Dr. Udy, members of the faculty, members of the student body of this great institution of learning, ladies, and gentlemen. I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here today and to have the privilege of being a part of your lecture series. I must join Dr. Udy in expressing our regrets for being late, but we did have some car trouble in Cleveland, and after we landed here, we had to make it very quickly, and ever and again Dr. Udy's son would remind him that he should slow up, and I started to say once that I would rather be Martin Luther King late than the late Martin Luther King. (laughter, applause) But we made it , and I am certainly delighted to be here.
It is always a rich and rewarding experience to take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students and concerned friends of good will all over our nation and all over the world. I happen to feel that dialogue is mighty good and something that we constantly need, and it's always a great tragedy when a society seeks to live in monologue rather than in dialogue.
I want to try to discuss with you today some of the issues surrounding that struggle that is taking place not only in our nation but all over the world. Victor Hugo said on one occasion that there is no greater power in all the world than an idea whose time has come. In a real sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and justice, and that is a freedom explosion all over the world. This struggle has been taking place in our own country for a number of years now. I want to talk about that struggle, and I want to talk about the future of integration.
There is a desperate, even poignant, question on the lips of thousands and millions of people all over our nation and all over the world. They are constantly asking whether we are making any real progress in the area of race relations. I get this question a great deal myself from people and from the press and from concerned individuals. I think in answering the question we have to avoid, on the one hand, a superficial optimism. On the other hand, we must avoid a deadening pessimism, because a superficial optimism says in substance that the problem is about solved now and we really don't have much to do, while the deadening pessimism tends to conclude that the problem can't be solved and that we've only made minor strides in the struggle for racial justice. I would much prefer following what I consider a realistic position which combines the truths of two opposites while avoiding the extremes of both. The realistic position would agree with optimism that we have made some meaningful strides, but it would also agree with some aspects of pessimism in recognizing that we still have a long, long way to go. It is this realistic position that I would like to use as a basis for our thinking together today. We have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved in our nation.
Now let us notice that we have come a long, long way. I think that I should begin this point by pointing out that the Negro himself has come a long,long way in re-evaluating his own intrinsic worth. Now, in order to illustrate this, a little history is necessary. You will remember that it was in the year 1619 that the first Negro slaves landed on the shores of this nation. They were brought here from the soils of Africa. Unlike the Pilgrim fathers who landed at Plymouth a year later, they were brought here against their wills, and throughout slavery the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. The famous Dredd Scott decision of 1857 well illustrated the status of the Negro during slavery. In this decision, the Supreme Court of the United States said in substance that the Negro is not a citizen of the United States. He is merely property, subject to the dictates of his owner. It went on to say that the Negro has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.
With the growth of slavery, it became necessary to give some justification for it. It seems to be the fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness. And this is exactly what happened during the days of slavery. Even the Bible and religion were used, or I should say, misused, to crystalize the patterns of the status quo and to justify the evil of slavery, and so it was argued from some pulpits that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham. The apostle Paul's dictum became a watchword: "Servants be obedient to your master."
Then one brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle did a good deal to bring into being what we know as formal logic in philosophy. In formal logic there is a big word known as a syllogism which has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. So this brother decided to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He came out with his major premise, all men are made in the image of God. Then came his minor premise: God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro. Therefore, the Negro is not a man. This was the kind of reasoning that prevailed. While living with the system of slavery and then later racial segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that they were inferior. Many came to feel that they were less than human.
But then something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it necessary for him to travel more: the coming of the automobile, the upheavals of two world wars, the Great Depression. So his rural plantation background gradually gave way to urban industrial life. Even his cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy.
Then he watched the drama of independence taking place on the stage of his ancestral home in Africa and looked at it with a great sense of pride and a great sense of dignity. All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. Negro masses all over began to re-evaluate themselves. The Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of His children, and that all men are made in His image, and that the basic thing about a man is not his specificity but his fundumentum--not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but his eternal dignity and worth. So the Negro could now unconsciously cry out with the eloquent poet:
Fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature's claim.
