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The autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr edited by Clayborne Carson – Remarks

Posted by Raul Barral Tamayo en martes, 14 de julio, 2020

Copyright © 1998 by The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Compiled from his own words, this history-making autobiography is Martin Luther King, Jr, the mild-mannered, inquisitive child and student who rebelled against segregation; the dedicated young minister who continually questioned the depths of his faith and the limits of his wisdom; the loving husband and father who sought to balance his family’s needs with those of a growing nationwide movement; and the reflective, world-famous leader who was fired by a vision of equality for people everywhere.

Relevant and insightful, this autobiography offers King’s seldom disclosed views on some of the world’s greatest and most controversial figures including John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, and Richard Nixon. This book brings to life a remarkable man whose thoughts and actions still inspire our desires, hopes and dreams.

Standford historian, Clayborne Carson, Ph.D., is the author and editor of several books on the civil rights struggle in the United States. In 1985, Dr Carson was invited by the King family to direct the long-term of editing and publishing the papers of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Comments extracted from the book, they could be right or wrong, you decide for yourself:

  • Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. 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.
  • My home situation was very congenial. I have a marvelous mother and father. I can hardly remember a time that they ever argued or had any great falling out. These factors were highly significant in determining my religious attitudes. It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present. It is quite easy for me to think of the universe as basically friendly mainly because of my uplifting hereditary and environmental circumstances. It is quite easy for me to lean more toward optimism than pessimism about human nature mainly because of my childhood experiences.
  • I think that my strong determination for justice comes from the very strong, dynamic personality of my father, and I would hope that the gentle aspect comes from a mother who is very gentle and sweet.
  • In spite of her relatively comfortable circumstances, my mother never complacently adjusted herself to the system of segregation. She instilled a sense of self-respect in all of her children from the very beginning.
  • My mother confronted the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child. She taught me that I should feel a sense of «somebodiness» but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day  you are «less than», you are «not equal to». She told me about slavery and how it ended with the Civil War. She tried to explain the divided system of the South as a social condition rather than a natural order.
  • I have rarely ever met a person more fearless and courageous than my father, notwithstanding the fact the he feared for me. He never feared the autocratic and brutal persopn in the white community. If they said something to him that was insulting, he made it clear in no uncertain terms that he didn’t like it.
  • The thing that I admire most about my dad is his genuine Christian character. He is a man of real integrity, deeply committed to moral and ethical principles. He is conscientious in all of this undertakings. Even the person who disagrees with his frankness has to admit that his motives and actions are sincere. He never hesitates to tell the truth and speak his mind, however cutting it may be. This quality of frankness has often caused people to actually fear him.
  • My father has always had quite an interest in civil rights.
  • With this heritage, it is not surprising that I also learned to abhor segregation, considering it both rationally inexplicable and morally injustifiable.
  • I have never experienced the feeling of not having the basic necessities of life. These things were always provided by a father who always put his family first. My father never made more than an ordinary salary, but the secret was that he knew the art of saying and budgeting. He has always had sense enough not to live beyond his means.
  • The church has always been a second home for me.
  • I never regretted going to church until I passed through a state of skepticism in my second year of college.
  • The lessons which I was taught in Sunday school were quite in the fundamentalist line. None of my teachers ever doubted the infalibility of the Scriptures. Most of them were unlettered and had never heard of biblical criticism. I guess I accepted biblical studies uncritically until I was about twelve years old. But this uncritical attitude could not last long, for it was contrary to the very nature of my being.
  • From the age of three I had a white playmate who was about my age. We always felt free to play our childhood games together. At the age of six we both entered school, separate schools, of course. I remember how our friendship began to break as soon as we entered school; this was not my desire but his. The climax came when he told me one day that his father had demanded that he would play with me no more. I will never forget what a great shock this was to me. We were at the dinner table when the situation was discussed, and here for the first time I was made aware of the existence of a race problem. I had never been conscious of it before. From that moment on I was determined to hate every white person. As I grew older and older this feeling continued to grow.
  • How could I love a race of people who hated me and who had been responsible for breaking me up with one of my best childhood friend? This was a great question in my mind for a number of years.
  • I always had a resentment towards the system of segregation and felt that it was a grave injustice.
  • My father had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience.
  • There was a pretty strict system of segregation in Atlant. For a long, long time I could not go swimming, until there was a Negro YMCA. A Negro child in Atlant could not go to any public park.
