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Martin Luther King, Jr. on Creative Maladjustment

Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at Western Michigan University (Dec 18th, 1963) is excerpted above. The full transcript of the speech is below. In it, Dr. King addresses modern psychology and introduces the idea of creative maladjustment:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence…

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. 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 in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Martin Luther King, JR on Creative Maladjustment

Full transcript 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

President Miller, Dr. Clark, members of the faculty and 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 and to have the opportunity of being a part of your lecture series. I think I should say in the beginning that I owe you and this University a great apology. I am so sorry that I was unable to fulfil my commitment on the second of December and I can assure you that was because of health circumstances beyond my control, but I am very happy that we could rearrange this date and I want to express my appreciation to the committee and to the University for extending the invitation. It is always a rich and rewarding experience for me when I can take a brief break from the day to day and hour to hour demands of our struggle in the South to discuss the issues involved in this struggle with college and university students. So again, I say I am very delighted to be here.

In line with the theme that has been selected for this series, I would like to use as a subject from which to speak a social justice and the emerging new age. Some time ago the former prime minister to England, Mr. Harold MacMillan, was taking a trip through Africa. He stopped at one point to make this significant statement, “The wind of change is blowing in Africa.” Certainly, we can enlarge that statement by saying the wind of change is blowing all over our world today. It is sweeping away an old order and bringing into being a new order.

Now we are all familiar with this old order that is passing away. We have lived with it and we have seen it in all of its dimensions. We have seen the old order in its international dimensions in the form of colonialism and imperialism. As you know, the vast majority of the peoples of our world live in Asia and Africa. For many, many years, people of these two continents were dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by some foreign power. But even there we notice change has taken place. I can remember when Mrs. King and I first journeyed to Africa to attend the independence celebration of the new nation of Ghana. We were very happy about the fact there were now eight independent countries in Africa. But since that night in March, 1957, some twenty‐seven new independent nations have come into being in Africa. This reveals to us that the old order of colonialism is passing away, and the new order of freedom and human dignity is coming into being.

But not only have we seen the old order in its international dimensions, we have seen it in our own nation in the form of slavery and racial segregation. We all know the long history of the old order in America. It had its beginning in 1619 when the first 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. Throughout slavery, the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. He was merely a depersonalized cog in a vast plantation machine. The famous Dred Scott decision of 1857 well illustrated the status of the Negro during slavery. For in this decision, the Supreme Court of the United States said in substance that the Negro is not a citizen of this nation, 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.

Living with the conditions of slavery and then later segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves. Many came to feel that perhaps they were less than human, perhaps they were inferior. But then something happened to the Negro. Circumstances made it possible and 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. His economic life was gradually rising and even his cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy.

All of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. His religion revealed to him that God loves all of his children and that all men are made in his image. That the basic thing about a man is not his specificity but his fundamental. 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 complexions cannot alter nature’s claim. Skins may differ, but affection dwells in blacks and white the same. If I was so tall to reach the poll, or grasp the ocean with a span I must be judge 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 the new determination to struggle, to suffer and sacrifice in order to be free. With this reevaluation of the heart of the Negro of his basic intrinsic nature, we could see something of a gradual decline and a gradual end in the old order.

Then some else happened to bring about a gradual end to the old order in the United States, the Supreme Court, as I said, had rendered in 1857 the Dred Scott Decision. In 1896, our nation rendered another decision which was known as the Plessy versus Ferguson Decision. Here the doctrine of separate but equal was established as a law of the land. Then in 1954, the Supreme Court of our nation came out with another decision. It examined the legal body of segregation and pronounced it constitutionally dead. On May 17 of that year, the United States Supreme Court said the old Plessy doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal and that to segregate a child on the basis on his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. As a result of this decision, we’ve seen numerous changes in our nation. To put it figuratively in biblical language, we’ve broken loose from the Egypt of slavery and we have moved through the wilderness of legal segregation and now we stand on the border of the promised land of integration. The old order of segregation is passing away. The new order of freedom, justice, and human dignity is coming into being. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that the system of segregation is on its deathbed today. The only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral. The old order is passing away. The new order is coming into being.

Now whenever anything new comes into history, it brings with it news responsibilities and new challenges. I would like to mention some of the challenges that we face in the world and in our nation as a result of this emerging new age of social justice. I would like to start on the world scale by saying more than ever before that men and women are challenged to develop a world perspective.

