Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Ryan Rhoades

Many Americans are observing the forty-seventh anniversary of King’s cosmic “I Have a Dream” speech.  King created positive change by defying the odds and fighting against the power of the status quo – including the FBI, who spied on him because they considered him a threat.

During this anniversary, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (with support from the NRA) are giving their own speech entitled “Restoring Honor”, and they are doing so at the Lincoln Memorial.  Enough has been said about Beck and Palin’s attempts to revise history so instead of commenting on their ignorance, we should all commemorate Dr. King by actually reading his speeches.

Below you will find a timeline of King’s most memorable speeches with selected excerpts and links so you can read the speeches in their entirety.  Then you will understand what King was really about – which is starkly different than the FOX News pundits who shamelessly disgrace his memory and legacy on a daily basis.  I also apologize for cutting out so much and sacrificing the contextual flow for the sake of brevity.

**[I have excluded his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”, because there is extensive focus on it all ready.  I feel this focus may have unintentionally led to the lack of focus on his other speeches, which are just as powerful]**

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Timeline of Dr. King’s Words – Selective Excerpts of Profound Speeches:

“The American Dream” Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church                     Atlanta, GA                       July 4, 1965

“…Now ever since the founding fathers of our nation dreamed this dream in all of its magnificence—to use a big word that the psychiatrists use—America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy, but on the other hand we have sadly practiced the very opposite of those principles…

And so it is marvelous and great that we do have a dream, that we have a nation with a dream; and to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the “isness” of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the “oughtness” of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood.

This morning I would like to deal with some of the challenges that we face today in our nation as a result of the American dream. First, I want to reiterate the fact that we are challenged more than ever before to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality. We are challenged to really believe that all men are created equal. And don’t misunderstand that. It does not mean that all men are created equal in terms of native endowment, in terms of intellectual capacity—it doesn’t mean that. There are certain bright stars in the human firmament in every field. It doesn’t mean that every musician is equal to a Beethoven or Handel, a Verdi or a Mozart. It doesn’t mean that every physicist is equal to an Einstein. It does not mean that every literary figure in history is equal to Aeschylus and Euripides, Shakespeare and Chaucer. It does not mean that every philosopher is equal to Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Hegel. It doesn’t mean that. There are individuals who do excel and rise to the heights of genius in their areas and in their fields. What it does mean is that all men are equal in intrinsic worth…

…This is why we must fight segregation with all of our nonviolent might. Segregation is not only inconvenient—that isn’t what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only sociologically untenable—that isn’t what makes it wrong. Segregation is not only politically and economically unsound—that is not what makes it wrong. Ultimately, segregation is morally wrong and sinful. To use the words of a great Jewish philosopher that died a few days ago, Martin Buber, “It’s wrong because it substitutes an ‘I-It’ relationship for the ‘I-Thou’ relationship and relegates persons to the status of things.” That’s it.

I remember when Mrs. King and I were in India, we journeyed down one afternoon to the southernmost part of India, the state of Kerala, the city of Trivandrum. That afternoon I was to speak in one of the schools, what we would call high schools in our country, and it was a school attended by and large by students who were the children of former untouchables. Now you know in India, there was the caste system—and India has done a marvelous job in grappling with this problem—but you had your full caste and individuals were in one of the castes. And then you had some sixty or seventy million people who were considered outcasts. They were the untouchables; they could not go places that other people went; they could not do certain things. And this was one of the things that Mahatma Gandhi battled—along with his struggle to end the long night of colonialism—also to end the long night of the caste system and caste untouchability. You remember some of his great fasts were around the question of making equality a reality for the Harijans, as they were called, the “untouchables.” He called them the children of God, and he even adopted an untouchable as his daughter. He demonstrated in his own personal life and in his family that he was going to revolt against a whole idea. And I remember that afternoon when I stood up in that school. The principal introduced me and then as he came to the conclusion of his introduction, he says, “Young people, I would like to present to you a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.” And for the moment I was a bit shocked and peeved that I would be referred to as an untouchable…

…Now that doesn’t only apply on the race issue, it applies on the class question. You know, sometimes a class system can be as vicious and evil as a system based on racial injustice. When we say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and when we live it out, we know as I say so often that the “no D.” is as significant as the “Ph.D.” And the man who has been to “No House” is as significant as the man who’s been to Morehouse. We build our little class systems, and you know you got a lot of Negroes with classism in their veins. You know that they don’t want to be bothered with certain other Negroes and they try to separate themselves from them.