  • I have never been one to hit back.
  • We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime.
  • I had grown up abhorring not only segregation but also the oppresive and barbarous acts that grew out of it. I had seen police brutality with my own eyes, and watched Negroes receive the most tragic injustice in the courts.
  • I had also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.
  • I saw economic injustice firsthand, and realized that the poor white was exploited just as much as the Negro.
  • I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.
  • During my studen days I read Henry Thoureau’s eassy «On Civil Disobedience» for the first time. I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system. I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.
  • I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much as moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
  • These are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral can patiently adjust to injustice.
  • I had been ready to resent the whole white race, but as I got to see more of white people, my resentment was softened, and a spirit of cooperation took its place.
  • I could envision myself playing a part in breaking down the legal barriers to Negro rights.
  • Because of the influence of my mother and father, I guess I always had a deep urge to serve humanity.
  • My college training, especially the first two years, brought many doubts into my mind. It was then that the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body. My studies had made me skeptical, and I could not see how many of the facts of science could be squared with religion.
  • I often say that if we, as a people, had as much religion in our hearts and souls as we have in our legs and feet, we could change the world.
  • This conflict continued until I studied a course in Bible in which I came to see that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape.
  • Not until 1948, when I entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil.
  • I came early to Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis, which left an indelible imprint on my thinking by giving me a theological basis for the social concern which had already grown up in me as a result of my early experiences. Of course there were points at which I differed with Rauschenbusch.
  • It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn then, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.
  • I think that preaching should grow out of the experiences of the people. Therefore, I, as a minister, must know the problems of the people that I am pastoring. Too often do educated ministers leave the people lost in the fog of theological abstraction, rather than presenting that theology in the light of the people’s experiences.
  • I see the preaching ministry as a dual process. On the one hand I must attempt to change the sould of individuals so that their societies may be changed. On the other hand I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change. Therefore, I must be concerned about unemployment, slums, and economic insecurity. I am a profound advocate of the social gospel.
  • I carefully scrutinized Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. I also read some interpretive works on the thinking of Marx and Lenin.
  • I rejected their materialistic interpretation of history. Communis, avowedly secularistic and materialistic, has no place for God. This I could never accept.
  • History is ultimately guided by spirit, not matter.
  • I strongly disagree with communism’e ethical relativism. Since for the Communism there is no divine government, no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, inmutable principles; consequently almost anything (force, violence, murder, lying) is a justifiable means to the «millenial» end.
  • I opposed communism’s political totalitarianism. In communism the individual ends up in subjection to the state.
  • I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for the man.
  • In spite of the fact that my response to communism was and is negative, and I consider it basically evil, there were points at which I found it challenging. With all of its false assumptions and evil methods, communism gew as a protest against the hardships of the underprivileged. Communism in theory emphasized a classless society, and a concern for social justice, though the world knows from sad experience that in practice it created new classes and a new lexicon of injustice.
  • The Christian ought always to be challenged by any protest against unfair treatment of the poor.
  • I was deeply concerned from my early teen days about the gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, and my reading of Marx made me ever more conscious of this gulf.
  • Marx had revealed the danger of the profit danger as the sole basis of an economic system: capitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.
  • I read Marx as I read all of the influential historical thinkers, from a dialectical point of view, combining a partial yes and a partial no.
  • My reading of Marx also convinced me that truth is found neither in Marxism nor in traditional capitalism. Each represent a partial truth.
  • War, horrible as it is, might be preferable to surrender to a totalitarian system, Nazi, Fascist, or Communist.
  • As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished.
  • Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships.
  • Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.
  • The intelectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contract theory of Hobbes, the «back to nature» optimism of Rouseau, the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.
  • During my last year in theological school, I began to read the works of Reinhold Niebuhr. Made me aware of the complexity of human motives and the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence. I became so enamored of his social ethics that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically everything he wrote.
  • While I still believed in man’s potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his potential for evil as well. Many pacifists, I felt, failed to see this. All to many had an unwarranted optimism concerning man and leaned unconsciously toward self-righteousness.
  • I must conclude that any atheistic view is both philosophically unsound and practically disadvantageous.
  • The thing tht we need in the world today, is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and he opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they’re never caught up with. Some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
  • I have come to see the real meaning of that rather trite statement: a wife can either make or break a husband. My wife was always stronger than I was through the struggle.
