Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (15 January1929 – 4 April1968) was an AmericanBaptist minister, doctor, civil rights activist, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964. He was the husband of Coretta Scott King, and father of Yolanda King and Martin Luther King III.
- Jesus himself saw the power that competition hold over men, He did not ignore it. Yet he does something with the conception of competition that had it been done before. He takes the conception, which has been used for lower purposes and rescues it from many of its dangers, by suggesting a higher method of its use. This is how he applied the term to his disciples. He saw them in danger of using it for low purposes. They wanted to complete for reputation and position. Which of them should be accepted greatest? Jesus say so, if you must use the power of competition, if you must compete with one another: make it as noble as you can by using it [in] noble things. Use it for a fine unselfish thing. He that is greatest among you shall serve. Use it for human good. Shall be the most useful; compete with one another in humility. See which can be the truest servant. It seems that Christ says — use it but use it for higher and holier purpose. Use it not to surpass one another in esteem, but use it to increase the comment of usefulness and brother’s help...
Imagine the change that would come about if the Churches applied this truth. Now we are bogged not in competitive denominationalism, which is a destroying the warm blood of Protestant Church. Which of them shall be accounted greatest? Let the churches stop trying to outstrip each other in the number of their adherents, the size of its sanctuary, the abundance of wealth. If we must compete let us compete to see which can move toward the greatest attainment of truth, the greatest service of the poor, and the greatest salvation of the soul and bodies of men.
Suppose the teaching of Jesus should be accepted by competing nations of the world, particularly Russia and Am[er]ica. They would no longer compete to see which could make the bigger atom bombs, or which cold best perpetuate its imperialism, but which could best serve humanity. This would be a better world.
- There are often multiple sources for some famous statements by King; as a professional speaker and minister he used some significant phrases with only slight variation many times in his essays, books, and his speeches to different audiences.
- There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying, "You shall reap what you sow." This is a law-abiding universe. This is a moral universe. It hinges on moral foundations. If we are to make of this a better world, we've got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we've left behind.
- The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood.
- The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism —that's the most dangerous type. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don't. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That's a dangerous type of atheism.
- We have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic... Most people can't stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. See, everybody's not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. So a sort of numerical interpretation of what's right. But I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It's wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it's wrong. It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It's wrong in every age and it's wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself. [...] That attitude is destroying the soul of our culture! It's destroying our nation! The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they're never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
- We are here, we are here this evening because we're tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That's all.
- We are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until "justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
- True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
- In a 1955 response to an accusation that he was "disturbing the peace" by his activism during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, as quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound : A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr (1982) by Stephen B. Oates
- If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you." This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.
- King's words after a bomb was thrown into his house in Alabama, on 30 January 1956, in Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- "The apparent apathy of the Negro ministers presented a special problem. A faithful few had always shown a deep concern for social problems, but too many had remained aloof from the area of social responsibility. Much of this indifference, it is true, stemmed from a sincere feeling that ministers were not supposed to get mixed up in such earthly, temporal matters as social and economic improvement; they were to "preach the gospel" and keep men's minds centered on "the heavenly." But however sincere, this view of religion, I felt, was too confined.
Certainly, otherworldly concerns have a deep and significant place in all religions worthy of the name. Any religion that is completely earthbound sells its birthright for a mess of naturalistic pottage. Religion at its best, deals not only with man's preliminary concerns but with his inescapable ultimate concern. When religion overlooks this basic fact it is reduced to a mere ethical system in which eternity is absorbed into time and God is relegated to a sort of meaningless figment of the human imagination. But a religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself.
This means, at bottom, that the Christian Gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seek to change the environmental conditions of men so that soul will have a chance after it is changed.
Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see - an opiate of the people.
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958), pp. 28-29
- We believe firmly in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I can see no conflict between our devotion to Jesus Christ and our present action. In fact, I can see a necessary relationship. If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal.
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- The decision which we must make now is whther we will give our allegiance to outmoded an unjust customs we owe our ultimate allegiance to God and His will, rather than to man and his folkways
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- “We too know the Jesus that the minister referred to. We have had an experience with him and we believe firmly in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. I can see no conflict between our devotion to Jesus Christ and our present action. In fact, I can see a necessary relationship. If one is truly devoted to the religion of Jesus he will seek to rid the earth of social evils. The gospel is social as well as personal..”