Skin may differ but affection dwells in black and white the same.
If I were so tall as to reach the pole or to grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul.
The mind is the standard of the man.
With this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self- respect a new Negro came into being with a new determination to struggle, to suffer and sacrifice in order to be free. And so we've come a long, long way since 1619.
But to be true to the facts, we must not only say that we have come a long, long way in the sense that the Negro has re-evaluated his own intrinsic worth, but in the sense that the whole nation has made strides in extending the frontiers of civil rights. There are many things that we could point to, but I'd like to point to just two or three in two or three areas where we have seen obvious changes. They've been mainly in the South, in dealing with the whole system of legal segregation and the syndrome of deprivation surrounding that system. We all know the long legal history of the system of segregation. It had its legal beginning in 1896 when the Supreme Court rendered a decision known as the Plessey v. Fergueson decision. This decision established the doctrine of separate but equal as the law of the land. There again we know what happened as a result of the Plessey doctrine. There was always a strict enforcement of the separate without the slightest intention to abide by the equal, and the Negro ended up being plunged into the abyss of exploitation where he experienced the bleakness of nagging injustice.
But something else happened. The Supreme Court of the nation rendered another decision. This time it was in 1954 on May 17. After examining the legal body of segregation, the Supreme Court that year pronounced it constitutionally dead, and said, in substance, that the old Plessey doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal, and that to segregate a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. After that decision was rendered, movements came into being where masses of people started moving in direct action to implement the dreams of democracy. In 1956, 50,000 Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama, walked the streets of that city for 381 days. They substituted tired feet for tired souls and walked until the sagging walls of bus segregation were finally crushed, not only in Montgomery but in cities all across the South. Then in 1960 came the student movement protesting non-violently segregation at lunch counters.
In '61 [came] the freedom rides which ended segregation in interstate travel. In 1963 came the Birmingham movement where we in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to dramatize the whole issue of public accommodations. I'm certain that you remember "Bull" Connor and the dogs and the firehoses. That movement did a great deal to subpoena the conscience of a large segment of the nation, to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of civil rights. It was out of that movement that the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 came into being. Then in 1965 we in SCLC went to Selma to dramatize the whole matter of the denial to the right to vote. It was out of that movement that a voting rights bill came into being in 1965. Many changes have taken place all across the South as a result of the voting rights bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These things reveal that progress has been made, in the struggle for civil rights and in the struggle to change many or end many of the injustices of the past. So we've come a long, long way since 1896.
Now this would be a wonderful place for me to end my talk this morning. First, it would mean making a relatively short speech, and that would be a magnificent accomplishment for a Baptist preacher. Secondly, it would mean that the problem is about solved now, and we really don't have anything to worry about or nothing to do. [But] if I were to stop at this point, I would merely be stating a fact and not telling the truth. You see, a fact is merely the absence of contradiction, but truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now it is a fact that we've come a long, long way, but it isn't the whole truth, and I'm afraid that if I stop at this point, I will leave you the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality. We will all leave with a superficial optimism.
So in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on, not simply talk about the fact that we've made strides, but honestly face the fact that we have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved in our country. Now we don't have to look very far to see this. We can look around in our communities all over the nation. We can open our newspapers, turn on our televisions. Almost every day there is something to remind us in tragic terms that we are far from the promised land of justice for all of God's children. The fact is that no section or no city in our country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. Sometimes we see this fact in glaring expressions of violence and tragic expressions of man's inhumanity to man. In some states, particularly in the black belt counties in the South, the murder of a Negro or a white civil rights worker still is a popular pastime.