  • I am convinced that if I had not had a wife with the fortitude, strength, and calmness of Corrie, I could not have withstood the ordeals and tensions surrounding the movement.
  • One of the frustating aspects of my life has been the great demands that come as a result of my involvement in the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice and peace. I have to be away from home a great deal and that takes me away from family so much. It’s just impossible to carry out the responsabilities of a father and husband when you have these kinds of demands.
  • I said to myself over and over again, «Keep Martin Luther King in the background and God in the foreground and everything will be all right. Remember you are a channel of the gospel and not the source».
  • I joined the local branch of the NAACP and began to take an active interest in implementing its programa in the community itself.
  • I felt that both approaches were neccesary. Through education we seek to change attitudes and internal feelings (prejudice, hate, etc.); through legislation and court orders we seek to regulate behavior. Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey infinitely longer.
  • This is not a drama with only one actor. More precisely it is the chronicle of fifty thousand Negroes who took to heart the principles of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human work.
  • On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to move when she was asked to get up and move back by the bus operator. Mrs Parks was sitting in the first seat in the unreserved section. In a quiet, calm, dignified manner, so characteristic of the radiant personality of Mrs. Parks, she refused to move. The result was her arrest. «I can’t take it any longer». No, she was not planted there by the NCAAP or any other organization.
  • E. D. Nixon (the signer of Mrs. Parks’s bond) concluded, his voice tembling, «I feel that the time has come to boycott the buses. Only through a boycott can we make it clear to the white folks that we will not accept this type of treatment any longer».
  • Our final message was: «Don’t ride the bus to work, to town, to school, or any place Monday, December 5. Another Negro woman has been arrested and put in jail because she refused to give up her bus seat. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. If you work, take a cab, or share a ride, or walk. Come to a mass meeting, Monday at 7:00 p.m., at the Holt Street Baptist Church for further instruction».
  • They knew why they walked, and the knowledge was evident in the way they carried themselves. And as I watched them I knew that there is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.
  • It was unanimously agreed that the protest should continue until certain demands were met. If we stop now we can get anything we want from the bus company, simply because they will have the feeling we can do it again. But if we continue, and most of the people return to the buses tomorrow or the next day, the white people will laugh at us, and we will end up getting nothing. This argument was so convincing that we almost resolved to end the protest.
  • I faced a new and sobering dilemma: how could I make a speech that would be militant enough to keep my people aroused to positive action and yet moderate enough to keep this fervor within controllable and Christian bounds? I knew that many of the Negro people were victims of bitterness that could easily rise to flood proportions.
  • Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil. The greatest way to do that is through love. I believe firmly that love is a transforming power that can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, goodwill, and justice.
  • I had come to see early that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom.
  • Occasionally members of the executive board would say to me in private that we needed a more militant approach. They looked upon nonviolence as weak and compromising. Others felt that at least a modicum of iolence would convince the white people that the Negroes meant business and were not afraid.
  • Nonviolence in the truest sense is not a strategy that one uses simply because it is expedient at the moment; nonviolence is ultimately a way of life that men live by because of  the sheer morality of its claim.
  • I soon saw that I was the victim of an unwarranted pessimism because I had started out with an unwarranted optimism. I had gone to the meeting with great illusion. I had believed that the privileged would give up their privileges on request. This experience, however, taught me a lesson. I came to see that no one givesw up his privileges without strong resistance. I saw further that the underlying purpose of segregation was to oppress and exploit the segregated, not simply to keep them apart. The basic purpose of segregation was to perpetuate injustice and inequality.
  • By trying to convince the Negroes that I was the main obstacle to a solution, the white committee memebers had hoped to divide us among ourselves.
  • «You must be willing to suffer the anger of the opponent, and yet not return anger. You must not become bitter. No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm».
  • False rumors were spread concerning the leaders of the movement.
  • One night at a mass meeting, I found myself saying: «If one day you find me sprawled out dead, I do not want you to retaliate with a single act of violence. I urge you to continue protesting with the same dignity and discipline you have shown so far».
  • I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said: «Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery». I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point. I had 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. Finally I went to the kitcehn and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up.
  • I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.
  • As I walked toward the front porch, I realized that many people were armed. Nonviolent resistance was on the verge of being transformed into violence.
  • «We belive in law and order. Don’t get panicky. Don’t do anything panicky at all. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what God said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them».
  • Once more I caught myself and said: «You must not allow yourself to become bitter».
