniting social ac-
tion with educational competence, Jews became enormously
eƒective in political life. Those Jews who became lawyers,
businessmen, writers, entertainers, union leaders and medical
men did not vanish into the pursuits of their trade exclu-
sively. They lived an active life in political circles, learning
Nor was it only the rich who were involved in social and
political action. Millions of Jews for half a century remained
relatively poor, but they were far from passive in social and
political areas. They lived in homes in which politics was
a household word. They were deeply involved in radical
parties, liberal parties and conservative parties—they formed
many of them. Very few Jews sank into despair and escap-
ism even when discrimination assailed the spirit and cor-
roded initiative. Their life raft in the sea of discouragement
Without overlooking the towering diƒerences between
the Negro and Jewish experiences, the lesson of Jewish mass
275
martin luther king, jr.
involvement in social and political action and education is
worthy of emulation. Negroes have already started on this
road in creating the protest movement, but this is only a
beginning. We must involve everyone we can reach, even
those with inadequate education, and together acquire po-
litical sophistication by discussion, practice and reading. Jews
without education learned a great deal from political meet-
ings, mass meetings and trade union activities. Informal dis-
cussions and reading at home or in the streets are educational;
Education without social action is a one-sided value be-
cause it has no true power potential. Social action without
education is a weak expression of pure energy. Deeds unin-
formed by educated thought can take false directions. When
we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be
as armed with knowledge as they. Our policies should have
the strength of deep analysis beneath them to be able to chal-
The many thousands of Negroes who have already found
intellectual growth and spiritual ful�llment on this path know
its creative possibilities. They are not among the legions of
the lost, they are not crushed by the weight of centuries.
Most heartening, among the young the spirit of challenge
and determination for change is becoming an unquenchable
But the scope of struggle is still too narrow and too re-
stricted. We must turn more of our energies and focus our
creativity on the useful things that translate into power. This
is not a program for a distant tomorrow, when our children
will somehow have acquired enough education to do it for
themselves. We in this generation must do the work and in
doing it stimulate our children to learn and acquire higher
where do we go from here
276
It must become a crusade so vital that civil rights organiz-
ers do not repeatedly have to make personal calls to summon
support. There must be a climate of social pressure in the
Negro community that scorns the Negro who will not pick
up his citizenship rights and add his strength enthusiastically
and voluntarily to the accumulation of power for himself and
his people. The past years have blown fresh winds through
ghetto stagnation, but we are on the threshold of a signi�cant
change that demands a hundredfold acceleration. By 1970
ten of our larger cities will have Negro majorities if present
trends continue. We can shrug oƒ this opportunity or use it
for a new vitality to deepen and enrich our family and com-
How shall we turn the ghettos into a vast school? How
shall we make every street corner a forum, not a loung-
ing place for trivial gossip and petty gambling, where life is
wasted and human experience withers to trivial sensations?
How shall we make every houseworker and every laborer a
demonstrator, a voter, a canvasser and a student? The dignity
their jobs may deny them is waiting for them in political and
We must utilize the community action groups and train-
ing centers now proliferating in some slum areas to create
not merely an electorate, but a conscious, alert and informed
people who know their direction and whose collective wis-
dom and vitality commands respect. The slave heritage can
be cast into the dim past by our consciousness of our strengths
and a resolute determination to use them in our daily expe-
riences. Power is not the white man’s birthright; it will not
be legislated for us and delivered in neat government pack-
ages. It is a social force any group can utilize by accumulating
its elements in a planned, deliberate campaign to organize it
277
martin luther king, jr.
While the existence of a militant morale is immensely im-
portant, a �ghting spirit that is insu¤ciently organized can
become useless and even hazardous. To attempt radical re-
form without adequate organization is like trying to sail a
boat without a rudder. Yet any mature analysis of recent
events cannot fail to recognize the frailties of Negro civil
Prominent among the signi�cant weaknesses of our or-
ganizations is their disunity and petty competition. When
false rumors are circulated that some leaders have “sold out”
to the power structure or are making opportunistic alliances
with one or another political party to gain individual advan-
tage, the whole movement suƒers. If the criticism is true,
it is not destructive; it is a necessary attack on weakness.
But often such criticism is a re�ex response to gain organiza-
tional advantage. Too often a genuine achievement has been
falsely condemned as spurious and useless, and a victory has
been turned into disheartening defeat for the less informed.
Our enemies will adequately de�ate our accomplishment;
Why are so many of our organizations too small, too be-
set with problems that consume disproportionate attention,
or too dominated by a sluggish passivity and smug com-
placency? For an answer we must return to the nature of
our original objectives. For much of the last decade we took
on the task of ending conditions that had long outlived their
purpose. The desegregation of most public facilities, for ex-
ample, was overdue for change. It was not necessary to build
a widespread organization in order to win legislative vic-
tories. Sound eƒort in a single city such as Birmingham or
Selma produced situations that symbolized the evil every-
where do we go from here
278
where and in�amed public opinion against it. Where the
spotlight illuminated the evil, a legislative remedy was soon
obtained that applied everywhere. As a consequence, perma-
nent, seasoned and militant organizations did not arise out of
But corrective legislation requires organization to bring
it to life. Laws only declare rights; they do not deliver them.
The oppressed must take hold of laws and transform them
into eƒective mandates. Hence the absence of powerful or-
ganization has limited the degree of application and the ex-
We made easy gains and we built the kind of organizations
that expect easy victories, and rest upon them. It may seem
curious to speak of easy victories when some have suƒered
and sacri�ced so much. Yet in candor and self-criticism it is
necessary to acknowledge that the tortuous job of organizing
solidly and simultaneously in thousands of places was not a
feature of our work. This is as true for the older civil rights
organizations as for the newer ones. The older organizations
have only acquired a mass base recently, and they still retain
the �abby structures and policies that a pressureless situation
Many civil rights organizations were born as specialists in
agitation and dramatic projects; they attracted massive sym-
pathy and support; but they did not assemble and unify the
support for new stages of struggle. The eƒect on their allies
re�ected their basic practices. Support waxed and waned,
and people became conditioned to action in crises but inac-
tion from day to day. We unconsciously patterned a crisis
policy and program, and summoned support not for daily
Recognizing that no army can mobilize and demobilize
and remain a �ghting unit, we will have to build far-�ung,
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martin luther king, jr.
workmanlike and experienced organizations in the future if
the legislation we create and the agreements we forge are to
be ably and zealously superintended. Moreover, to move to
higher levels of progress we will have to emerge from crises
with more than agreements and laws. We shall have to have
people tied together in a long-term relationship instead of
evanescent enthusiasts who lose their experience, spirit and
unity because they have no mechanism that directs them to
We have many assets to facilitate organization. Negroes
are almost instinctively cohesive. We band together readily,
and against white hostility we have an intense and whole-
some loyalty to each other. In some of the simplest relation-
ships we will protect a brother even at a cost to ourselves.
We are loath to be witnesses against each other when the
white man seeks to divide us. We are acutely conscious of
the need and sharply sensitive to the importance of defend-
ing our own. Solidarity is a reality in Negro life, as it always
has been among the oppressed. Sometimes, unfortunately,
it is misapplied when we confuse high status with high
On the other hand, Negroes are capable of becoming
competitive, carping and, in an expression of self-hate, sus-
picious and intolerant of each other. A glaring weakness in
Negro life is lack of su¤cient mutual con�dence and trust.