Take a state like Mississippi. Over the last four years, more than 83 Negroes and white civil rights workers have been killed, brutally murdered, and not a single person has been convicted for these dastardly crimes. Some were convicted for the first time a few days ago in the murder of the three civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi in '64. But they were not convicted on the basis of murder. They were convicted on the basis of the federal law which is based on a conspiracy charge and with the maximum of ten years. Nobody in the state of Mississippi has been convicted for all of these murders which have taken place. Over the last three years more than 62 Negro churches have been burned to the ground in the state of Mississippi. Nothing has happened about it. It seems that they have a new motto in Mississippi now--not "Attend the church of your choice," but "Burn the church of your choice." And, oh, how tragic this is. These glowering, terrible expressions of violence precipitated and perpetrated against Negroes remind us that we still have a long, long way to go.
But physical violence is not the only violence that can be inflicted on a person. There is another kind of murder that can be inflicted, and that's a kind of psychological and spiritual murder. This is a kind of violence that's being inflicted upon millions of black men, women, and children all over our country, not only in the South but in the ghettos of the North. We must face the fact that more than 40 percent of the Negro families of our country live in substandard housing conditions. Many find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums where they do not have wall-to-wall carpet but wall-to-wall rats and roaches as an every day reminder of something degrading. It doesn't only stop in the realm of housing or with housing. The average school or most of the schools of our big cities are segregated, overcrowded, devoid of quality. Year after year thousands finish these high schools reading at a sixth- or eighth- or ninth- grade level, not because they are dumb, not because they do not have the native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate, so over-crowded, so devoid of quality, so segregated that the best in these minds can never come out. [Gap in the recording] ...a major depression in his everyday life. Labor statistics reveal that the unemployment rate among Negroes is about 8.8 percent. Now these statistics are based on finding out who's in the labor market, who's going to employment offices. They don't take into consideration what we call the discouraged. If they were taken into consideration it would be up, I'm sure, another 8 percent. These are the people who've completely lost hope. They no longer even go to look for jobs. So many doors have been closed in their faces, and they've come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign, so they give up altogether.
If we were to take all of this into consideration, the unemployment rate in the Negro community is probably 15 or 16 percent. Among young people it gets even higher. Among young Negroes in some cities it is up as high as 40 percent. I've been working in Cleveland for a number of months, in political campaigns and Operation Bread Basket, which is an economic program of our organization. But a lot of my time this summer was spent just talking with people and trying to live with and understand their problems. It didn't take me very long to discover that in Cleveland the unemployment rate among Negroes is 15.4 percent, and 58 percent of the young Negro men are either unemployed or have incomes less than the poverty level. This is a major depression, and it's duplicated in almost every city in this country. If America as a whole had an unemployment rate comparable to what the Negro is facing, it would be a depression more staggering than the depression of the '30s.
Now, of course, unemployment is not the only problem. There is another problem which is as serious and that is underemployment. The fact is that most of the poor people in our country and most of the poor Negroes in our country are working every day. They are making incomes so low and so inadequate that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. So we have a situation where the vast majority of Negroes are still perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and this has made for a lot of despair. It has made for a lot of bitterness. It has made for a great deal of anger, and this anger over the last few summers has expressed itself in external physical violence, or riots, or rebellions or whatever we want to call them.
Now my views on this are fairly well known; I say fairly well known because my views are not always well known because some segments of the press will not adequately interpret anything. But I have felt, and I still feel, that non- violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom. I will still raise my voice against riots and violence because I don't think that it solves the problem. I think that it only tends to intensify the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. I think it is impractical because an old eye-for-an-eye philosophy can end up leaving everybody blind, and I think, in the final analysis, it is impractical because violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred. It's all a descending spiral ending ultimately in destruction for all too many. [So] I am still convinced the greatest thrust can be made though militant non-violence. But in condemning violence it would be an act of irresponsibility not to be as strong in condemning the conditions in our society that cause people to feel so angry that they have no alternative but to engage in riots. What we must see is that a riot is the language of the unheard.
What is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last 10 or 12 years. It's failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. It has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. What concerns me is that every year around March or April we start hearing on the news and we read in the papers about the long, hot summer ahead. The thing that is so often overlooked is the fact that before going into that long, hot summer we usually had a long, cold winter. Yet the nation and the Congress and all the forces refuse to use the winters creatively enough to develop the programs to really get rid of poverty, to develop the programs to eradicate slums, to develop the programs to improve educational conditions for everybody and for deprived people in particular. It is still true that our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay, and as long as justice is postponed, there will be these dangerous possibilities, the dangerous possibilities for long, hot summers.