  • «There are those who would try to make of this a hate campaign. This is not war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. This is bigger than the Negro race revolting against the white. We are seeking to improve not the Negro of Montgomery but the whole of Montgomery».
  • We decided to get rid of the one weapon we owned. We tried to satisfy our friends by having floodlights mounted around the house, and hiring unarmed watchmen around the clock. I also promised that I would not travel around the city alone.
  • When I decided that I couldn’t keep a gun. I came face-to-face with the question of death and I dealt with it. From that point on, I no longer needed a gun nor have I been afraid. Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppresors.
  • There is amazing power in unity. Where there is true unity, every effort to disunite only serves to strenghten the unity.
  • They thought they were dealing with a group who could be cajoled or forced to do whatever the white man wanted them to do. They were not aware that they were dealing with Negroes who had been freed from fear. And so every move they made proved to be a mistake.
  • I think when a person lives with the fears of the consequences for his personal life he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving many of the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation.
  • History has proven that social systems hace a great last-minute breathing power. And the guardian of the status-quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive.
  • Segregation is an evil, segregation is a cancer in the body politic which must be removed before our democratic health can be realized.
  • Equality is not only a matter of mathematics and geometry, but it’s a matter of psychology. The doctrine of separate but equal can never be.
  • I came to see what the Supreme Court meant when they came out saying that separate facilities are inherently unequal. There is no such thing as separate but equal.
  • «The United States Supreme Court today affirmed a decision of a special three-judge U.S. District Court in declaring Alabama’s state and local laws requiring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Supreme Court acted without listening to any argument: it simply said ‘the motion to affirm is granted and the judgement is affirmed'».
  • The darkest hour of our struggle had become the hour of victory. Disappointment, sorrow, and despair are born at midnight, but morning follows.
  • Ordinarily, threats of Kan action were a signal to the Negroes to go into their houses, close the doors, pull the shades, or turn off the lights. Fearing death, they played dead. But this time they had prepared a surprise. When the Klan arrived porch lights were on and door open. As the Klan drove by, the Negroes behaved as though they were watching a circus parade. After a few blocks, the Klan, nonplussed, turned off into a side street and disappeared into the night.
  • The prevailing theme was that «we must not take this as a victory over the white man, but as a victory for justice and democracy». We hammered away at the point that «we must not go back on the buses and push people around unneccesarily, boasting of our rights. We must simply sit where there is a vacant seat».
  • «We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming together of white people and colored people on the basis of a real harmony of interests and understanding. We seek an integration based on mutual respect».
  • It had been gratifying to know how the idea of nonviolence had gradually seeped into the hearts and souls of the people. There had been an amazing amount of discipline on the part of our people. I felt that the whole struggle had given the Negro a new sense of dignity and destiny.
  • I had decided that after many months of struggling with my people for the goal of justice I should not sit back and watch, but should lead them back to the buses myself.
  • Despite such signs of hostility there were no major incidents on the first day. Many of the whites responded to the new system calmly. Several deliberately and with friendly smiles took seats beside Negroes.
  • Montgomery marked the psychological turning point for the American Negro in his struggle against segregation. The revolution birthed in Montgomery was unlike the isolated, futile, and violent slave revolts.
  • Montgomery contributed a new weapon to the Negro revolution. This was the social tool of the nonviolent resistance.
  • Montgomery gave forth, for all the world to see, a courageous new Negro. He emerged, etched in sharpest relief, a person whom whites had to confront and even grudgingly respect, and once whom Negroes admired and, then, emulated. The Montgomery Negro had acquired a new sense of somebodiness and self-respect, and had a new determination to achieve freedom and human dignity no matter what the cost.
  • Justice had one more miscarried. But the diehards had made their last stand. The disturbances ceased abruptly. Desegregation on the buses proceeeded smoothly. In a few weeks transportation waas back to normal, and people of both races rode together wherever they pleased. The skies did not fall when integrated buses finally traveled the streets of Montgomery.
  • When you are aware that you are a symbol, it causes you to search your soul constantly, to go through this job of self-analysis, to see if you live up to the high and noble principles that people surround you with, and to try at all times to keep the gulf between the public self and the private self at a minimum.
  • It was clear that things were much better than they were before December 5, 1955, but Montgomery’s racial problems were still far from solved. The problem in Montgomery was merely symptomatic of the larger national problem.
  • Segregation and discrimination are strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.