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958); also quoted in The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1982), by Stephen B. Oates, pp. 81-82
- The decision we must make now is whether we will give our allegiance to outmoded and unjust customs or to the ethical demands of the universe. As Christians we owe our allegiance to God and His will, rather than to man and his folkways"
- Stride Toward Freedom (1958)
- I feel that segregation is totally unchristian, and that it is against everything the Christian religion stands for.
- In his letter to Sally Canada (19 September 1956), as quoted in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr (1992), by Carson & Holloran, Volumes 2-3, p. 373
- Although the Montgomery council never had a large membership, it played an important role. As the only truly interracial group in Montgomery, it served to keep the desperately needed channels of communication open between the races.
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. In providing an avenue of communication, the council was fulfilling a necessary condition for better race relations in the South.
- In reference to the Alabama Council on Human Relations, an organization which was joined by King, whose church's meeting room was used to hold monthly meetings for the Montgomery chapter the council. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)
- Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.
- The Measures of Man (1959)
- Today it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. It may not be that Mahatma Gandhi is God’s appeal to this age, an age drifting to its doom. And that warning, and that appeal is always in the form of a warning: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Jesus said it years ago. Whenever men follow that and see that way, new horizons begin to emerge and a new world unfolds. Who today will follow Christ in his way and follow it so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize hundreds and thousands of men to follow the way of Christ?
- Tolstoy, the Russian writer, said in War and Peace: “I cannot conceive of a man not being free unless he is dead.” While this statement sounds a bit exaggerated, it gets at a basic truth. What Tolstoy is saying in substance is that the absence of freedom is the presence of death. Any nation or government that deprives an individual of freedom is in that moment committing an act of moral and spiritual murder. Any individual who is not concerned about his freedom commits an act of moral and spiritual suicide.
Rediscovering Lost Values (1954)
- Rediscovering Lost Values, Sermon delivered at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954)
- There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don't think we have to look too far to see that. I'm sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion. And when we stop to analyze the cause of our world's ills, many things come to mind. We begin to wonder if it is due to the fact that we don't know enough. But it can't be that. Because in terms of accumulated knowledge we know more today than men have known in any period of human history. We have the facts at our disposal. We know more about mathematics, about science, about social science, and philosophy than we've ever known in any period of the world's history. So it can't be because we don't know enough. And then we wonder if it is due to the fact that our scientific genius lags behind. That is, if we have not made enough progress scientifically. Well then, it can't be that. For our scientific progress over the past years has been amazing. Man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains, so that today it's possible to eat breakfast in New York City and supper in London, England. Back in about 1753 it took a letter three days to go from New York City to Washington, and today you can go from here to China in less time than that. It can't be because man is stagnant in his scientific progress. Man's scientific genius has been amazing. I think we have to look much deeper than that if we are to find the real cause of man's problems and the real cause of the world's ills today. If we are to really find it I think we will have to look in the hearts and souls of men.
- The trouble isn't so much that we don't know enough, but it's as if we aren't good enough. The trouble isn't so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood. And the great danger facing us today is not so much the atomic bomb that was created by physical science. Not so much that atomic bomb that you can put in an aeroplane and drop on the heads of hundreds and thousands of people—as dangerous as that is. But the real danger confronting civilization today is that atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness—that's the atomic bomb that we've got to fear today. Problem is with the men. Within the heart and the souls of men. That is the real basis of our problem.
- My friends, all I'm trying to say is that if we are to go forward today, we've got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we've left behind. That's the only way that we would be able to make of our world a better world, and to make of this world what God wants it to be and the real purpose and meaning of it.
- Sometimes, you know, it's necessary to go backward in order to go forward. That's an analogy of life. I remember the other day I was driving out of New York City into Boston, and I stopped off in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to visit some friends. And I went out of New York on a highway that’s known as the Merritt Parkway, it leads into Boston, a very fine parkway. And I stopped in Bridgeport, and after being there for two or three hours I decided to go on to Boston, and I wanted to get back on the Merritt Parkway. And I went out thinking that I was going toward the Merritt Parkway. I started out, and I rode, and I kept riding, and I looked up and I saw a sign saying two miles to a little town that I knew I was to bypass—I wasn't to pass through that particular town. So I thought I was on the wrong road. I stopped and I asked a gentleman on the road which way would I get to the Merritt Parkway. And he said, "The Merritt Parkway is about twelve or fifteen miles back that way. You've got to turn around and go back to the Merritt Parkway; you are out of the way now." In other words, before I could go forward to Boston, I had to go back about twelve or fifteen miles to get to the Merritt Parkway. May it not be that modern man has gotten on the wrong parkway? And if he is to go forward to the city of salvation, he's got to go back and get on the right parkway. [...] Now that's what we've got to do in our world today. We've left a lot of precious values behind; we've lost a lot of precious values. And if we are to go forward, if we are to make this a better world in which to live, we've got to go back. We've got to rediscover these precious values that we've left behind.