Negro leaders suƒer from this interplay of solidarity
and divisiveness, being either exalted excessively or grossly
abused. But some of those leaders who suƒer from lack of
sustained support are not without weaknesses that give sub-
stance to criticism. The most serious is aloofness and absence
of faith in their people. The white establishment is skilled
in �attering and cultivating emerging leaders. It presses its
where do we go from here
27:
own image on them and �nally, from imitation of manners,
dress and style of living, a deeper strain of corruption de-
velops. This kind of Negro leader acquires the white man’s
contempt for the ordinary Negro. He is often more at home
with the middle-class white than he is among his own peo-
ple, and frequently his physical home is moved up and away
from the ghetto. His language changes, his location changes,
his income changes, and ultimately he changes from the rep-
resentative of the Negro to the white man into the white
man’s representative to the Negro. The tragedy is that too
I learned a lesson many years ago from a report of two
men who �ew to Atlanta to confer with a civil rights leader
at the airport. Before they could begin to talk, the porter
sweeping the �oor drew the local leader aside to talk about
a matter that troubled him. After �fteen minutes had passed,
one of the visitors said bitterly to his companion, “I am just
too busy for this kind of nonsense. I haven’t come a thou-
The other replied, “When the day comes that he stops
having time to talk to a porter, on that day I will not have
When I heard this story, I knew I was being told some-
We need organizations that are permeated with mutual
trust, incorruptibility and militancy. Without this spirit we
may have numbers but they will add up to zero. We need
organizations that are responsible, e¤cient and alert. We lack
experience because ours is a history of disorganization. But
we will prevail because our need for progress is stronger than
the ignorance forced upon us. If we realize how indispens-
able is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we
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martin luther king, jr.
will create it as we managed to create underground railroads,
protest groups, self-help societies and the churches that have
always been our refuge, our source of hope and our source
In recent years a multitude of civil rights programs have been
elicited from specialists and scholars. To enhance their value
and increase support for them, it is necessary that they be
discussed and debated among the ordinary people aƒected by
them. To facilitate study, I have grouped some of the more
challenging proposals separately in an appendix to this vol-
ume. There is only one general proposal that I would like to
examine here, because it deals with the abolition of poverty
within this nation and leads logically to my �nal discussion
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
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 stulti�ed
home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relation-
ships 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 cre-
ate better personal adjustments were designed. In combina-
tion these measures were intended to remove the causes of
where do we go from here
282
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 similar rates of development. Housing
measures have �uctuated 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 super�cial
studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully ade-
quate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmen-
tary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the
In addition to the absence of coordination and su¤ciency,
the programs of the past all have another common failing—
they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by �rst solving
I am now convinced that the simplest approach will
prove to be the most eƒective—the solution to poverty is
to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the
Earlier in this century this proposal would have been
greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of ini-
tiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was
considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and tal-
ents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of
worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and
We have come a long way in our understanding of hu-
man motivation and of the blind operation of our economic
system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market op-
eration of our economy and the prevalence of discrimina-
tion thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or
283
martin luther king, jr.
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
We have come to the point where we must make the
nonproducer a consumer or we will �nd ourselves drown-
ing 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 purchas-
ing 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 unor-
ganized and therefore have little ability to force the neces-
sary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even
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
In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of aƒairs
The fact is that the work which improves the condi-
tion of mankind, the work which extends knowledge
and increases power and enriches literature, and el-
evates 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
where do we go from here
284
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,
We are likely to �nd that the problems of housing and
education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty,
will themselves be aƒected if poverty is �rst 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 eƒect on discrimination when
they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their
Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychologi-
cal changes inevitably will result from widespread economic
security. The dignity of the individual will �ourish when the
decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he
has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and
when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improve-
ment. Personal con�icts between husband, wife and children
will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth
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 at the lowest levels of income. To guarantee
an income at the �oor 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 suƒer a relative decline. If periodic reviews
disclose that the whole national income has risen, then the
285
martin luther king, jr.
guaranteed income would have to be adjusted upward by the
same percentage. Without these safeguards a creeping retro-
gression would occur, nullifying the gains of security and
This proposal is not a “civil rights” program, in the sense
that that term is currently used. The program would ben-
e�t all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are
white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition
to eƒect this change, because their combined strength will be
necessary to overcome the �erce opposition we must realisti-
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 guaran-
teed 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 minuscule,
John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a
year would eƒect a guaranteed income, which he describes
as “not much more than we will spend the next �scal year to
rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these
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 super�uity. 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
where do we go from here
286
The curse of poverty has no justi�cation 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
288
Uif!Xpsme!Ipvtf
ome years ago a famous novelist died. Among his pa-
pers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories,
the most prominently underscored being this one: “A
widely separated family inherits a house in which they have
to live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind.
We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in
which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner
and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant,
Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, cul-
ture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart,
However deeply American Negroes are caught in the
struggle to be at last at home in our homeland of the United
States, we cannot ignore the larger world house in which
we are also dwellers. Equality with whites will not solve the
problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a
world society stricken by poverty and in a universe doomed
All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors. This
worldwide neighborhood has been brought into being
largely as a result of the modern scienti�c and technological
revolutions. The world of today is vastly diƒerent from the
289
martin luther king, jr.
world of just one hundred years ago. A century ago Thomas
Edison had not yet invented the incandescent lamp to bring
light to many dark places of the earth. The Wright brothers
had not yet invented that fascinating mechanical bird that
would spread its gigantic wings across the skies and soon
dwarf distance and place time in the service of man. Ein-
stein had not yet challenged an axiom and the theory of rel
Human beings, searching a century ago as now for better
understanding, had no television, no radios, no telephones
and no motion pictures through which to communicate.
Medical science had not yet discovered the wonder drugs to
end many dread plagues and diseases. One hundred years ago
military men had not yet developed the terrifying weapons
of warfare that we know today—not the bomber, an air-
borne fortress raining down death; nor napalm, that burner
of all things and �esh in its path. A century ago there were
no sky-scraping buildings to kiss the stars and no gargan-
tuan bridges to span the waters. Science had not yet peered
into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space, nor had it
penetrated oceanic depths. All these new inventions, these
new ideas, these sometimes fascinating and sometimes fright-
ening developments, came later. Most of them have come
within the past sixty years, sometimes with agonizing slow-
ness, more characteristically with bewildering speed, but al-
The years ahead will see a continuation of the same dra-
matic developments. Physical science will carve new high-
ways through the stratosphere. In a few years astronauts and
cosmonauts will probably walk comfortably across the un-
certain pathways of the moon. In two or three years it will
be possible, because of the new supersonic jets, to �y from
New York to London in two and one-half hours. In the
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28:
years ahead medical science will greatly prolong the lives of
men by �nding a cure for cancer and deadly heart ailments.
Automation and cybernation will make it possible for work-
ing people to have undreamed-of amounts of leisure time.