  • It was my firm conviction that if the Negro achieved the ballot throughout the South, many of the problems which we faced would be solved.
  • I believe firmly in nonviolence, but, at the same time, I am not an anarchist. I believe in the intelligent use of police force.
  • Gana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppresor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.
  • When I hear, «People aren’t ready», that’s like telling a person who is trying to swim, «Don’t jump in that water until you learn how to swim». When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. People have to have an opportunity to develop themselves and govern themselves.
  • If I demonstrated unusual calm during the recent attempts on my life, it was certainly not due to any extraordinary powers that I possess. Rather, it was due to the power of God working through me.
  • To believe in nonviolence does not mean that violence will not be inflicted upon you. The believer in nonviolence is the person who will willingly allow himself to be the victim of violence but will never inflict violence upon another. He lives by the conviction that through his suffering and cross bearing, the social situation may be redeemed.
  • I became convinced that if the movement held to the spirit of nonviolence, our struggle and example would challenge and help redeem not only America but the world.
  • It demonstrated to me that a climate of hatred and bitterness so permeated areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt. I saw its wider social significance. The lack of restraint upon violence in our society along with the defiance of law by men in high places cannot but result in an atmosphere which engenders desperate deeds.
  • The strongest bond of fraternity was the common cause of minority and colonial peoples in America, Africa, and Asia struggling to throw off racism and imperialism.
  • Thanks to the Indian papers, the Montgomery bus boycott was already well known in that country. Indian publications perhaps gave a better continuity of our 381-day bus strike than did most of our pares in the United States.
  • In contrast to the poverty-stricken, there were Indians who were rich, had luxurious homes, landed states, fine clothes, and showed evidence of overeating. The bourgeoise (white, black, or brown) behaves about the same the world over.
  • The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppresor.
  • Gandhi was able to mobilize and galvanize more people in his lifetime than any other person in the history of this world. And just with a little love and understanding goodwill and a refusal to cooperate with an evil law, he was able to break the backbone of the British Empire.
  • Nonviolent resistance when planned and positive in action could work effectively even under totalitarian regimes.
  • True nonviolent resistance is not unrealistic, submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.
  • original entry: https://raulbarraltamayo.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/the-autobiography-of-martin-luther-king-jr-edited-by-clayborne-carson/
  • Gandhi said: «I will refuse to eat until  the leaders of the caste system will come to me with the leaders of the untouchables and say that there will be an end to untouchability and the Hindu temples of India will open their doors to the untouchables». And he refused to eat, and days passed. Finally when Gandhi was about to breath his last breath, and his body was all but gone, a group from the untouchables and a group from the Brahmin caste came to him and signed a statement saying that they would no longer adhere to the caste system.
  • The prime minister admitted to me that many Indians still harbored a prejudice against these long-opprossed people, but that it had become unpopular to exhibit this prejudice in any form.
  • Although discrimination has not yet been eliminated in India, it is a crime to practice discrimination against an untouchable.
  • The spirit of Gandhi was very much alive in India.
  • I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolence resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. It was a marvelous thing to see the amazing results of a nonviolent campaign. India won her independence, but without violence on the part of Indians.
  • I felt we had to continue to challenge the system of segregation, whether it was in the schools, public parks, churches, lunch counters, or public libraries. Segregation had to be removed from our society. And Negroes had to be prepared to suffer, sacrifice, and even die to gain their goals. We could not rest until we had achieved the ideals of our democracy.
  • I urged students to continue the struggle on the highest level of dignity. They had rightly chosen to follow the path of nonviolence. Out ultimate aim was not to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We had a moral obligation to remind him that segregation is wrong. We protested with the ultimate aim of being reconciled with our white brothers.
  • One may wonder why the movement started with lunch counters. The answer lay in the fact that there the Negro had suffered indignities and injustices that could not be justified or explained. Almost every Negro had experienced the tragic inconveniences of lunch counter segregation.
  • This was an era of offensive on the part of oppresed people. All peoples deprived of dignity and freedom marched on every continent throughout the world.
  • «The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines».
  • «It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community».
  • I fear there is a dearth of vision in our government, a lack of a sense of history and genuine morality.
  • For many months during the election campaign, my close friends urged me to declare my support for John Kennedy. I spent many troubled hours searching for the responsible and fair decision. I made very clear to him that I did not endorse candidates publicly and that I could not come to the point that I would change my views on this.