Now let me rush on to make some suggestions as to what I think we can do, what we have resources to do, and what we must do if we are going this additional distance and really take the job seriously of trying to solve this very difficult problem, this huge evil of our nation. I'm convinced that if the problem is to be solved, we've got to continue to have massive action programs to prod the forces that are in power to bring into being the programs necessary to solve the problem.
Now if we're going to have massive action programs, we've got to get rid of two or three myths that still linger and that are still disseminated in our society. One is the myth of time. I'm sure that you've heard that myth because there are all too many people who say that only time can solve the problem. They feel that there is something miraculous in the very flow of time that will cure all evils, and I've heard it a great deal. There are always those who will sincerely say to me and our allies in the white community and those of us who work in civil rights that we are pushing things too fast. They have a way of saying this: "Be patient, and just be nice and continue to pray and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem."
I think that there is an answer to that myth, and it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. I'm sad to say that I'm absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation, the reactionaries of our nation have often used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time." Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So it is necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
Now the other myth is one that we hear a good deal and that is that legislation cannot solve the problem that we face in the area of civil rights and in the area of racial injustice, that you've got to change the heart. I'm sure that you've heard this. You can't legislate morality. You've got to change the heart, and often politicians use this to keep from passing fair housing bills and other legislation that's necessary to grapple with the problem. Now certainly I believe in changing the heart. As I said a few minutes ago, I'm a Baptist preacher, and that means that I'm in the heart- changing business. I preach Sunday after Sunday about conversion, the need for regeneration, the new birth. I believe in what some call original sin, if not as a historical event then as a mythological category to explain the universality of the "gone-wrongness" of human nature. I believe in that, and I think that the heart needs to be changed. I don't want to criticize this totally. I simply want to point out that there is another side. I know that if we are to come to the glad day of true integration, true brotherhood, that men will have to rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable, not doing it because the law says it but because it is natural and right. I recognize that.
But after saying that, it is necessary to go on to say that there is another side. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can't change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important also. (applause) So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men if it is vigorously enforced. When you begin to change the habits of people, attitudinal changes begin to take place, and they begin to adjust in an amazing way to things that they never thought they could adjust to, and I've seen this over and over again. There is still a need for vigorous legislation, and legislation that's strongly enforced to deal with many of our social problems.
One of the most dangerous trends facing our nation is the constant growth of predominantly Negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This is inviting social disaster, and yet it goes on. The only way that we can deal with it is to really have open housing, and that isn't going to take place short of something massive and something in the realm of legislation.
Now there's another myth that I want to mention, because if we are going to have action programs that will prod the forces in power so that they will make the necessary concessions, we are going to have to understand why the forces in power need to be prodded. Now this leads me to say that we've got to get rid of the myth of over-exaggerating the bootstrap philosophy. By that I simply mean this: Over and over again we hear that the Negro should lift himself by his own bootstraps. Then there are those who say over and over again, "Other ethnic groups did it; why don't you?" Now it doesn't help the Negro for unfeeling and insensitive people to say to him that he's been in this country more than 348 years and was brought here in chains, involuntarily, and yet people who have been here, other ethnic groups who have been here for a hundred or a hundred and fifty years have gotten ahead of him. That doesn't help him at all. That only deepens his problem, his frustration, and almost his self- hatred. For the people who are that insensitive never stop to recognize the fact that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil.