All this is a dazzling picture of the furniture, the workshop,
the spacious rooms, the new decorations and the architectural
Along with the scienti�c and technological revolution,
we have also witnessed a worldwide freedom revolution
over the last few decades. The present upsurge of the Negro
people of the United States grows out of a deep and passion-
ate determination to make freedom and equality a reality
“here” and “now.” In one sense the civil rights movement in
the United States is a special American phenomenon which
must be understood in the light of American history and dealt
with in terms of the American situation. But on another and
more important level, what is happening in the United States
We live in a day, said the philosopher Alfred North
Whitehead, “when civilization is shifting its basic outlook; a
major turning point in history where the pre-suppositions on
which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply chal-
lenged, and profoundly changed.” What we are seeing now
is a freedom explosion, the realization of “an idea whose
time has come,” to use Victor Hugo’s phrase. The deep
rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of
disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to
the bright hills of freedom. In one majestic chorus the rising
masses are singing, in the words of our freedom song, “Ain’t
gonna let nobody turn us around.” All over the world like
a fever, freedom is spreading in the widest liberation move-
ment in history. The great masses of people are determined
to end the exploitation of their races and lands. They are
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awake and moving toward their goal like a tidal wave. You
can hear them rumbling in every village street, on the docks,
in the houses, among the students, in the churches and at
political meetings. For several centuries the direction of his-
tory �owed from the nations and societies of Western Eu-
rope out into the rest of the world in “conquests” of various
sorts. That period, the era of colonialism, is at an end. East is
moving West. The earth is being redistributed. Yes, we are
These developments should not surprise any student of
history. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.
The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The
Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pha-
raoh’s court centuries ago and cried, “Let my people go.”
This was an opening chapter in a continuing story. The pres-
ent struggle in the United States is a later chapter in the
same story. Something within has reminded the Negro of his
birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded
him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he
has been caught up by the spirit of the times, and with his
black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers
in Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States
Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the
Nothing could be more tragic than for men to live in
these revolutionary times and fail to achieve the new atti-
tudes and the new mental outlooks that the new situation
demands. In Washington Irving’s familiar story of Rip Van
Winkle, the one thing that we usually remember is that Rip
slept twenty years. There is another important point, how-
ever, that is almost always overlooked. It was the sign on
the inn in the little town on the Hudson from which Rip
departed and scaled the mountain for his long sleep. When
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292
he went up, the sign had a picture of King George III of
England. When he came down, twenty years later, the sign
had a picture of George Washington. As he looked at the
picture of the �rst President of the United States, Rip was
confused, �ustered and lost. He knew not who Washington
was. The most striking thing about this story is not that Rip
slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution that
One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many
people fail to remain awake through great periods of social
change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and
its fraternities of the indiƒerent who are notorious for sleep-
ing through revolutions. But today our very survival depends
on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain
vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house
in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide
neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we
must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced
We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge
the gulf between our scienti�c progress and our moral prog-
ress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suƒer
from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast
to our scienti�c and technological abundance. The richer we
have become materially, the poorer we have become mor-
Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the ex-
ternal. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed
in art, literature, morals and religion. The external is that
complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumen-
talities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that
we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external.
We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance
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the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can
be summarized in that suggestive phrase of Thoreau: “Im-
proved means to an unimproved end.” This is the serious
predicament, the deep and haunting problem, confronting
modern man. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril
if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the
external of man’s nature subjugates the internal, dark storm
Western civilization is particularly vulnerable at this mo-
ment, for our material abundance has brought us neither
peace of mind nor serenity of spirit. An Asian writer has
You call your thousand material devices “labor-saving
machinery,” yet you are forever “busy.” With the
multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly
fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatis�ed. Whatever you
have, you want more; and wherever you are you want
to go somewhere else
your devices are neither
time-saving nor soul-saving machinery. They are so
many sharp spurs which urge you on to invent more
This tells us something about our civilization that cannot
be cast aside as a prejudiced charge by an Eastern thinker
who is jealous of Western prosperity. We cannot escape the
This does not mean that we must turn back the clock of
scienti�c progress. No one can overlook the wonders that
science has wrought for our lives. The automobile will not
abdicate in favor of the horse and buggy, or the train in favor
of the stagecoach, or the tractor in favor of the hand plow,
or the scienti�c method in favor of ignorance and supersti-
tion. But our moral and spiritual “lag” must be redeemed.
where do we go from here
294
When scienti�c power outruns moral power, we end up
with guided missiles and misguided men. When we foolishly
minimize the internal of our lives and maximize the external,
Our hope for creative living in this world house that we
have inherited lies in our ability to reestablish the moral ends
of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without
this spiritual and moral reawakening we shall destroy our-
Among the moral imperatives of our time, we are challenged
to work all over the world with unshakable determination to
wipe out the last vestiges of racism. As early as 1906 W.
Du Bois prophesied that “the problem of the twentieth cen-
tury will be the problem of the color line.” Now as we stand
two-thirds into this exciting period of history we know full
well that racism is still that hound of hell which dogs the
Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious
grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and
its perennial ally—economic exploitation—provide the key
to understanding most of the international complications of
The classic example of organized and institutionalized
racism is the Union of South Africa. Its national policy and
practice are the incarnation of the doctrine of white suprem-
acy in the midst of a population which is overwhelmingly
black. But the tragedy of South Africa is not simply in its
own policy; it is the fact that the racist government of South
Africa is virtually made possible by the economic policies of
the United States and Great Britain, two countries which
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In country after country we see white men building em-
pires on the sweat and suƒering of colored people. Portu-
gal continues its practices of slave labor and subjugation in
Angola; the Ian Smith government in Rhodesia continues
to enjoy the support of British-based industry and private
capital, despite the stated opposition of British government
policy. Even in the case of the little country of South West
Africa we �nd the powerful nations of the world incapable
of taking a moral position against South Africa, though the
smaller country is under the trusteeship of the United Na-
tions. Its policies are controlled by South Africa and its man-
power is lured into the mines under slave-labor conditions.
During the Kennedy administration there was some
awareness of the problems that breed in the racist and ex-
ploitative conditions throughout the colored world, and a
temporary concern emerged to free the United States from
its complicity though the eƒort was only on a diplomatic
level. Through our ambassador to the United Nations, Ad-
lai Stevenson, there emerged the beginnings of an intelligent
approach to the colored peoples of the world. However,
there remained little or no attempt to deal with the eco-
nomic aspects of racist exploitation. We have been notori-
ously silent about the more than $700 million of American
capital which props up the system of apartheid
not to men-
tion the billions of dollars in trade and the military alliances
which are maintained under the pretext of �ghting Com-
Nothing provides the Communists with a better climate
for expansion and in�ltration than the continued alliance
of our nation with racism and exploitation throughout the
world. And if we are not diligent in our determination to
root out the last vestiges of racism in our dealings with the
rest of the world, we may soon see the sins of our fathers
where do we go from here
296
visited upon ours and succeeding generations. For the condi-
tions which are so classically represented in Africa are present
Everywhere in Latin America one �nds a tremendous
resentment of the United States, and that resentment is al-
ways strongest among the poorer and darker peoples of the
continent. The life and destiny of Latin America are in the
hands of United States corporations. The decisions aƒecting
the lives of South Americans are ostensibly made by their
government, but there are almost no legitimate democracies
alive in the whole continent. The other governments are
dominated by huge and exploitative cartels that rob Latin
America of her resources while turning over a small rebate to
a few members of a corrupt aristocracy, which in turn invests
not in its own country for its own people’s welfare but in the
Here we see racism in its more sophisticated form: neo
colonialism. The Bible and the annals of history are replete
with tragic stories of one brother robbing another of his
birthright and thereby insuring generations of strife and en-
mity. We can hardly escape such a judgment in Latin Amer-
ica, any more than we have been able to escape the harvest of
hate sown in Vietnam by a century of French exploitation.