The world in which we live is geographically one. Now we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood. Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through man’s scientific ingenuity. Man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place, time and change. Our jet plans have compressed minutes into distances that once took months and weeks and days. I think Bob Hope has adequately described this new jet age in which we live. He said “It is an age in which it is possible to take a non‐stop flight from Los Angeles, California to New York city‐‐a distance of some three thousand miles‐‐and if on taking off in Los Angeles you develop hiccups, you will ‘hic’ in Los Angeles and ‘cup’ in New York City.” You know it is possible because time difference to take a non‐stop flight from Tokyo, Japan on Sunday morning and arrive in Seattle, Washington on the preceding Saturday night and when your friends meet you at the airport and ask when you left Tokyo, you will have to say, I left tomorrow. Now this is a bit humorous but I’m trying to laugh a basic fact into all of us. It is simply this, that through our scientific genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood. Now through our ethical and moral commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. This is the great challenge of the hour. This is true of individuals. It is true of nations. No individual can live alone. No nation can live alone.

Some time ago, it was our good fortune to journey to that great country known as India. I never will forget the experience. I never will forget the marvelous experiences that came to Mrs. King and I as we met and talked with the great leaders of India, met and talked with hundreds and thousands of people all over the cities and villages of that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the chords of memories shall linger. But I must also say that there were those depressing moments, for how can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes millions of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night, no beds to sleep in, no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population, more than 400,000,000 people, some 380,000,000 earn less than ninety dollars a year. Most of these people have never seen a doctor or dentist. As I notice these conditions, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” Then an answer came, “Oh, no, because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation.” I started thinking about the fact that we spend millions of dollars a day to store surplus food. I said to myself, I know where we can store that food free of charge, the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children that go to bed hungry at night.

All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms. “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a Continent, a part of the main.” He goes on toward the end to say “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” It seems to me that this is the first challenge. This emerging new age.

There is another basic challenge. We are challenged to get rid of the notion, once and for all, that there are superior and inferior races. This notion still lingers around in various quarters in spite of the fact that certain intellectual disciplines like the anthropological sciences have said to us that there isn’t any truth in this. Great anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead and the late Melville Herskovits and others have said that through their long years of study there is not truth in the idea there are superior and inferior races. There may be superior and inferior individuals academically within all races, but there are no superior and inferior races. We have learned there are four types of blood and these four types of blood are found within all racial groups, and yet, the notion still lingers around there are superior and inferior races.

Now there was a time when people used to argue this notion on the basis of religion and the Bible. It is tragic how individuals will often use religion and the Bible or misuse religion and the Bible to crystalize a status quo and justify their prejudices. So it was argued from some pulpits that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. Then the apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword “Servants be obedient to your masters.”

Then one brother probably studied the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. You know Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we now know as formal logic. Formal logic has a big word called the syllogism. The syllogism has a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. And so this brother decided to put his argument of the inferiority of the Negro in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He could say all men are made in the image of God. This was his major premise. Then came the minor premise. God is, as everybody knows, not a Negro; therefore, the Negro is not a man. This was the type of reasoning that prevailed and it still gets around. I read just the other day where someone in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. These ideas still linger. But on the whole, the Biblical justifications have passed away. The arguments are now on more subtle sociological cultural grounds. The Negro is not culturally ready for integration, the argument goes, and if you integrate the schools and other facilities, you will pull the white race back a generation. And the Negro is a criminal, you see. These arguments go on ad infinatum. The people who set forth these arguments never go on to say that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community, and there certainly are, they lag because of segregation and discrimination. Criminal responses and other things like this are environmental and not racial. Economic deprivation, social isolation, ignorance, poverty breed crime, whatever the racial group may be, and it is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. There is a need to go for the causal root, to grapple with the problem at that point and to get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. There are too many things alive in our nation and in our world to disprove this notion that has existed all too long. Then we’re challenged after working in the realm of ideas, to move out into the arena of social action and to work passionately and unrelentingly to make racial justice a reality. In other words, there is great need to develop an action program in order to remove all of the vestiges of the old order.