- I want to deal with one or two of these mighty precious values that we've left behind, that if we're to go forward and to make this a better world, we must rediscover. The first is this—the first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. I'm not so sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don't jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences—we know that. Even if we don't know it in its Newtonian formulation, we know it intuitively, and so we just don't jump off the highest building in Detroit for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we know that there is a law of gravitation which is final in the universe. (Lord) If we disobey it we'll suffer the consequences. But I'm not so sure if we know that there are moral laws just as abiding as the physical law. I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences.
- The first thing is that we have adopted in the modern world a sort of a relativistic ethic. [...] Most people can't stand up for their convictions, because the majority of people might not be doing it. See, everybody's not doing it, so it must be wrong. And since everybody is doing it, it must be right. So a sort of numerical interpretation of what's right. But I'm here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It's wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It's wrong in America, it's wrong in Germany, it's wrong in Russia, it's wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it's wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong. It's wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it's wrong. It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It's wrong in every age and it's wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we're revolting against the very laws of God himself.
- Now that isn't the only thing that convinces me that we've strayed away from this attitude, this principle. The other thing is that we have adopted a sort of a pragmatic test for right and wrong—whatever works is right. If it works, it's all right. Nothing is wrong but that which does not work. If you don't get caught, it's right. [laughter] That's the attitude, isn't it? It's all right to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don't disobey the eleventh, "Thou shall not get caught." [laughter] That's the attitude. That's the prevailing attitude in our culture. No matter what you do, just do it with a bit of finesse. You know, a sort of attitude of the survival of the slickest. Not the Darwiniansurvival of the fittest, but the survival of the slickest—whoever can be the slickest is the one who right. It's all right to lie, but lie with dignity. [laughter] It's all right to steal and to rob and extort, but do it with a bit of finesse. It's even all right to hate, but just dress your hate up in the garments of love and make it appear that you are loving when you are actually hating. Just get by! That's the thing that's right according to this new ethic. My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. It's destroying our nation.
- The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they're never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.
- All I'm trying to say to you is that our world hinges on moral foundations. God has made it so. God has made the universe to be based on a moral law. So long as man disobeys it he is revolting against God. That's what we need in the world today: people who will stand for right and goodness. It's not enough to know the intricacies of zoology and biology, but we must know the intricacies of law. It is not enough to know that two and two makes four, but we've got to know somehow that it's right to be honest and just with our brothers. It's not enough to know all about our philosophical and mathematical disciplines, but we've got to know the simple disciplines of being honest and loving and just with all humanity. If we don't learn it, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own powers.
- There is something in this universe that justifies the biblical writer in saying, "You shall reap what you sow." This is a law-abiding universe. This is a moral universe. It hinges on moral foundations. If we are to make of this a better world, we've got to go back and rediscover that precious value that we've left behind.
- And then there is a second thing, a second principle that we've got to go back and rediscover. And that is that all reality has spiritual control. In other words, we've got to go back and rediscover the principle that there is a God behind the process. Well this you say, "Why is it that you raise that as a point in your sermon, in a church? The mere fact we are at church, we believe in God, we don't need to go back and rediscover that. The mere fact that we are here, and the mere fact that we sing and pray, and come to church—we believe in God." Well, there's some truth in that. But we must remember that it's possible to affirm the existence of God with your lips and deny his existence with your life. The most dangerous type of atheism is not theoretical atheism, but practical atheism [...]. And the world, even the church, is filled up with people who pay lip service to God and not life service. And there is always a danger that we will make it appear externally that we believe in God when internally we don't. We say with our mouths that we believe in him, but we live with our lives like he never existed. That is the ever-present danger confronting religion. That's a dangerous type of atheism.