There is the convenient temptation to attribute the cur-
rent turmoil and bitterness throughout the world to the pres-
ence of a Communist conspiracy to undermine Europe and
America, but the potential explosiveness of our world situ-
ation is much more attributable to disillusionment with the
The revolutionary leaders of Africa, Asia and Latin Amer-
ica have virtually all received their education in the capitals
of the West. Their earliest training often occurred in Chris-
tian missionary schools. Here their sense of dignity was es-
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tablished and they learned that all men were sons of God.
In recent years their countries have been invaded by auto-
mobiles, Coca-Cola and Hollywood, so that even remote
villages have become aware of the wonders and blessings
Once the aspirations and appetites of the world have been
whetted by the marvels of Western technology and the self-
image of a people awakened by religion, one cannot hope
to keep people locked out of the earthly kingdom of wealth,
health and happiness. Either they share in the blessings of the
world or they organize to break down and overthrow those
structures or governments which stand in the way of their
Former generations could not conceive of such luxury,
but their children now take this vision and demand that
it become a reality. And when they look around and see
that the only people who do not share in the abundance of
Western technology are colored people, it is an almost in-
escapable conclusion that their condition and their exploita-
tion are somehow related to their color and the racism of the
This is a treacherous foundation for a world house. Rac-
ism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the
curtain on Western civilization. Arnold Toynbee has said
that some twenty-six civilizations have risen upon the face
of the earth. Almost all of them have descended into the
lizations, according to Toynbee, was not caused by external
invasions but by internal decay. They failed to respond cre-
atively to the challenges impinging upon them. If Western
civilization does not now respond constructively to the chal-
lenge to banish racism, some future historian will have to say
where do we go from here
298
that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and
Another grave problem that must be solved if we are to
live creatively in our world house is that of poverty on an
international scale. Like a monstrous octopus, it stretches its
choking, prehensile tentacles into lands and villages all over
the world. Two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed
hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed and
shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep
in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the
dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken
There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, how-
ever, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. Not
too many years ago, Dr. Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist,
wrote a book entitled
boe!up!Tqbsf/
He set forth the
basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern
world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must
read: why should there be hunger and privation in any land,
in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the
scienti�c know-how to provide all mankind with the basic
necessities of life? Even deserts can be irrigated and topsoil
can be replaced. We cannot complain of a lack of land, for
there are 25 million square miles of tillable land on earth, of
which we are using less than seven million. We have amaz-
ing knowledge of vitamins, nutrition, the chemistry of food
and the versatility of atoms. There is no de�cit in human
This does not mean that we can overlook the enormous
The population explosion is very real, and it must be faced
squarely if we are to avoid, in centuries ahead, a “stand-
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martin luther king, jr.
ing room only” situation on these earthly shores. Most of
the large undeveloped nations in the world today are con-
fronted with the problem of excess population in relation to
resources. But even this problem will be greatly diminished
by wiping out poverty. When people see more opportunities
for better education and greater economic security, they be-
gin to consider whether a smaller family might not be better
for themselves and for their children. In other words, I doubt
that there can be a stabilization of the population without a
The time has come for an all-out world war against pov-
erty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth
to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled and
feed the unfed. The well-oƒ and the secure have too often
become indiƒerent and oblivious to the poverty and depri-
vation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been
shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of
our societies, because we have allowed them to become in-
visible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.
No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a
The �rst step in the worldwide war against poverty is
passionate commitment. All the wealthy nations—America,
Britain, Russia, Canada, Australia, and those of Western
Europe—must see it as a moral obligation to provide capital
and technical assistance to the underdeveloped areas. These
rich nations have only scratched the surface in their commit-
ment. There is need now for a general strategy of support.
Sketchy aid here and there will not su¤ce, nor will it sustain
economic growth. There must be a sustained eƒort extend-
ing through many years. The wealthy nations of the world
must promptly initiate a massive, sustained Marshall Plan for
where do we go from here
29:
Asia, Africa and South America. If they would allocate just 2
percent of their gross national product annually for a period
of ten or twenty years for the development of the under-
developed nations, mankind would go a long way toward
The aid program that I am suggesting must not be used
by the wealthy nations as a surreptitious means to control the
poor nations. Such an approach would lead to a new form
of paternalism and a neocolonialism which no self-respecting
nation could accept. Ultimately, foreign aid programs must
be motivated by a compassionate and committed eƒort to
wipe poverty, ignorance and disease from the face of the
earth. Money devoid of genuine empathy is like salt devoid
of savor, good for nothing except to be trodden under foot
The West must enter into the program with humility and
penitence and a sober realization that everything will not al-
ways “go our way.” It cannot be forgotten that the Western
powers were but yesterday the colonial masters. The house
of the West is far from in order, and its hands are far from
We must have patience. We must be willing to under-
stand why many of the young nations will have to pass
through the same extremism, revolution and aggression that
formed our own history. Every new government confronts
overwhelming problems. During the days when they were
struggling to remove the yoke of colonialism, there was a
kind of preexistent unity of purpose that kept things mov-
ing in one solid direction. But as soon as independence
emerges, all the grim problems of life confront them with
stark realism: the lack of capital, the strangulating poverty,
the uncontrollable birth rates and, above all, the high aspi-
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rational level of their own people. The postcolonial period
is more di¤cult and precarious than the colonial struggle
The West must also understand that its economic growth
took place under rather propitious circumstances. Most of
the Western nations were relatively underpopulated when
they surged forward economically, and they were greatly
endowed with the iron ore and coal that were needed for
launching industry. Most of the young governments of the
world today have come into being without these advantages,
and, above all, they confront staggering problems of over-
population. There is no possible way for them to make it
make prosperity a reality for the poor nations will in the �nal
analysis enlarge the prosperity of all. One of the best proofs
that reality hinges on moral foundations is the fact that when
men and governments work devotedly for the good of oth-
From time immemorial men have lived by the principle
that “self-preservation is the �rst law of life.” But this is a
false assumption. I would say that other-preservation is the
�rst law of life. It is the �rst law of life precisely because we
cannot preserve self without being concerned about preserv-
ing other selves. The universe is so structured that things go
awry if men are not diligent in their cultivation of the other-
regarding dimension. “I” cannot reach ful�llment without
“thou.” The self cannot be self without other selves. Self-
concern without other-concern is like a tributary that has no
outward �ow to the ocean. Stagnant, still and stale, it lacks
both life and freshness. Nothing would be more disastrous
and out of harmony with our self-interest than for the devel-
oped nations to travel a dead-end road of inordinate sel�sh-
where do we go from here
2:2
ness. We are in the fortunate position of having our deepest
But the real reason that we must use our resources to
outlaw poverty goes beyond material concerns to the quality
of our mind and spirit. Deeply woven into the �ber of our
religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the
image of God, and that they are souls of in�nite metaphysical
value. If we accept this as a profound moral fact, we can-
not be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized
with ill-health, when we have the means to help them. In
the �nal analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because
both rich and poor are tied together. They entered the same
mysterious gateway of human birth, into the same adventure
All men are interdependent. Every nation is an heir of a
vast treasury of ideas and labor to which both the living and
the dead of all nations have contributed. Whether we realize
it or not, each of us lives eternally “in the red.” We are ev-
erlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women.