I remember when I was in theological school, and we were coming to the end of our years there, a classmate—he came to me to talk with me—said that he wanted to invite his mother up. And she’d struggled in order to help him get through school. He wanted to invite his mother up, but he said, “You know, the problem is I don’t know if she would quite fit in this atmosphere. You know, her verbs aren’t quite right; and she doesn’t know how to dress too well; she lives in a rural area.” And I wanted to say to him so bad that you aren’t fit to finish this school. If you cannot acknowledge your mother, if you cannot acknowledge your brothers and sisters, even if they have not risen to the heights of educational attainment, then you aren’t fit to go out and try to preach to men and women…

…This is why we must join the war against poverty and believe in the dignity of all work. What makes a job menial? I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don’t pay folk anything. Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life. And no matter what the job is it takes on dignity…

…Are we really taking this thing seriously? “All men are created equal.” And that means that every man who lives in a slum today is just as significant as John D., Nelson, or any other Rockefeller. Every man who lives in the slum is just as significant as Henry Ford. All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that can’t be separated from you. Go down and tell them, “You may take my life, but you can’t take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can’t take my right to liberty. You may take from me the desire, you may take from me the propensity to pursue happiness, but you can’t take from me my right to pursue happiness.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” …

…And I would like to say to you this morning what I’ve tried to say all over this nation, what I believe firmly: that in seeking to make the dream a reality we must use and adopt a proper method. I’m more convinced than ever before that nonviolence is the way. I’m more convinced than ever before that violence is impractical as well as immoral. If we are to build right here a better America, we have a method as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. We need not hate; we need not use violence. We can stand up before our most violent opponent and say: We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail. We will go in those jails and transform them from dungeons of shame to havens of freedom and human dignity. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Somehow go around the country and use your propaganda agents to make it appear that we are not fit culturally, morally, or otherwise for integration, and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.

Oh yes, love is the way.  Love is the only absolute. More and more I see this. I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear. I’ve seen it on the faces of too many sheriffs of the South—I’ve seen hate. In the faces and even the walk of too many Klansmen of the South, I’ve seen hate. Hate distorts the personality. Hate does something to the soul that causes one to lose his objectivity. The man who hates can’t think straight; the man who hates can’t reason right; the man who hates can’t see right; the man who hates can’t walk right. And I know now that Jesus is right, that love is the way. And this is why John said, “God is love,” so that he who hates does not know God, but he who loves at that moment has the key that opens the door to the meaning of ultimate reality. So this morning there is so much that we have to offer to the world…

“Beyond Vietnam” Delivered at Riverside Church New York, NY                 April 4, 1967

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides. Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans

Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor…

…And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

They must see Americans as strange liberators. The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1954—in 1945 rather—after a combined French and Japanese occupation and before the communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony. Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not ready for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination and a government that had been established not by China—for whom the Vietnamese have no great love—but by clearly indigenous forces that included some communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization.

…The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers…

…How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than twenty-five percent communist, and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam, and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will not have a part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only real party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of a new violence?…

…At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

Unquote.

…I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement. [sustained applause]

…The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.

It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…

…A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South 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 hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically 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 uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. 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 molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. [applause] War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, 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 reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy [applause], realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land 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 communism, 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 anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment 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 [Audience:] (Yes); the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

…Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. [sustained applause]

“Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church         Chicago, Illinois        August 27 1967

As you know, we are involved in a difficult struggle. It was about a hundred and four years ago that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the Negro from the bondage of physical slavery. And yet we stand here one hundred and four years later, and the Negro still isn’t free. One hundred and four years later, we still have states like Mississippi and Alabama where Negroes are lynched at whim and murdered at will. One hundred and four years later, we must face the tragic fact that the vast majority of Negroes in our country find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred and four years later, fifty percent of the Negro families of our country are forced to live in substandard housing conditions, most of whom do not have wall-to-wall carpets; many of them are forced to live with wall-to-wall rats and roaches. One hundred and four years later, we find ourselves in a situation where even though we live in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal, men are still arguing over whether the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character. Now this tells us that we have a long, long way to go…

And any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls—the economic conditions that stagnate the soul and the city governments that may damn the soul—is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood. And so I come to you this morning, to talk about some of the great insights from the scripture in general, and from the New Testament in particular. I want to use as a subject from which to preach: “Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool.”

I want to share with you a dramatic little story from the gospel as recorded by Saint Luke. It is a story of a man who by all standards of measurement would be considered a highly successful man. And yet Jesus called him a fool. If you will read that parable, you will discover that the central character in the drama is a certain rich man. This man was so rich that his farm yielded tremendous crops. In fact, the crops were so great that he didn’t know what to do. It occurred to him that he had only one alternative and that was to build some new and bigger barns so he could store all of his crops. And then as he thought about this, he said, “Then I’m going to do something after I build my new and bigger barns.” He said, “I’m going to store my goods and my fruit there, and then I’m going to say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods, laid up for many years. Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’” That brother thought that was the end of life.

But the parable doesn’t end with that man making his statement. It ends by saying that God said to him, “Thou fool. Not next year, not next week, not tomorrow, but this night, thy soul is required of thee.”