- And I think, my friends, that that is the thing that has happened in America. That we have unconsciously left God behind. Now, we haven't consciously done it; we have unconsciously done it. You see, the text, you remember the text said that Jesus' parents went a whole day's journey not knowing that he wasn't with them. They didn't consciously leave him behind. It was unconscious; went a whole day and didn't even know it. It wasn't a conscious process. You see, we didn't grow up and say, "Now, goodbye God, we're going to leave you now." The materialism in America has been an unconscious thing. Since the rise of the Industrial Revolution in England, and then the invention of all of our gadgets and contrivances and all of the things and modern conveniences—we unconsciously left God behind. We didn't mean to do it. We just became so involved in getting our big bank accounts that we unconsciously forgot about God—we didn't mean to do it. We became so involved in getting our nice luxurious cars, and they're very nice, but we became so involved in it that it became much more convenient to ride out to the beach on Sunday afternoon than to come to church that morning. (Yes) It was an unconscious thing—we didn't mean to do it. We became so involved and fascinated by the intricacies of television that we found it a little more convenient to stay at home than to come to church. It was an unconscious thing—we didn't mean to do it. We didn't just go up and say, "Now God, we’re gone." We had gone a whole day's journey and then we came to see that we had unconsciously ushered God out of the universe. A whole day's journey—didn't mean to do it. We just became so involved in things that we forgot about God. And that is the danger confronting us, my friends: that in a nation as ours where we stress mass production, and that's mighty important, where we have so many conveniences and luxuries and all of that, there is the danger that we will unconsciously forget about God. I'm not saying that these things aren't important; we need them, we need cars, we need money; all of that's important to live. But whenever they become substitutes for God, they become injurious. And may I say to you this morning, that none of these things can ever be real substitutes for God. Automobiles and subways, televisions and radios, dollars and cents can never be substitutes for God. For long before any of these came into existence, we needed God. And long after they will have passed away, we will still need God.
- And I say to you this morning in conclusion that I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in things. I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in gadgets and contrivances. As a young man with most of my life ahead of me, I decided early to give my life to something eternal and absolute. Not to these little gods that are here today and gone tomorrow, but to God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Not in the little gods that can be with us in a few moments of prosperity, but in the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, and causes us to fear no evil. That's the God. Not in the god that can give us a few Cadillac cars and Buick convertibles, as nice as they are, that are in style today and out of style three years from now, but the God who threw up the stars to bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity. Not in the god that can throw up a few skyscraping buildings, but the God who threw up the gigantic mountains, kissing the sky, as if to bathe their peaks in the lofty blues. Not in the god that can give us a few televisions and radios, but the God who threw up that great cosmic light that gets up early in the morning in the eastern horizon, (who paints its technicolor across the blue—something that man could never make. I'm not going to put my ultimate faith in the little gods that can be destroyed in an atomic age, but the God who has been our help in ages past, and our hope for years to come, and our shelter in the time of storm, and our eternal home. That's the God that I'm putting my ultimate faith in.
- Go out and be assured that that God is going to last forever. Storms might come and go. Our great skyscraping buildings will come and go. Our beautiful automobiles will come and go, but God will be here. Plants may wither, the flowers may fade away, but the word of our God shall stand forever and nothing can ever stop him. All of the P-38s in the world can never reach God. All of our atomic bombs can never reach him. The God that I'm talking about this morning is the God of the universe and the God that will last through the ages. If we are to go forward this morning, we've got to go back and find that God. That is the God that demands and commands our ultimate allegiance.
- If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values: that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.
Paul's Letter to American Christians (1956)
- “Sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama (November 1956)
- Your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God's will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.
- I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous, but Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity. The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem. You cannot solve the problem by turning to communism, for communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and He has left in this universe "enough and to spare" for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.
- King makes two biblical allusions to Luke 15:17 and 1 Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is the root of all evil".
Give Us the Ballot (1957)
- “Give Us the Ballot” Address (1957) Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (Call to Conscience) Washington, D.C.
- Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent, and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of goodwill, this May seventeenth decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of human captivity. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of disinherited people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as "interposition" and "nullification." But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.
- Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.
Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.
Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a "Southern Manifesto" because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.
Give us the ballot, and we will place judges on the benches of the south who will do justly and love mercy , and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.
Give us the ballot, and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court's decision of May seventeenth, 1954.
- So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern. In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical. This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.
- We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an Ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.
- This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white.We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about—there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.
- We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force. There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: "Love your enemies , bless them that curse you , pray for them that despitefully use you." Then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations that failed to follow this command. We must follow nonviolence and love.
- Now, I’m not talking about a sentimental, shallow kind of love. I’m not talking about eros, which is a sort of aesthetic, romantic love. I’m not even talking about philia, which is a sort of intimate affection between personal friends. But I'm talking about agape. I'm talking about the love of God in the hearts of men. I’m talking about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. We've got to love.