  • Why Albany? Because Albany symbolizes the bastions of segregation set upon by the compounded forces of morality and justice.
  • The Albany movement used all the methods of nonviolence: direct action expressed through mass demonstrations; jail-ins; sit-ins; wade-ins, and kneel-ins; political action; boycotts and legal actions. In no other city of the deep South had all those methods of nonviolence been simultaneously exercised.
  • Jail is depressing because it shuts off the world. It leaves one caught in the dull monotony of sameness. It is almost like being dead while one still lives. To adjust to such a meaningless existence is not easy. The only way that I adjust to it is to constantly remind myself that this self-imposed suffering is for a great cause and purpose. It is life without the beauties of life; it is bare existence, cold, cruel, and degenerating.
  • There is no tactical theory so neat that a revolunationary struggle for a share of power can be won merely by pressing a row of buttons. Hman beings with all their faults and strengths constitute the mechanism of a social movement. They must make mistakes and learn from them, make more mistakes and learn anew.
  • What we learned from our mistakes in Albany helped our later campaign in other cities to be more effective. We never since scattered our efforts in a general attack on segregation, but focused upon specific, symbolic objectives.
  • Along with Shuttlesworth, we believed that while a campaign in Birmingham would surely be the toughest fight of our civil rights careers, it could, if successful, break the back of segregation all over the nation. A victory there might well set the forces in motion to change the entire course of the drive for freedom and justice.
  • An important part of the mass meetings was the freedom songs. In a sense the freedom songs are the soul of the movement. They are more than just incantations of clever phrases designed to invigorate a campaign; they are as old as the history of the Negro in America. They are adaptations of songs the slaves sang, the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns, and the anthems of our movement.
  • We proved that we possesed the most formidable weapon of all, the conviction that we were right. We had the protection of our knowledge that we were more concerned about realizing our righteous aims than about saving our skins.
  • We did not hesitate to call our movement an army. It was a special army, with no supplies but is sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except is faith, no currency but its conscience. It was an army that would move but not maul. It was an army that would sing but not slay.
  • You may well ask: «Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?» You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to creat such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. I must confess that I am not afraid of the word «tension». I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. We see the need for nonviolent gadlfies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
  • My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntary. As Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
  • One may well ask: «How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?» The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that «an unjust law is no law at all». How does one determine whether a law is just of unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law of the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas: an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
  • Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
  • An unjust  law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
  • In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the raid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
  • To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
  • We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was «legal» and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was «illegal». It was «illegal» to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
  • I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.
  • Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outrigth rejection.
  • We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.
  • We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
  • Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
  • I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppresion, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of «somebodiness» that they have adjusted to segregation. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement.
  • Oppresded people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro.
  • The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice of for the extension of justice?
  • I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions.
  • When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
  • There was a time when the Church was very powerful, in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and inmediately sought to convict the Christians for being «disturbers of the peace» and «outside agitators».
  • So often the contemporary Church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent, and often even vocal, sanction of things as they are.
  • The judgement of God is upon the Church as never before. If today’s Church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the Church has turned into outright disgust.
  • I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.
  • T. S. Eliot: «The last temptation is the greates treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason».
  • The Negro in the North came to the shocking realization that the subtle and hidden discrimination of the North was as humilitating and vicious as the obvious and overt sins of the South.
  • Washington is a city of spectacles. Every four years imposing President inaugurations attract the great and the mighty.
  • «I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood».
  • Millions of white Americans, for the first time, had a clear, long look at Negroes engaged in a serious occupation. For the first time millions listened to the informed and thoughtful words of Negro spokesman, from all walks of life. The stereotype of the Negro suffered a heavy blow.
  • Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.
  • Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.
  • While the question «Who killed President Kennedy?» is important, the question «What killed him?» is more important. Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder.
  • Hate is a contagion; it grows and spreads as a disease: no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity.
  • The federal government reacts to events more quickly when a situation of conflict cries out for its intervention.
  • Through demonstrations, Negroes learn that unity and militance have more force than bullets.
  • If I were constantly worried about death, I could not function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility of death philosophically.
  • I realized that this (the nobel prize for peace) was no mere recognition of the contribution of one man on the state of history. It was a testimony to the magnificent drama of the civil rights movement and the thousands of actors who had played their roles extremely well. In truth, it is these «noble» people how had won this Nobel Prize.
  • The response to our cause in London, Stockholm, and Paris, as well as in Oslo, was far beyond even my imagination.