They never stop to recognize the fact that the nation made the Negro's color a stigma. It became something evil. You know even linguistics or semantics conspired against us on this. If you open Roget's Thesaurus, you'll find 120 synonyms for black. They are all degrading; smutty, dirty, lowly, every one of them. Now when you look for the 130 synonyms in that thesaurus for white, all of them [are] chaste, pure, everything elevated, and high and noble. So the society through its language structure came to the point of saying that a white lie is better than a black lie. If someone goes wrong in the family, you don't call them a white sheep, it's the black sheep of the family. If you know something about somebody, and you use that as a basis to bribe them and say that if you don't give them this amount of money that you are going to expose them you don't call that whitemail you call it blackmail. Go right down the language structure, and you see that everything conspired to make the Negro think that there was something wrong with him because of his color.
The other thing is that no ethnic group has lifted itself by its own bootstraps. The Negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but he wasn't given any land to make that freedom meaningful. It was something like keeping a man in jail for many, many years, and then suddenly discovering that he is not guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. Then you go to the man and say, "Now you're free," but you don't give him any bus fare to get to town. You don't give him any money to get clothes to put on his back or to get on his feet in life again. Every system of justice or code of jurisprudence would rise up against this, and yet this is exactly what America did to the black man. It freed him from slavery and then left him there penniless, illiterate. He didn't have a thing, and there was no land provided.
The important thing that America must realize is this: That at the same time that she refused to give the black man anything, she was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and the Midwest through an act of Congress. Not only did she give the land, she built land grant colleges to teach them to farm. She provided county agents to help them and to get them expert, to give them expertise in farming. But not only that, the nation provided low interest rates in later years so that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, many of these persons are being paid today not to farm, and these are many of the persons who are telling the Negro that he should lift himself by his own bootstraps. A wonderful thing. (applause) I guess that it is all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. Through centuries of denial, centuries of neglect, and centuries of injustice many, many Negroes have been left bootless. This does not mean that we do nothing for ourselves. It does not mean that we should not amass our economic and political resources to reach our legitimate goals. It simply means recognizing, the nation recognizing, that it owes a great debt on the basis of the injustices of the past.
The other thing that I want to mention--and I wish I had time to go into action programs that we have in mind in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to kind of say these things to Congress--but time will not permit that. But I do want to say this one other thing that's more in the realm of the spirit. If we are going to move on in the days ahead, we've got to recognize that the destinies of the white man and the black man in this interrelated country are tied together. We can try to romanticize against it with various slogans all we want to, but our destinies are tied together. Whether we like it or not, every Negro is a little bit white and every white person is a little bit Negro. Our food, our music, our language, our cultural patterns, our material prosperity are an amalgam of black and white. There can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white roots, and there can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not recognize the necessity of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. John Donne was right years ago when he said, "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." He goes on to say toward the end, "Any man's death diminishes me because I'm involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." This must be recognized as a fact of life. We are interrelated, and only through recognizing this will the problem be solved.
Well, we've come a long, long way, and we have a long, long way to go. As I close, let me say that there are certain technical words in every academic discipline that soon become cliches and stereotypes. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. The modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any word in psychology. It's the word maladjusted. It is the ringing cry of modern child psychology. We certainly all want to avoid the maladjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.
I want to close today by saying that there are some things in our nation and in the world to which I'm proud to be maladjusted, and which I call upon all men of good will to remain maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions which take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when Sputniks and Explorers and Geminis dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can ultimately win a war. It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence. The alternative to disarmament, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, the alternative to ending that war that I consider a gravely unjust, evil, abominable war, in Vietnam, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. Maybe our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos who, in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who finally came to see, after all of his vacillations, that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who, in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, and who, in the midst of his own ownership of slaves, scratched across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." As maladjusted as Jesus Christ who could say that "he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword."
Through such maladjustment I believe that we can emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. I haven't lost faith in the future. I still feel that we can develop a kind of coalition of conscience, and with this coalition move on into a brighter tomorrow. With this faith we will be able to do it. There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, "No lie can live forever." There is something in this universe that justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." There is something in this universe which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying, "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future." With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. We will be able to speed up the day when all of God's children--black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics--will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we're free at last." Thank you.
Transcribed by Paul M. Logsdon, director of Heterick Memorial Library, in 1997