Now in order to do this, we must answer and deal with one or two myths that are still disseminated and often block powerful social action in order to grapple with the evils of society. One argument is the myth of time. This myth says in substance that only time can solve problems that we face in the area of human relations. So there are those who say to individuals struggling to make justice a reality. Why don’t you wait and stop pushing so hard. If you will just be patient and wait 100 or 200 years the problem will work itself out. Well this argument still goes around. The only answer that one can give to this myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. I’m convinced that the people of ill‐will in our nation have often used time much more effectively that the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people who will bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama but for the appalling silence of the good people who sit idly by and say wait on time. Somewhere along the way we must see that time will never solve the problem alone but that we must help time. Somewhere we must see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels on 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 insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social stagnation. We must always help time and realize that the time is always right to do right.

Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half‐truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. [APPLAUSE] So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.

The late President Kennedy, great late president of our nation, who faced the tragedy of an assassin’s bullet, just a few months ago stood before this nation and said we face a moral issue in the area of human relations. Every American must be treated as a person. He went on to say that equality of opportunity must be a reality for every American if the American dream is to be a reality. Immediately after that, he recommended to the Congress of our nation the strongest package of civil rights legislation, the most comprehensive ever presented by any president of the United States. Now the challenge is before the Congress of our nation to pass this legislation, to pass this legislation because it is a moral issue, to pass this legislation because it is a necessity to make democracy a reality for all people of this nation, but we still see delaying tactics. We still see evasive schemes being used. We still see southern congressman tying up basic legislation in a particular committee, in this instance, the Rules Committee. We still see the possibility of the filibuster ahead in the senate. There is a great need at this hour for all people of good will of this nation to get together and say that this legislation must be passed and that it must be passed soon. I’m convinced that if it is not passed, this ugly sore of racial segregation on the body politic of our nation will suddenly turn malignant and we will be inflicted with an incurable cancer that will totally destroy the soul of American society. So that is a great opportunity ahead. As President Lyndon Johnson said in his first speech to the nation as he addressed Congress a few days ago, “The greatest tribute that we can pay to late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is to pass, and pass soon, the Civil Rights legislation that he recommended and then go out to implement this legislation after it is enacted.” There is a need for legislation, as I said, in every state in our union. For this problem is not just a local sectional problem, it is national problem. De facto segregation in the north must be grappled with, with as seriousness and concern as de jure legislation in the south. We must come to see that quality of opportunity and employment must be a reality in northern communities as well as southern communities. There is need for legislation to make all of this a reality. There is need for legislation to make housing open so that there would be no discrimination in this area. For as long as there is residential segregation, there will be de facto segregation in every area of life. So the challenge is here to develop an action program.

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Now I would not want to leave you with the impression that there is not a great role for the Negro himself to play in the area of action if freedom is to be a reality. This is why in the movement, in the south and over the nation, we’ve tried to say in figurative language that freedom is not some lavish dish that the federal government will pass out on the silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite. If freedom is to be a reality for the Negro, he must be willing to sacrifice and struggle for it and suffer when necessary. This is what we’ve tried to do in this whole struggle and this nonviolent revolution which is taking place in our nation.

I would like to say just a few words about this philosophy and method of nonviolence since it constitutes such a prominent place in our whole struggle. I am still convinced that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. There is power and real power in this method. First it has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale and at the same time it works on his conscience. He just doesn’t know how to handle it. If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful. If he sets out to beat you, you develop the quiet courage of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful. Nobody with any sense loves to go jail. If he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that some things are so precious, that there are some things so dear, some things so eternally worthful, that they are worth dying for. If an individual has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. When one discovers this, there is power in this method. It disarms the opponent, and he just doesn’t know how to deal with it. I’ve seen this so many times in our struggle in the south. I’ve seen the opponents as they sought to block the advance of the nonviolent movement and whenever sporadic outbreaks of violence took place, they were very happy. They were not happy when there was an absolute commitment to nonviolence because they don’t quite know how to handle nonviolence. It has this power. It has this way of disarming the opponent.

There is another thing about this method that is very important. It give the individual a method of struggling for moral ends through moral means. One of the great debates of history has been over the whole question of ends and means. There have been those individuals from Greek philosophy right on down to Machiavelli right on up to the present day who argue that the end justifies the means. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of communism. Right here, the argument that it doesn’t matter about the means. Any method is justifiable in as much as it brings about the end of the goal of the classless society. This is where the nonviolent movement would break with communism or any other system that argues that the end justifies the means because in the long run of history the end is pre‐ existing in the means. The means represent the ideal in the making and the end in process. It is a wonderful thing to have a method of struggle that says you can use moral means to gain moral ends.

