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“Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We can never forget that everything 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. But l am sure that, if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a [totalitarian] country today where certain principles dear to [our religious] faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws.
When justice burns within us like a flaming fire, when love evokes willing sacrifice from us, when, to the last full measure of selfless devotion, we demonstrate our belief in the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness, then Your goodness enters our lives, then You live within our hearts, and we through righteousness behold Your presence.
Stride Toward Freedom, 1958
In every movement toward freedom some of the oppressed prefer to remain oppressed. Almost twenty-eight hundred years ago Moses set out to lead the children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. He soon discovered that slaves do not always welcome their deliverers. They became accustomed to being slaves. They would rather bear those ills they have, as Shakespeare pointed out, than to flee to others that they know not of. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1, Page 4
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Oslo, 1964
I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” 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 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.
Silent Meditation: “I Have a Dream,” March on Washington, 1963
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of Injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day – this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that 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 are free at last!
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Oslo, 1964
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity 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. l believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” after Isaiah 11:6 and Micah 4:4 I still believe that we shall overcome! This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Memphis, 1968
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.
Readings from the speeches and letters of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. selected for an ecumenical service by Temple Emanu-El and Abyssinian Baptist Church on Friday, January 13, 2017: a “Sabbath Worship Service Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Several more quotes I would add to this list:
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Martin Luther King, Jr., Frogmore Speech, November 14, 1966
…[W]e are now making demands that will cost the nation something. You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with the captains of industry ….Now this means that we are treading again in very difficult waters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with the economic system of our nation….It means that something is wrong with capitalism….And I want to say that very seriously because I am not going to allow anybody to put me in the bind of making me say everytime [that I am not a Communist or a Marxist].) [I simply wish to say that] there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.
Martin Luther King, Jr. interview with David Halberstam, April 1967 (in “The Second Coming of Martin Luther King,” Harper’s Magazine, August 1967)
For years I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.
Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Poor People’s Campaign, “To Minister to the Valley,” radio speech, Ministers Leadership Training Conference, February 23, 1968.
 Cf. Kenneth L. Smith, “The Radicalization of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 26:2, Spring 1989, ft. 19, p. 275: “On this subject see also “Pre-Washington Campaign: To Minister to the Valley,” February 23, 1968, p.7 (KLA); and Pre-Washington Campaign, p. 6: “The problem is…we have socialism for the rich and rugged free-enterprise capitalism for the poor.”
Whenever the government provides opportunities and privileges for white people and rich people they call it ‘subsidies.’ When they do it for Negro and poor people they call it ‘welfare.’ The fact is that everybody in this country lives on welfare. Suburbia was built with federally subsidized credit. And highways that take our white brothers out to the suburbs were built with federally subsidized money to the tune of ninety percent. Everybody is on welfare in this country. The problem is that we all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor. That’s the problem.
|1||Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 1, Page 4|
|2||after Isaiah 11:6 and Micah 4:4|
|3||Cf. Kenneth L. Smith, “The Radicalization of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 26:2, Spring 1989, ft. 19, p. 275: “On this subject see also “Pre-Washington Campaign: To Minister to the Valley,” February 23, 1968, p.7 (KLA); and Pre-Washington Campaign, p. 6: “The problem is…we have socialism for the rich and rugged free-enterprise capitalism for the poor.”|
“Excerpts from the Speeches and Letters of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1958-1968) from an ecumenical MLK Day service by Temple Emanu-El & Abyssinian Baptist Church” is shared by the living contributor(s) under their Fair Use Right (17 U.S. Code §107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use), in respect to the copyrighted material included. Any additional work that is not already in the Public Domain is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Works of related interest:
Excerpts from speeches by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1956-1968) selected by Rabbi Marcia Prager, cantillated by Ḥazzan Jack Kessler
Four excerpts from a “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1963), cantillated by Rabbi David Evan Markus (Tu biShvat 5782)
Nevertheless She Persisted: A Modern Esther Tribute for Purim and Women’s History Month, by Rabbi David Evan Markus (2018)
Iwo Jima Memorial Address at Fifth Marine Division Cemetery, by Rabbi Chaplain Roland B. Gittelsohn (21 March 1945)