  • The Nobel Prize for Peace placed a new dimension in the civil rights struggle. It reminded us graphically that the tide of world opinion was in our favor.
  • The Negro had to look abroad also. Poverty and hunger were not peculiar to Harlem and the Mississippi Delta. India, Mexico, the Congo, and many other nations faced essentially the same problems that we faced.
  • I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I have the audicity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.
  • The three problems which I consider as the largest of those that confront mankind: racial injustice around the world, poverty, and war.
  • He as an eloquent spokesman for this point of view an no one can honestly doubt that Malcom had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problems. I always had a deep affection for Malcom and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.
  • I met Malcom X once in Washington, but circumstances didn’t enable me to talk with him for more than a minute.
  • I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views. I know that I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem.
  • My feeling has always been that they have never understood what I was saying. They did not see that there’s a great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance. Certainly I’m not saying that you sit down and patiently accept injustice.
  • I think one must understand that Malcom X was a victim of the despair that came into being as a result of a society that gives so many Negroes the nagging sense of «nobody-ness».
  • The ghastly nightmare of violence and counter-violence is one of the most tragic blots to occur on the pages of the Negro’s history in this country.
  • Malcom X was clearly a product of the hate and violence invested in the Negro’s blighted existence in this nation.
  • My philosophy was so antithetical to the philosophy of Malcom X that I would never have invited Malcom X to come to Selma when we were in the midst of a nonviolent demonstration. This says nothing about the personal respect I had for him.
  • The assissination of Malcom X was an unfortunate tragedy. Let us learn from this tragic nightmare that violence and hate only breed violence and hate.
  • Certainly we will continue to disagree, but me must disagree without becoming violently disagreeable. We will still suffer the temptation to bitterness, but we must learn that hate is too great a burden to bear for a people moving on toward their date with destiny.
  • In a real sense, the growth of black nationalism was symptomatic of the deeper unrest, discontent, and frustration of many Negroes because of the continued existence of racial discrimination.
  • The heart of the voting problem lay in the fact that the machinery for enforcing this basic right was in the hands of state-appointed officials answerable to the very people who believed they could continue to wield power in the South only so long as the Negro was disenfranchised. No matter how many loophles were plugged, no matter how many irregularities were exposed, it was plain that the federal government must withdraw that control from the states or else set up machinery for policing it effectively.
  • If Negroes could vote, there would be no Jim Clarks, there would be no oppresive poverty directed against Negroes.
  • There were many more Negroes in jail in Selma than there were Negroes registered to vote. This slow pace was not accidental. It was the result of a calculated and well-defined pattern which used many devices and tactics to maintain white political power in many areas of the South.
  • We needed a basic legislative program to insure procedures for achieving the registration of Negroes in the South without delay or harassment.
  • We did not disengage until they made it clear they were going to use force. We disengaged then because we felt we had made our point, we had revealed the continued presence of violence.
  • Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. March on poverty until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist.
  • Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding.
  • How long? Not long, because no lie can live together. How long? Not long, because you still reap what you sow. How long? Not long, Because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
  • The people who followed along the fringe of the movement, who seldom came into the nonviolent training sessions, were growing increasingly bitter and restless. But we could not allow even the thought or spirit of violence to creep into our movement.
  • The criminal responses which led to the tragic outbreaks of violence in Los Angeles are environmental and not racial. The economic deprivation, racial isolation, inadequate housing, and general despair of thousands of Negroes teaming in Northern and Western ghettoes are the ready seeds which gave birth to tragic expressions of violence. By acts of commission and omission none of us in this great country has done enough to remove injustice. I therefore humbly suggest that all of us accept our share of responsability for these past days of anguish.
  • When people are voiceless, they will have temper tantrums like a little child who has not beein paid attention. And riots are massive tempre tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people.
  • Violence only serves to harden the resistance of t he white reactionary and relieve the white liberal of guilt, which might motivate him to action and thereby leaves the condition unchanged and embittered.
  • A mere condemnation of violence is empty without understanding the daily violence that our society inflicts upong many of its members. The violence of poverty and humiliation hurts as intensely as the violence of the club.
  • When all is finally entered into the annals of sociology; when philosphers, politicians, and preachers have all had their say, we must return to the fact that a person participates in t his society primarily as an economic entity.