When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom
where we reach for a sponge which is provided for us by
a Paci�c Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us
by a European. Then at the table we drink coƒee which is
provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese or
cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are
In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the
poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor en-
riches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper be-
cause we are our brother’s brother. Whatever aƒects one
A �nal problem that mankind must solve in order to sur-
vive in the world house that we have inherited is �nding
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martin luther king, jr.
an alternative to war and human destruction. Recent events
have vividly reminded us that nations are not reducing but
rather increasing their arsenals of weapons of mass destruc-
tion. The best brains in the highly developed nations of the
world are devoted to military technology. The proliferation
of nuclear weapons has not been halted, in spite of the lim-
In this day of man’s highest technical achievement, in
this day of dazzling discovery, of novel opportunities, loftier
dignities and fuller freedoms for all, there is no excuse for the
kind of blind craving for power and resources that provoked
the wars of previous generations. There is no need to �ght
for food and land. Science has provided us with adequate
means of survival and transportation, which make it possible
to enjoy the fullness of this great earth. The question now
is, do we have the morality and courage required to live to-
One of the most persistent ambiguities we face is that ev-
erybody talks about peace as a goal, but among the wielders
of power peace is practically nobody’s business. Many men
cry “Peace! Peace!” but they refuse to do the things that
The large power blocs talk passionately of pursuing peace
while expanding defense budgets that already bulge, enlarg-
ing already awesome armies and devising ever more dev-
astating weapons. Call the roll of those who sing the glad
tidings of peace and one’s ears will be surprised by the re-
sponding sounds. The heads of all the nations issue clarion
calls for peace, yet they come to the peace table accompanied
The stages of history are replete with the chants and cho-
ruses of the conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit
of peace. Alexander, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Charle-
where do we go from here
2:4
magne and Napoleon were akin in seeking a peaceful world
order, a world fashioned after their sel�sh conceptions of an
ideal existence. Each sought a world at peace which would
personify his egotistic dreams. Even within the life span of
most of us, another megalomaniac strode across the world
stage. He sent his blitzkrieg-bent legions blazing across Eu-
rope, bringing havoc and holocaust in his wake. There is
grave irony in the fact that Hitler could come forth, follow-
ing nakedly aggressive expansionist theories, and do it all in
So when in this day I see the leaders of nations again
talking peace while preparing for war, I take fearful pause.
When I see our country today intervening in what is basi-
cally a civil war, mutilating hundreds of thousands of Viet-
namese children with napalm, burning villages and rice �elds
at random, painting the valleys of that small Asian country
red with human blood, leaving broken bodies in countless
ditches and sending home half-men, mutilated mentally and
physically; when I see the unwillingness of our government
to create the atmosphere for a negotiated settlement of this
awful con�ict by halting bombings in the North and agree-
ing unequivocally to talk with the Vietcong—and all this in
the name of pursuing the goal of peace—I tremble for our
world. I do so not only from dire recall of the nightmares
wreaked in the wars of yesterday, but also from dreadful real-
ization of today’s possible nuclear destructiveness and tomor-
Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm
between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds
which precipitate and perpetuate war. We are called upon to
look up from the quagmire of military programs and defense
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely
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a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive
at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful
means. How much longer must we play at deadly war games
before we heed the plaintive pleas of the unnumbered dead
President John F. Kennedy said on one occasion, “Man-
kind must put an end to war or war will put an end to
mankind.” Wisdom born of experience should tell us that
war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war
served as a negative good by preventing the spread and
growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of mod-
ern weapons eliminates even the possibility that war may
serve any good at all. If we assume that life is worth living
and that man has a right to survive, then we must �nd an
alternative to war. In a day when vehicles hurtle through
outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of
death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory
in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a
calamitous legacy of human suƒering, political turmoil and
spiritual disillusionment. A world war will leave only smol-
dering ashes as mute testimony of a human race whose folly
led inexorably to ultimate death. If modern man continues
to �irt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly
habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could
Therefore I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of
nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for
serious experimentation in every �eld of human con�ict, by
no means excluding the relations between nations. It is, after
all, nation-states which make war, which have produced the
weapons that threaten the survival of mankind and which are
where do we go from here
2:6
We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of
power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But
unless we abdicate our humanity altogether and succumb to
fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we have
ourselves created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end
to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to
The United Nations is a gesture in the direction of non-
violence on a world scale. There, at least, states that oppose
one another have sought to do so with words instead of with
weapons. But true nonviolence is more than the absence of
violence. It is the persistent and determined application of
peaceable power to oƒenses against the community—in this
case the world community. As the United Nations moves
ahead with the giant tasks confronting it, I would hope that
it would earnestly examine the uses of nonviolent direct ac-
I do not minimize the complexity of the problems that
need to be faced in achieving disarmament and peace. But
I am convinced that we shall not have the will, the cour-
age and the insight to deal with such matters unless in this
�eld we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual re-
evaluation, a change of focus which will enable us to see that
the things that seem most real and powerful are indeed now
unreal and have come under sentence of death. We need to
make a supreme eƒort to generate the readiness, indeed the
eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now pos-
sible, “the city which hath foundation, whose Building and
It is not enough to say, “We must not wage war.” It is
necessary to love peace and sacri�ce for it. We must con-
centrate not merely on the eradication of war but on the
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martin luther king, jr.
a¤rmation of peace. A fascinating story about Ulysses and
the Sirens is preserved for us in Greek literature. The Sirens
had the ability to sing so sweetly that sailors could not resist
steering toward their island. Many ships were lured upon the
rocks, and men forgot home, duty and honor as they �ung
themselves into the sea to be embraced by arms that drew
them down to death. Ulysses, determined not to succumb to
the Sirens, �rst decided to tie himself tightly to the mast of
his boat and his crew stuƒed their ears with wax. But �nally
he and his crew learned a better way to save themselves: they
took on board the beautiful singer Orpheus, whose melodies
were sweeter than the music of the Sirens. When Orpheus
So we must see that peace represents a sweeter music,
a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war.
Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world
power struggle from the nuclear arms race, which no one
can win, to a creative contest to harness man’s genius for the
purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the
nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race
into a “peace race.” If we have the will and determination
to mount such a peace oƒensive, we will unlock hitherto
tightly sealed doors of hope and bring new light into the dark
The stability of the large world house which is ours will in-
volve a revolution of values to accompany the scienti�c
and freedom revolutions engul�ng the earth. We must rap-
idly begin the shift from a “thing”-oriented society to a
“person”-oriented society. When machines and computers,
pro�t motives and property rights are considered more im-
portant than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism
where do we go from here
2:8
and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A civiliza-
tion can �ounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual
This revolution of values must go beyond traditional cap-
italism and Communism. We must honestly admit that
capitalism has often left a gulf between super�uous wealth
and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting ne-
cessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the
few, and has encourage smallhearted men to become cold
and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they
are unmoved by suƒering, poverty-stricken humanity. The
pro�t motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic sys-
tem, encourages a cutthroat competition and sel�sh ambition
that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered.
Equally, Communism reduces men to a cog in the wheel of
the state. The Communist may object, saying that in Marx-
ian theory the state is an “interim reality” that will “wither
away” when the classless society emerges. True—in theory;
but it is also true that, while the state lasts, it is an end in it-
self. Man is a means to that end. He has no inalienable rights.
His only rights are derived from, and conferred by, the state.