And so it was at the height of his prosperity he died. Look at that parable. Think about it. Think of this man: If he lived in Chicago today, he would be considered “a big shot.” And he would abound with all of the social prestige and all of the community influence that could be afforded.  Most people would look up to him because he would have that something called money. And yet a Galilean peasant had the audacity to call that man a fool.

Now Jesus didn’t call the man a fool because he made his money in a dishonest fashion. There is nothing in that parable to indicate that this man was dishonest and that he made his money through conniving and exploitative methods. In fact, it seems to reveal that he had a medium of humanity and that he was a very industrious man. He was a thrifty man, apparently a pretty hard worker. So Jesus didn’t call him a fool because he got his money through dishonest means…

…I’d like for you to look at this parable with me and try to decipher the real reason that Jesus called this man a fool. Number one, Jesus called this man a fool because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. You see, each of us lives in two realms, the within and the without. Now the within of our lives is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, religion, and morality. The without of our lives is that complex of devices, of mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. The house we live in—that’s a part of the means by which we live. The car we drive, the clothes we wear, the money that we are able to accumulate—in short, the physical stuff that’s necessary for us to exist.

Now the problem is that we must always keep a line of demarcation between the two. This man was a fool because he didn’t do that…

Now number two, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others. Now if you read that parable in the book of Luke, you will discover that this man utters about sixty words. And do you know in sixty words he said “I” and “my” more than fifteen times?  This man was a fool because he said “I” and “my” so much until he lost the capacity to say “we” and “our.” He failed to realize that he couldn’t do anything by himself. This man talked like he could build the barns by himself, like he could till the soil by himself. And he failed to realize that wealth is always a result of the commonwealth.

Maybe you haven’t ever thought about it, but you can’t leave home in the morning without being dependent on most of the world. You get up in the morning, and you go to the bathroom and you reach over for a sponge, and that’s even given to you by a Pacific Islander. You reach over for a towel, and that’s given to you by a Turk. You reach down to pick up your soap, and that’s given to you by a Frenchman. Then after dressing, you rush to the kitchen and you decide this morning that you want to drink a little coffee; that’s poured in your cup by a South American. Or maybe this morning you prefer tea; that’s poured in your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you want cocoa this morning; that’s poured in your cup by a West African. Then you reach over to get your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning you are dependent on more than half of the world.

And oh my friends, I don’t want you to forget it. No matter where you are today, somebody helped you to get there. It may have been an ordinary person, doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary way. Some few are able to get some education; you didn’t get it by yourself. Don’t forget those who helped you come over…

In a larger sense we’ve got to see this in our world today. Our white brothers must see this; they haven’t seen it up to now. The great problem facing our nation today in the area of race is that it is the black man who to a large extent produced the wealth of this nation. And the nation doesn’t have sense enough to share its wealth and its power with the very people who made it so. And I know what I’m talking about this morning. The black man made America wealthy…

There are a lot of fools around. Because they fail to realize their dependence on others.

Finally, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. Do you know that man talked like he regulated the seasons? That man talked like he gave the rain to grapple with the fertility of the soil. That man talked like he provided the dew. He was a fool because he ended up acting like he was the Creator, instead of a creature.

And this man-centered foolishness is still alive today. In fact, it has gotten to the point today that some are even saying that God is dead. The thing that bothers me about it is that they didn’t give me full information, because at least I would have wanted to attend God’s funeral. And today I want to ask, who was the coroner that pronounced him dead? I want to raise a question, how long had he been sick? I want to know whether he had a heart attack or died of chronic cancer. These questions haven’t been answered for me, and I’m going on believing and knowing that God is alive. You see, as long as love is around, God is alive. As long as justice is around, God is alive. There are certain conceptions of God that needed to die, but not God. You see, God is the supreme noun of life; he’s not an adjective. He is the supreme subject of life; he’s not a verb. He’s the supreme independent clause; he’s not a dependent clause. Everything else is dependent on him, but he is dependent on nothing…

…Now of course I was religious; I grew up in the church. I’m the son of a preacher, I’m the great-grandson of a preacher, and the great-great-grandson of a preacher. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my Daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice, I guess.  But I had grown up in the church, and the church meant something very real to me, but it was a kind of inherited religion and I had never felt an experience with God in the way that you must have it if you’re going to walk the lonely paths of this life. Everything was done, and if I had a problem I could always call Daddy, my earthly father; things were solved.

But one day after finishing school, I was called to a little church down in Montgomery, Alabama, and I started preaching there. Things were going well in that church; it was a marvelous experience. But one day a year later, a lady by the name of Rosa Parks decided that she wasn’t going to take it any longer. She stayed in a bus seat, and you may not remember it because it’s way back now several years, but it was the beginning of a movement where fifty thousand black men and women refused absolutely to ride the city buses. And we walked together for 381 days. That’s what we got to learn in the North: Negroes have to learn to stick together. We stuck together. [applause] We sent out the call and no Negro rode the buses. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. And the people of Montgomery asked me to serve as the spokesman, and as the president of the new organization—the Montgomery Improvement Association that came into being to lead the boycott—I couldn’t say no. And then we started our struggle together.