- We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man. We must not become victimized with a philosophy of black supremacy. God is not interested merely in freeing black men and brown men and yellow men, but God is interested in freeing the whole human race. We must work with determination to create a society, not where black men are superior and other men are inferior and vice versa, but a society in which all men will live together as brothers and respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
- I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us not despair. Let us realize that as we struggle for justice and freedom, we have cosmic companionship. This is the long faith of the Hebraic-Christian tradition: that God is not some Aristotelian Unmoved Mover who merely contemplates upon himself. He is not merely a self-knowing God, but an other-loving God forever working through history for the establishment of His kingdom.
- Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.
Conquering Self-centeredness (1957)
It's a dangerous over-simplification to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ This misleading concept underpins the justice system of many countries - ‘bad’ people commit crimes, and since they are intrinsically ‘bad’, they should be locked away so that they can’t harm us with their ‘evil’ behaviour. This concept has also fuelled many wars and conflicts in history, and even in the present day. It makes groups believe that they are fighting a just cause against an ‘evil’ enemy and that once the ‘evil’ people have been killed, peace and goodness will reign supreme.
Human nature is infinitely more complex than this, of course. In human beings, ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are fluid. People can be a combination of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities. Some people who behave cruelly and brutally can be rehabilitated and eventually display ‘good’ qualities such as empathy and kindness. And rather than being intrinsic, most cruel or brutal behaviour is due to environmental factors, such as an abusive childhood, or ‘social learning’ from a family or peers.
The Meaning of Good and Evil
What do we really mean when we use these simplistic terms, ‘good’ and ‘evil’?
‘Good’ means a lack of self-centredness. It means the ability to empathise with other people, to feel compassion for them, and to put their needs before your own. It means, if necessary, sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of others’. It means benevolence, altruism and selflessness, and self-sacrifice towards a greater cause - all qualities which stem from a sense of empathy. It means being able to see beyond the superficial difference of race, gender or nationality and relate to a common human essence beneath them.
All of the ‘saintly’ people in human history have these qualities in abundance. Think of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, risking their own safety and well-being for the goal of gaining equal rights and freedom for Indians and African Americans. These were human beings with an exceptional degree of empathy and compassion, which overrode any concern for their own ambitions or well-being.
‘Evil’ people are those who are unable to empathise with others. As a result, their own needs and desires are of paramount importance. They are selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic. In fact, other people only have value for them to the extent that they can help them satisfy their own desires, or to which they can exploit them. This applies to dictators like Stalin and Hitler, and to serial killers and rapists. I would argue that their primary characteristics is an inability to empathise with others. They can’t sense other people’s emotions or their suffering, can’t see the world from other people’s perspective, and so have no sense of their rights. Other human beings are just objects to them, which is what makes their brutality and cruelty possible.
Good and Evil as Flexible
Most of us lie somewhere between the extremes of Gandhi and Hitler on the spectrum of human behavour. Sometimes we may behave badly, when egocentric impulses cause us to put our needs before the welfare of others. Sometimes we behave in a saintly fashion, when empathy and compassion impel us to put the needs of others before our own, resulting in altruism and kindness.
The real difference between this idea of ‘good and evil’ and the traditional concept is that empathy or a lack of empathy aren’t fixed. Although people with a psychopathic personality appear to be unable to develop empathy, for most of us, empathy - or goodness - is a quality that can be cultivated. This is recognised by Buddhism, and most other spiritual traditions. As we practise meditation or mindfulness, and as we become less attached to materialism and status-seeking, we become more open and more connected, and so more selfless and altruistic.
The ‘fluidity’ of goodness is also recognised by the process of ‘restorative justice’, which is becoming more and more widely used within European justice systems. Rather than locking ‘bad’ people away - which is unfortunately so widely practiced by the US penal system - restorative justice gives offenders the opportunity to meet their victims, to see how their crimes have affected them, which often leads to a sense of empathy for their victims - which in turn frequently leads to rehabilitation.
This is an optimistic view of nature, but I would go even further. Because the goodness in human beings emerges when we are connected - when we spread out into empathy with one another - I believe that goodness expresses something fundamental about human nature, even if it might be sometimes difficult to see. ‘Evil’ is an aberration, a form of pathology, as the psychopathic personality shows, which only emerges when we are broken off into disconnected fragments.
Steve Taylor PhD is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. He is the author of Back to Sanity: Healing the Madness of the Human Mind. Eckhart Tolle has called his work 'an important contribution to the shift in consciousness happening on our planet at this time.' He was recently included in Mind, Body, Spirit magazine's list of 'The 100 most spiritually influential living people.' stevenmtaylor.com
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