Excerpted from “Letter From Birmingham City Jail” April 16, 1963
“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?”
The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws.
Now what is the difference between the two? 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. All segregation statues are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
Segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”
We Are on the Move, are on the move now.
[This speech was given by Dr. King on March 25, 1965.]
“The burning of our churches will not deter us. We are on the move now. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. The arrest and release of known murderers will not discourage us. We are on the move now.
An idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving up to the land of freedom.”
“Let us therefore continue our triumph and march to the realization of the American dream. Let us march on segregated housing, until every ghetto of social and economic depression dissolves and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe and sanitary housing. Let us march on segregated schools until every vestige of segregation and inferior education becomes a thing of the past and Negroes and whites study side by side in the socially healing context of the classroom. Let us march on poverty, until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may march on poverty, until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist. Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race baiters disappear from the political arena.”
“Let us march on ballot boxes until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence. us march on ballot boxes, until we send our city councils, state legislatures, and the United State Congressmen who will not fear to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God. Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor. ”
“For all of us today, the battle is in our hands. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways to lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. We are on the move and we must keep going.
From the sermon “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop,”
(April 3, 1968)
“That’s the question before you tonight. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to my job?’ ‘Not, if I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office everyday and every week as a pastor?’ The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is, ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”
“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge tomake America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God once more for allowing me to be here with you.”
“… It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, ‘We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
“And then I got into Memphis, and some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?”
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord “
Give Us The Ballot
(King speech 5/17/57)
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 will, who have felt not only the pain 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 17, 1954.
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 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 death 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….”
From the Acceptance Speech, The Nobel Peace Prize
(Dec 10, 1964)
“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘is Ness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘ought Ness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding of events which surround him. 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 refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of a thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger that evil triumphant.”
“Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care – each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage.”
“We must somehow believe that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
“You don’t need to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.