Under such a system the fountain of freedom runs dry. Re-
stricted are man’s liberties of press and assembly, his freedom
Truth is found neither in traditional capitalism nor in
classical Communism. Each represents a partial truth. Capi-
talism fails to see the truth in collectivism. Communism fails
to see the truth in individualism. Capitalism fails to realize
that life is social. Communism fails to realize that life is per-
sonal. The good and just society is neither the thesis of
capitalism nor the antithesis of Communism, but a socially
conscious democracy which reconciles the truths of indi-
2:9
martin luther king, jr.
We have seen some moves in this direction. The Soviet
Union has gradually moved away from its rigid Communism
and begun to concern itself with consumer products, art and
a general increase in bene�ts to the individual citizen. At the
same time, through constant social reforms, we have seen
many modi�cations in laissez-faire capitalism. The problems
we now face must take us beyond slogans for their solution.
In the �nal analysis, the right-wing slogans on “government
control” and “creeping socialism” are as meaningless and
adolescent as the Chinese Red Guard slogans against “bour-
geois revisionism.” An intelligent approach to the problems
of poverty and racism will cause us to see that the words
of the Psalmist—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness
thereof”—are still a judgment upon our use and abuse of the
wealth and resources with which we have been endowed.
A true revolution of value will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present poli-
cies. We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s road-
side; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole
Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women
will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey
through life. True compassion is more than �inging a coin
to a beggar; it understands that an edi�ce which produces
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on
the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous
indignation, it will look at thousands of working people dis-
placed from their jobs with reduced incomes as a result of
automation while the pro�ts of the employers remain intact,
and say: “This is not just.” It will look across the oceans and
see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of
money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the
pro�ts out with no concern for the social betterment of the
where do we go from here
2::
countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alli-
ance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This
is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has
everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them
is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the
world order and say of war: “This way of settling diƒerences
is not just.” This business of burning human beings with
napalm, of �lling our nation’s homes with orphans and wid-
ows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of
peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark
and bloody battle�elds physically handicapped and psycho-
logically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice
and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend
more money on military defense than on programs of social
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the
world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.
There is nothing to prevent us from paying adequate wages
to schoolteachers, social workers and other servants of the
public to insure that we have the best available personnel
in these positions which are charged with the responsibility
of guiding our future generations. There is nothing but a
lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate
wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital
worker, laundry worker, maid or day laborer. There is noth-
ing except shortsightedness to prevent us from guaranteeing
an annual minimum—and
—income for every Ameri-
can family. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to
prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit
of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There
is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status
quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a
311
martin luther king, jr.
This kind of positive revolution of values is our best de-
fense against Communism. War is not the answer. Com-
munism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs
or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war
and who through their misguided passions urge the United
States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations.
These are days which demand wise restraint and calm rea-
sonableness. We must not call everyone a Communist or
an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the
United Nations, or who recognizes that hate and hysteria
are not the �nal answers to the problems of these turbulent
days. We must not engage in a negative anti-Communism,
but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that
our greatest defense against Communism is to take oƒensive
action in behalf of justice. We must with a¤rmative action
seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and
injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of Com-
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men
are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppres-
sion, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of
justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and bare-
foot people of the earth are rising up as never before. “The
people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in
the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that,
because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of Commu-
nism and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western
nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of
the modern world have now become the arch antirevolu-
tionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism
has the revolutionary spirit. Communism is a judgment on
our failure to make democracy real and to follow through on
the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies
where do we go from here
312
in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out
into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition
to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful com-
mitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust
mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall
be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places
A genuine revolution of values means in the �nal analysis
that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sec-
tional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty
to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neigh-
borly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is
in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love
for all men. This often misunderstood and misinterpreted
concept has now become an absolute necessity for the sur-
vival of man. When I speak of love, I am speaking of that
force which all the great religions have seen as the supreme
fying principle of life. Love is the key that unlocks the
door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-
Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the
day. We can no longer aƒord to worship the God of hate or
313
martin luther king, jr.
bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are
made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is
cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who
pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee
once said in a speech: “Love is the ultimate force that makes
for the saving choice of life and good against the damning
choice of death and evil. Therefore the �rst hope in our in-
ventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is to-
day. We are confronted with the �erce urgency of
this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such
a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of
time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected
with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the aƒairs of men” does
not remain at the �ood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately
for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every
plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled
residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic
words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that
faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving
�nger writes, and having writ moves on.
.” We still have
a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coanni-
hilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose
314
Appendix
Qsphsbnt!boe!Qsptqfdut
education
American society has emphasized education more than Eu-
ropean society. The purpose is to use education to make a
break between the occupation of the parents and those of
their children. The schools have been the historic routes
of social mobility. But when Negroes and others of the
underclass now ask that schools play the same function for
them, many within and outside the school system answer
that the schools cannot do the job. They would impose on
the family the whole task of preparing and leading young-
sters into educational advance. And this reluctance to engage
with the great issue of our day—the full emancipation and
equality of Negroes and the poor—comes at a time when
education is more than ever the passport to decent economic
Xibufwfs!qbuipmphz!nbz!fyjtu!jo!Ofhsp!gbnjmjft!jt!gbs!fydffefe!
cz!uijt!tpdjbm!qbuipmphz!jo!uif!tdippm!tztufn!uibu!sfgvtft!up!bddfqu!b!
sftqpotjcjmjuz!uibu!op!pof!fmtf!dbo!cfbs!boe!uifo!tdbqfhpbut!Ofhsp!
gbnjmjft!gps!gbjmjoh!up!ep!uif!kpc/!
The scattered evidence sug-
gesting that family life is important in educational progress
provides only partial support for the rationalizations of edu-
cators; for family life explains only a small portion of learn-
315
martin luther king, jr.
ing di¤culties. The job of the school is to teach so well that
The sad truth is that American schools, by and large,
do not know how to teach—nor frequently what to teach.
The ineƒectiveness in teaching reading skills to many young
people, whether white or black, poor or rich, strongly in-
dicts foundations and government for not spending funds
eƒectively to �nd out what diƒerent kinds of reading ex-
periences are needed by youth with various learning styles
at various points in their life. While we aim for the moon,
we putter around in academic gardens without even a
We have been timid in trying to improve schools. Op-
eration Headstart has shown that a little work before school
cannot insulate children from the impact of poor teaching
and poor schools. Programs that throw a little money into a
school for counseling or remedial reading instruction cannot
The task is considerable; it is not merely to bring Negroes
up to higher educational levels, but to close the gap between
their educational levels and those of whites. If this does
not happen, as Negroes advance educationally, whites will
Despite the despair and regret over past educational fail-
ures, we have not seriously begun to approach the needs
of Negro and poor youngsters. The data of a Carnegie-
sponsored study show that the diƒerences in educational ex-
penditures between center cities and suburbs have widened
since the late �fties. Instead of spending relatively more on
the disadvantaged of the big cities, we are spending less—
another tragic example of the inversion of priorities which
where do we go from here
316
Much more money has to be spent on education of the
children of the poor; the rate of increase in expenditures for
the poor has to be much greater than for the well-oƒ if the
The road to eƒective education requires helping teachers
to teach more eƒectively. The use of nonprofessional aides
would reduce class size and provide needed assistance to
teachers. More direct training and aid in teaching young-
sters from low-income families is needed. Parents should be
involved in the schools to a much greater extent, breaking
down the barriers between professionals and the community
that they serve. Education is too important today to be left to
professional fads and needs. This is not to assert that profes-
sional competence is unnecessary, but that there must be a
greater evidence of competence and a new and creative link
Schools have to be infused with a mission if they are to
be successful. The mission is clear: the rapid improvement of
the school performance of Negroes and other poor children.
