King Quotes on Social Issues
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And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. (Well) If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. (Yes sir) [applause] If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. (Yes) [applause] If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. (That’s right) [applause] If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. (Yes) [applause] If we are wrong, justice is a lie. (Yes) Love has no meaning. [applause] And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water (Yes) [applause], and righteousness like a mighty stream.
But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about "improved means to an unimproved end." How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.
Now, I realize that there will be difficulties. Whenever you have a transition, whenever you are moving from one system to another there will be definite difficulties, but I think there is enough brainpower, and I think there is enough determination, enough courage and faith to meet the difficulties as they develop. I often feel like saying, when I hear the question “People aren’t ready,” that it’s like telling a person who is trying to swim, “Don’t jump in that water until you learn how to swim.” When actually you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. And I think people have to have an opportunity to develop themselves and govern themselves.
A generation of young people has come out of decades of shadows to face naked state power; it has lost its fears, and experienced the majestic dignity of a direct struggle for its own liberation. These young people have connected up with their own history–the slave revolts, the incomplete revolution of the Civil War, the brotherhood of colonial colored men in Africa and Asia. They are an integral part of the history which is reshaping the world, replacing a dying order with modern democracy.
In sitting down at the lunch counters, [the students] are in reality standing up for the best in the American dream. They courageously go to the jails of the South in order to get America out of the dilemma in which she finds herself as a result of the continued existence of segregation. One day historians will record this student movement as one of the most significant epics of our heritage.
—"The Time For Freedom Has Come," 11 September 1961.
...the past has presented a bill to the present. It will cost society far more than it has ever before expended to educate properly the whole population... we will have to be prepared to pay teachers as professionals. The average income of lawyers is over $12,000 and that of doctors over $18,000 per year. The average of teachers should be no less because their social contribution is certainly no less.
—“Field of Education a Battleground,” 14 March 1964.
Nonviolence is a powerful demand for reason and justice. If it is rudely rebuked, it is not transformed into resignation and passivity. Southern segregationists in many places yielded to it because they realized that the alternatives could be intolerable. Northern white leadership has relied too much on tokens and substitutes, and on Negro patience.
—"Where Do We Go From Here"
Mammoth productive facilities with computer minds, cities that engulf the landscape and pierce the clouds, planes that almost outrace time—these are awesome but they cannot be spiritually inspiring. Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger.
—The Trumpet of Conscience, "Youth and Social Action."
And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" That's the question before you tonight.
Was security for some being purchased at the price of degradation for others? Everything in our traditions said this kind of injustice was the system of the past or of other nations. And yet there it was, abroad in our own land. Thus was born—particularly in the young generation—a spirit of dissent that ranged from superficial disavowal of the old values… to wholesale, drastic and immediate social reform.
—"A Testament of Hope," January 1969.