Things were going well for the first few days, but then about ten or fifteen days later, after the white people in Montgomery knew that we meant business, they started doing some nasty things. They started making nasty telephone calls, and it came to the point that some days more than forty telephone calls would come in, threatening my life, the life of my family, the life of my children. I took it for a while in a strong manner.

But I never will forget one night very late. It was around midnight. And you can have some strange experiences at midnight. I had been out meeting with the steering committee all that night. And I came home, and my wife was in the bed and I immediately crawled into bed to get some rest to get up early the next morning to try to keep things going. And immediately the telephone started ringing and I picked it up. On the other end was an ugly voice. That voice said to me, in substance, “Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

I’d heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered. And then I got up and went back to the kitchen and I started warming some coffee, thinking that coffee would give me a little relief. And then I started thinking about many things. I pulled back on the theology and philosophy that I had just studied in the universities, trying to give philosophical and theological reasons for the existence and the reality of sin and evil, but the answer didn’t quite come there. I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born about a month earlier. We have four children now, but we only had one then. She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted, and loyal wife who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer; I was weak…

…And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.”…

…And I don’t mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged.  I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticisms, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work’s in vain. But then the holy spirit revives my soul again. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.” God bless you. [applause]

“Unfulfilled Dreams” Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church                Atlanta, Georgia                  March, 3 1968

…So many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don’t finish them. Because life is like Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony.” At so many points we start, we try, we set out to build our various temples. And I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.

Now let us notice first that life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. And through a powerful nonviolent revolution he was able to win that independence. For years the Indian people had been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, and Gandhi struggled against it. He struggled to unite his own people, and nothing was greater in his mind than to have India’s one great, united country moving toward a higher destiny. This was his dream.

But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems. Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build a great temple and not being able to finish it.

Woodrow Wilson dreamed a dream of a League of Nations, but he died before the promise was delivered.

The Apostle Paul talked one day about wanting to go to Spain. It was Paul’s greatest dream to go to Spain, to carry the gospel there. Paul never got to Spain. He ended up in a prison cell in Rome. This is the story of life.

…Thank God this morning that we do have hearts to put something meaningful in. Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.

Now let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.

Now not only is that struggle structured out somewhere in the external forces of the universe, it’s structured in our own lives. Psychologists have tried to grapple with it in their way, and so they say various things. Sigmund Freud used to say that this tension is a tension between what he called the id and the superego…

…It will be dark sometimes, and it will be dismal and trying, and tribulations will come. But if you have faith in the God that I’m talking about this morning, it doesn’t matter. For you can stand up amid the storms. And I say it to you out of experience this morning, yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus, saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me. Never to leave me alone.

“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (Day before assassination) Memphis, TN                                April 3, 1968

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. [Laughter] It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you, and Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world.

I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow. Something is happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt, and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather, across the Red Sea, through the wilderness, on toward the Promised Land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides, and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon [Applause], and I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire (Yes), and I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat, and I would watch Martin Luther as he tacks his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. But I wouldn’t stop there. [Applause]

I would even come up to the early thirties and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation, and come with an eloquent cry that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” [Applause]

Now that’s a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.” [Applause]

And another reason I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. [Applause]

And also, in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done and done in a hurry to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty; their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. [Applause] Now I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

…Now what does all this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula of doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. [Applause] But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. [Applause] Now let us maintain unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. [Applause] Now we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that 1,300 sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that. [Applause]

Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be [Applause] and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation, we know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. [Applause]

We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces. They don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church day after day. By the hundreds we would move out, and Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come. But we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” [Applause] Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the trans-physics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. [Applause] And we went before the fire hoses. We had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist or some others, we had been sprinkled. But we knew water. That couldn’t stop us. [Applause]…

…Now not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. [Applause] We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves in SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we’re doing, put your money there. [Applause] You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.” [Applause] Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base, and at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. And I ask you to follow through here. [Applause]

Now let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. [Applause] And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. [Applause] Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. [Applause] Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

…The next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured you’re drowned in your own blood, that’s the end of you. It came out in the New York Times the next morning that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died.

Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheelchair of the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the president and the vice president; I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said.

But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter and I’ll never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.” [Applause]

And I want to say tonight [Applause], I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed [Applause], if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed [Applause], I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me. [Applause] Now it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane–there were six of us–the pilot said over the public address system: “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. [Applause] And I don’t mind. [Applause continues] Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. [Applause] And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [Applause]

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