If this does not happen, America will suƒer for decades to
come. Where a missionary zeal has been demonstrated by
school administrators and teachers, and where this dedica-
tion has been backed by competence, funds and a desire to
involve parents, much has been accomplished. But by and
large American educators, despite occasional rhetoric to the
contrary, have not dedicated themselves to the rapid im-
Aside from �nances, a major reason for the absence of
dedication to the great problem of contemporary Ameri-
can education has been the issue of integration. Integrated
education has been charged with diminishing the qual-
ity education of whites. Recent studies by James Coleman
317
martin luther king, jr.
for the U.S. O¤ce of Education dispute this. Integrated edu-
retard white students while it
improve the
Quality education for all is most likely to come through
educational parks which bring together in one place all the
students of a large area. Because of the economies of large-
scale operation, the educational park will make practical a
multiplicity of teaching specialists and superb facilities. In-
volving students from a wide area attracted by the superior
opportunities, such a plan will guarantee school integration
The educational park is likely to be the next great struc-
ture for education. Funds should come from the federal
government, which must move from supporting the fringes
of education to supporting the basics—the teachers and the
facilities with which they work. The federal government
should begin to provide building grants to local school dis-
tricts and groups of districts so that educational parks can be
constructed. Building grants should go to localities—cities
and suburbs—which locate schools so as to promote integra-
tion. The arbitrary lines of government should not serve to
balkanize America into white and black schools and com-
The location of new school buildings aƒects the long-
term prospects of education. In the short run, schools in
ghetto areas must be improved. Authentic eƒorts to up-
grade them must be pursued. But the drive for immediate
improvements in segregated schools should not retard prog-
ress toward integrated education later. New schools should
be planned so as to �t into some aspect of an educational
park. Even during this period, while metropolitan districts
are being remade by change and growth, partial integration
can occur if neighborhood schools participate during part of
where do we go from here
318
the school day in joint and meaningful activities. Max Wolƒ,
the father of the educational park idea, has suggested ways of
using existing buildings and temporary structures to produce
The United States is far from providing each child with
as much education as he can use. Our school system still
primarily functions as a system of exclusion. For the old-
est generation of Negroes the time for eƒective educational
remedies is probably already past; but there is an enormous
reservoir of talent among Negro and other poor youth. This
society has to develop that talent. The unrealized capacities
of many of our youth are an indictment of our society’s lack
of concern for justice and its proclivity for wasting human
resources. As with so much else in this potentially great so-
ciety, injustice and waste go together and endanger stability.
employment
Economic expansion cannot alone do the job of improving
the employment situation of Negroes. It provides the base
for improvement but other things must be constructed upon
it, especially if the tragic situation of youth is to be solved.
In a booming economy Negro youth are a‰icted with un-
employment as though in an economic crisis. They are the
The insistence on educational certi�cates and credentials
for skilled and semiskilled jobs is keeping Negroes out of both
the private business sector and government employment.
Negro exclusion is not the purpose of the insistence upon
credentials, but it is its inevitable consequence today. The
orientation of personnel o¤ces should be “Jobs First, Train-
ing Later.” Unfortunately, the job policy of the federal pro-
grams has largely been the reverse, with the result that people
319
martin luther king, jr.
“Training” becomes a way of avoiding the issue of em-
ployment, for it does not ask the employer to change his
policies and job structures. Instead of training for uncertain
jobs, the policy of the government should be to subsidize
American business to employ individuals whose education is
limited. This policy may be considered a bribe by some, but
it is a step consonant with reality. We require a vast expan-
sion of present programs of on-the-job training in which
training costs are absorbed by the government; at another
level, employers could be granted reduced taxes if they em-
ployed di¤cult-to-place workers. (Many states have “merit”
reductions in unemployment taxes for employers with a good
record of sustained employment; why not a “merit” reward
for hiring the di¤cult-to-place? In some European countries
employers are required to have a certain percentage of phys
ically handicapped persons in their labor force; why not a
The big, new, attractive thrust of Negro employment is
in the nonprofessional services. A high percentage of these
jobs is in public employment. The human services—medical
attention, social services, neighborhood amenities of vari-
ous kinds—are in scarce supply in this country, especially in
localities of poverty. The traditional way of providing man-
power for these jobs—degree-granting programs—cannot
�ll all the niches that are opening up. The traditional job
requirements are a barrier to attaining an adequate supply of
personnel, especially if the number of jobs expands to meet
Uif!fyqbotjpo!pg!uif!ivnbo!tfswjdft!dbo!cf!uif!njttjoh!joevt.
usz!uibu!xjmm!tpbl!vq!uif!vofnqmpznfou!uibu!qfstjtut!jo!uif!Vojufe!
Tubuft/!Tfdsfubsz!pg!Mbcps!X/!Xjmmbse!Xjsuz!ibt!ubmlfe!bcpvu!uif!
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jdb/!Uif!fyqbotjpo!pg!ivnbo!tfswjdft!jt!uibu!joevtusz
ju!jt!mbcps!
where do we go from here
31:
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ubm!jowftunfou!bt!jo!dpotusvdujpo!ps!puifs!�fmet;!ju!�mmt!b!hsfbu!offe!
opu!nfu!cz!qsjwbuf!foufsqsjtf;!ju!jowpmwft!mbcps!uibu!dbo!cf!usbjofe!
The growth of the human services should be rapid. It
should be developed in a manner ensuring that
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buf!ejqmpnbt!cvu!gps!qfpqmf!gspn!uif!ofjhicpsippet!xip!dbo!qfsgpsn!
jnqpsubou!gvodujpot!gps!uifjs!ofjhicpst/!
As with private enter-
prise, rigid credentials have monopolized the entry routes
into human services employment. But, as Frank Riessman
and Arthur Pearl have argued in their book,
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less educated people can do many of the tasks now
performed by the highly educated as well as many other new
Universities adapting to the new needs of the day must
learn how to develop the abilities of people who have had
trouble with school in their youth and have not earned their
credentials. They should be trained on the job, get univer-
sity credit for their experience, learn in relevant courses and
develop a liberal-arts knowledge that is built around their
concerns. We need what S.
Miller has called “second-
chance universities.” A democratic educational system re-
The Freedom Budget of A.