  • This is a difficult confession for a preacher to make, and it is a phenomenon against which I will continue to rebel, but it remains a fact that «consumption» of goods and services is the raison d’étre of the vast majority of Americans. When persons are for some reason or other excluded from the consumer circle, there is discontent and unrest.
  • We were confident that a convergence of many forces (religious, civic, political, and academic) would come about to demand a solution to Chicago’s problems.
  • The «runny noses» of ghetto children became a graphic symbol of medical neglect in a society which had mastered most of the diseases from which they will too soon die. There was something wrong in a society allowed this to happen.
  • It wasa vicious circle. You could not get a job because you were poorly educated, and you had to depend on welfare to feed your children; but if you received public aid in Chicago, you could not own property, not even an automobile, so you were condemned to the jobs and shops closest to your home. Once confined to this isolated community, one no longer participated in a free economy, but was subject to price fixing and wholesale robbery by many of the merchants of the area.
  • It is a pshychological axiom that frustration generates aggression.
  • It must be remembered that genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.
  • There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people who feel they have no stake in it, who feel they have nothing to lose.
  • I am convinced that even violent temperaments can be channeled through nonviolent discipline, if they can act constructively and express through an effective channel their very legitimate anger.
  • We understood slums as the end product of domestic colonialism: slum housing and slum schools, unemployment and underemployment, segregated and inadequate education, welfare dependency and political servitude.
  • Disappointment produces despair and despair produces bitterness, and that one thing certain about bitterness is its blindness. Bitterness has not the capacity to make the distinction betwen some and all. When some members of the dominant group, particularly those in power, are racist in attitude and practice, bitterness accuses the whole group.
  • A productive and happy life is not something you find; it is something you make.
  • Every revolutionary movement has its peaks of united activity and its valleys of debate and internal confusion.
  • Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, 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 is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love in identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love.
  • It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.
  • In Roget’s Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for «blackness» amd at least 60 of them are offensive. There are some 134 synonyms for «whiteness», and all are favorable. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate memeber of a family is the «black sheep», not the «white sheep».
  • The history books, which had almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, only served to intensify the Negroes’ sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy.
  • Nevertheless, in spite of the positive aspects of Black Power, which were compatible with what we have sought to do in the civil rights movement without the slogan, its negative values, I believed, prevented it form having the substance and program to become the basic strategy for the civil rights movement.
  • I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time.
  • A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
  • I would rather be a man of conviction than a man of conformity. Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence.
  • 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 freedom by the methods of malice, hate, and violence that have characterized our oppresors.
  • Hate is too great a burden to bear.
  • 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.
  • If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read «Vietnam».
  • I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man.
  • In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him than 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.
  • John F. Kennedy: «Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable».
  • True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
  • Many feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement 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.
  • When I first took my position against the war in Vietnam, almost every newspaper in the country criticized me. It was a low period in my life. I could hardly open a newspaper. It wasn’t only white people either; it was Negroes.
  • On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, «Is it safe?», Expediency asks the question, «Is it politic?» and Vanity comes along and asks the question, «Is it popular?», but Conscience asks the question, «Is it right?» and there comes when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.
  • I do not believe our nation can be a moral leader of justice, equality, and democracy if it is trapped in the role of a self-appointed world policeman.
  • You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.
  • Don’t ever think that you’re by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary, but you never go alone. Take a stand for which is right, and the world may misunderstand you, and criticize you. But you never go alone, for somewhere I read that one with God is majority. And God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority.
  • There isn’t a single official of our country that can go anywhere in the world without being stoned and eggs being thrown at him. It’s because we have taken on to ourselves a kind of arrogance of power. We’ve ignored the mandates of justice and morality.
  • One day, we must ask the question of whether an edifice which produces beggars must not be restructured and refurbished.
  • The great tragedy is that Christianity failed to see that it had the revolutionary edge. You don’t have to go to Karl Marx to learn how to be a revolutionary. I didn’t get my inspiration from Karl Marx; I got it from a man named Jesus, a Galilean saint who said he was anointed to heal the broken-hearted. He was anointed to deal with the problems of the poor. And that is where we get our inspiration. And we go out in a day when we have a message for the world, and we can change this world and we can change this nation.
  • If America does not use her vast sources of wealth to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic neccesities of life, she too will go to hell.
  • Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.
  • 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. 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.
  • Some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil.
  • There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.
  • I know, somehow, that only when it is drak enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up.
  • Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator, that something we call death. We all think about it. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others.
  • If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I wanted to say.

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