For there is another thing about this philosophy that says you can stand before an unjust system and resist it with all your might and yet maintain an attitude of active good will toward the perpetrators of that unjust system. So it goes on to say that the ethic of love can stand at the center of the nonviolent movement. Now when I talk about love at this point, people always have questions to raise. They begin to say, what do you mean, love those who are bombing your home and those who are oppressing you and using any method to keep you in the state of injustice, the state of slavery. How in the world can you love such people? Well let me rush on to say that when I speak of love, I’m not talking about emotional bosh. I think in so many instances, this whole idea is misunderstood. It is absurd to urge oppressed people to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense. I’m not talking about an affectionate emotion at this point. I think the Greek language comes to our rescue at this point, there are three words in the Greek language for love.

There is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of aesthetic love, a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love. So we all know about eros. We have experienced it and read it in all of the beauties of literature. In a sense, Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he talked about his beautiful Annabel Lee with a love surrounded by the halo of eternity. In a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said “Love is not love which alters when an alteration finds or bends with the removal to remove. It is an ever fixed mark which looks on tempest and is never shaken. It is a star to every wandering bark.” You know, I can remember that because I have quote it to my wife every now and then. That’s eros.

The Greek language talks about “philia” which is the sort of intimate affection between personal friends. This is a significant love and on this level, you love people that you like, people that you have dealings with, people that are friends. This is friendship.

Then the Greek language comes out with the word, “agape.” Agape is more than romantic or aesthetic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is creative, understanding, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that this is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. He rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is the kind of love that can carry us through this period of transition. This is what we’ve tried to teach through this nonviolent discipline.

So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non‐cooperation with evil is just as much moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half‐dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. This is a nonviolent message. It has brought about many amazing changes. It has brought about integration at lunch counters in more than 350 cities in the South since the sit‐in movement of 1960. It has brought an end, almost, to segregation in public transportation all over the south since the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and 6, the nonviolent freedom rides in 1961, and many changes are still taking place.

There is another thing about this attitude. We’ll help those of us who have been the victims of oppression, and those of us who have been the victims of injustices in the old order, to go into the new order with the proper attitude, an attitude of reconciliation. It will help us to go in not with an idea of rising from position of disadvantage, to one of advantage, thus subverting justice. It will not cause us to substitute one tyranny for another. This is why I have said all over this nation that we must never substitute a doctrine of black supremacy for white supremacy. For the doctrine of black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.

I think with all of these challenges being met and with all of the work, and determination going on, we will be able to go this additional distance and achieve the ideal, the goal of the new age, the age of social justice.

May I reiterate the problem will not work itself out. May I reiterate that it is not a sectional problem. No area of our country can boast of clean hands in the realm of brotherhood. It is one thing for a white person of good will in the north to rise up with righteous indignation when a bus is burning in Anniston, Alabama with freedom riders or when a church is burned or bombed in Birmingham, Alabama killing four, unoffending, innocent beautiful girls. When in Jackson, Mississippi a Medgar Evers is shot down or when in Oxford, Mississippi, some fifteen or sixteen thousand troops are necessary for our courageous James Meredith to go to a university of that state. A white person of good will in the north must rise up with as much righteous indignation when a Negro cannot live in his neighborhood, when a Negro cannot get a job in his firm, when a Negro cannot join his professional society, when a Negro cannot join his fraternity or her sorority. In other words, if this problem is to be solved there must be a sort of divine discontent all over this nation.

There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament. The alternative to absolute suspension of nuclear tests. The alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. This is why I welcome the recent test‐ban treaty.

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. 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 in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half‐slave and half‐free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We know these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights” that among these are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.

In spite of the difficulties of this hour, I am convinced that we have the resources to make the American Dream a reality. I am convinced of this because I believe Carlyle is right. “No lie can live forever.” I am convinced of this because I believe William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth pressed to earth will rise again.” I am convinced of this because I think James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne; Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own.” Somehow with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new life into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation to a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. This will be a great day. This will be 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 are free at last!” Thank you.

For more context and historical significance of this speech, go here. 



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Karen Steinberg