Randolph is important be-
cause it provides a basis for common action with labor and
other groups in utilizing the economic growth of this nation
to bene�t the poor as well as the rich. It raises the possibility
of rebuilding America so that private a‰uence is not accom-
The Freedom Budget, the expansion of private employ-
ment and nonprofessional opportunities cannot, however,
provide full employment for Negroes. Many youths are not
321
martin luther king, jr.
listed as unemployed because in despair they have left the
labor market completely. They are psychologically disabled
and cannot be rescued by conventional employment. They
need special workplaces where their irregularity as workers
can be accepted until they have restored their habits of dis-
cipline. The jobs should nevertheless be jobs and understood
Among the employed, where discrimination continues to
operate, discrepancies in pay between Negroes and whites
are ubiquitous. This discrepancy occurs because (1) Negroes
are paid less for the same job; (2) a heavier proportion of
Negroes work in the low-wage South; and (3) a smaller per-
centage of Negroes are in high-wage jobs. The �rst could
be eliminated by more eƒective policing of fair employment
practices. The second is partly changing as Negroes leave the
South, though more important would be eƒective unioniza-
tion of Southern plants. The third requires strong eƒort of
government and private employers and schools and colleges
to develop upgrading practices which give Negroes a chance
rights
The proliferating bureaucracies in a complex industrial so-
ciety tend to curtail democratic rights. Those that aƒect the
a‰uent and powerful can be handled by appeals to the courts,
which have power to prohibit unwarranted decrees or deci-
sions beyond the scope of proper authority. The poor, how-
ever, are helpless. In welfare, public housing and education,
arbitrary abuse of power cannot be arrested by means readily
available to the victimized. In most cases the victim does
not know he has legal redress and accepts the role of a sup-
plicant unprotected by rules, regulations and safeguards. In
some cases, the issue is uncontrolled bureaucratic or political
where do we go from here
322
power; in others, the question is the relationship between
professionals and those they have a duty to service but too
Slowly, however, the concept is emerging that bene�cia-
ries of welfare measures are not beggars but citizens endowed
with rights de�ned by law. The principle that citizens should
have “maximum feasible participation” in community plan-
ning and other decisions aƒecting their lives is growing. The
rights of all parents—not only the wealthy—to have a signif-
icant role in educational decisions aƒecting their children is
still another developing concept. From a variety of diƒerent
directions, the strands are drawing together for a contempo-
rary social and economic Bill of Rights to supplement the
The new forms of rights are new methods of participa-
tion in decision-making. The concept of democracy is being
pushed to deeper levels of meaning—from formal exercise of
voting, still an issue in much of the United States for many
Two areas where the enlargement of rights has taken
signi�cant organized form are welfare unions and tenant
unions. The untold story of bureaucratic abuse of welfare
recipients is heartrending. The humiliation imposed is bad
enough, but worse is the fact that recipients are denied sub-
stantial bene�ts granted to them by the law. Cloward has
estimated that welfare clients actually receive only 50 percent
of the bene�ts the law provides because they are consciously
kept ignorant of their rights. As individuals they have no
means of informing themselves or of asserting their right
to withheld bene�ts. Through welfare unions, however, the
maximum legal limit can be obtained and deeper solutions
to the problems of poverty can be sought with organized
323
martin luther king, jr.
Tenant unions are one answer to abuses resulting from
the growth of public housing, which has made some cities
the largest landlords and the largest bureaucracies in the land.
Our experience in Chicago indicates that tenant unions can
not only be built but can achieve sophisticated ends such as
formal written and detailed collective agreements with both
Welfare and tenant unions need legislation to protect
members from reprisals and intimidation. Fear of loss of wel-
fare or eviction from apartments inhibits organization. Just as
labor obtained the right to organize expressed in the Wagner
Act, welfare recipients and tenants need the same legal shield
housing
The American housing industry is a disgrace to a society
which can con�dently plan to get to the moon. The costs of
construction have risen more rapidly than most other items.
Technological advances in housing construction are regu-
larly heralded and seldom implemented. The employment
situation is a scandal—it tends to be a lily-white industry
with as many intricate steps to entrance as the
Tpdjbm!Sfhjtufs/
Banks and government policy have actively encouraged and
even required segregated housing; federal mortgage policy
has only recently changed to favor some integrated housing.
The end result is that the United States is today a more
segregated country in many respects than it was twenty years
ago. Problems of education, transportation to jobs and de-
cent living conditions are all made di¤cult because housing
is so rigidly segregated. The expansion of suburbia and mi-
gration from the South have worsened big-city segregation.
The suburbs are white nooses around the black necks of the
cities. Housing deteriorates in central cities; urban renewal
where do we go from here
324
has been Negro removal and has bene�ted big merchants
and real estate interests; and suburbs expand with little regard
Both rehabilitation and some new building in predomi-
nantly Negro areas is immediately needed to alleviate inhu-
man conditions. But this should be done without foreclosing
With the prospect of a new building boom in the United
States and the emergence of new towns or communities,
we must insure the development of integrated housing. The
new and rehabilitated housing in ghetto areas should be tem-
porary: constructed for a relatively short-term period of �f-
teen to twenty years. Units should be built with a plan to tear
them down at the end of that period as housing integration
is advanced. The �nancing and taxing of the housing should
re�ect this relatively short-term use; depreciation should be
for a twenty-year period, rather than for the conventional
�fty years, and demolition should be required when depre-
ciation terminates. The construction activities should be sub-
sidized through expansion of present-day housing subsidies,
The interim solutions for ghetto housing should not ob-
scure the need for strict enforcement of sound housing prac-
tices. But inspection, fair housing, even rehabilitation cannot
solve the problems of housing for the segregated poor. New,
good housing available at low cost is needed to satisfy the
dwelling needs of the underclass. While housing expendi-
tures are a fourth or a �fth of a family’s expenditures, they
are less than a twentieth of governmental expenditures. Once
more priorities have to be reversed; the federal government
subsidizes the nonpoor twice as much as the poor when we
include various forms of subsidies such as middle-income
public housing, tax deductions for mortgage interest and real
325
martin luther king, jr.
estate taxes. The federal government should be subsidizing
housing activities on such a scale that all American housing
Housing is too important to be left to private enterprise
with only minor government eƒort to shape policy. We
The possibilities for decent, integrated housing are not as
remote as increasing segregation in large cities would indi-
cate. The model cities and new towns concepts suggest ways
to remake cities and their surrounding areas. The United
States is now a metropolitan nation and will become more
so. Government policy can powerfully facilitate an integrated
society by refusing to subsidize planned segregation (which
took place under government subsidies to suburban home
owners in the �fties and sixties) and by requiring integrated
While we cannot resolve the issues of decent, integrated
housing immediately, we are now making the choices which
will determine whether we can achieve these goals in forth-
coming decades. We cannot aƒord to make these choices
326
Notes
chapter i. where are we?
chapter ii. black power
327
martin luther king, jr.
chapter iii.
racism and the white backlash
chapter iv.
the dilemma of negro americans
chapter v. where we are going
chapter vi. the world house
328
Index
American Dilemma, An,
index
Carnegie Quarterly,
Collections on the Natural History
Races,
Dusk of Dawn,
index
32:
Inequality of the Human Races,
The,
Invention of the Negro, The,
331
index
see also
see also
see
index
332
Peculiar Institution, The,
Prejudice and Your Child,
Progress and Poverty,
Race: Science and Politics,
Racism and the Christian
Ramparts
333
index
Social Register,
Washington
index
334
Why We Can’t Wait,
THE K
ING
LE
GAC
Y SER
In partnership with the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Beacon Press is proud to share the great privilege and respon-
sibility of furthering Dr. King’s powerful message of peace,
nonviolence, and social justice with a historic publishing pro-
The series will encompass Dr. King’s most important writ-
ings, including sermons, orations, lectures, prayers, and all
of his previously published books that are currently out of
print. Published accessibly and in multiple formats, each vol-
ume will include new material from acclaimed scholars and
activists, underscoring Dr. King’s continued relevance for the
twenty-�rst century and bringing his message to a new gen-
isbn
isbn


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