Dear Mnr. A.M. de Lange.
"He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics
that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of
fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we
had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denomination, we had
been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been
sprinkled, but we knew water. " King
I am with the Caretaker, right now. I am thinking of you especially. I
have a new 'pupil' and she is young, and wise, and generous and a patron
of young artists -philanthropically natured. She is like Dr. Martin Luther
King, a Doctor of Philosophy. Her subject is 'slavery'. My subject here is
I am in favour of 'streetsweeping'. V ;-) I would like to sweep the world
clean of tyrants, fascists, slave keepers of all kinds ;-) (sic)...
My puil has encouraged me, tacitly, to go sit with Mr. Lincoln and Dr.
I hope this message is not too long for the LO archives.
"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as
Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote
poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth
will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well."
"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 reality. I believe that unarmed truth and
unconditional love will have the final word. "
I See The Promised Land
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy in his
eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered
who he was talking about. It's always good to have your closest friend and
associate say something good about you. And Ralph is the best friend that I
have in the world.
I'm delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning.
You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow. Something is happening in
Memphis, something is happening in our world.
As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the
possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to
now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you
like to live in?"-- I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather
across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And
in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. I would move on by
Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle,
Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they
discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.
But I wouldn't stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the
Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various
emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the
day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance
did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I
would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had his habitat. And
I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door
at the church in Wittenberg.
But I wouldn't stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a
vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the
conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't
stop there. I would even come up the early thirties, and see a man grappling
with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent
cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty,
and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the
twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make,
because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the
land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow,
that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God
working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some
strange way, are responding--something is happening in our world. The masses
of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they
are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York
City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee--the cry
is always the same--"We want to be free."
And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been
forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that
men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't
force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for
years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they
just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence
in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.
That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if
something isn't done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the
world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and
neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed
me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that he's
allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph
has said, so often, scratching where they didn't itch, and laughing when they
were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are
determined to gain our rightful place in God's world.
And that's all this whole thing is about. We aren't engaged in any negative
protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are
determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we
are God's children. And that we don't have to live like we are forced to
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means
that we've got to stay together. We've got to stay together and maintain
unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in
Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He
kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get
together, something happens in Pharaoh's court, and he cannot hold the slaves
in slavery. When the slaves get together, that's the beginning of getting out
of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The
issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with
its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we've got to
keep attention on that. That's always the problem with a little violence. You
know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the
window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to
mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were
on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is
in dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that.
Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put
the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there
are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going
hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is
going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: we
know it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right
and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of
We aren't going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent
movement in disarming police forces; they don't know what to do. I've seen
them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that
majestic struggle there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church
day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell
them to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the
dogs singing, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round." Bull Connor next would
say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other night, Bull
Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't
relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that
there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went
before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other
denomination, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we
had been sprinkled, but we knew water.
That couldn't stop us. And we just went on before the dogs and we would look
at them; and we'd go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and
we'd just go on singing. "Over my head I see freedom in the air." And then we
would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there
like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say,
"Take them off," and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon
singing, "We Shall Overcome." And every now and then we'd get in the jail,
and we'd see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our
prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power
there which Bull Connor couldn't adjust to; and so we ended up transforming
Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.
Now we've got to go on to Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with
us Monday. Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we're going into
court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction.
All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in
China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand
the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't
committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom
of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of
the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is
the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren't going to let
any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful to me, is to see all of
these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is
supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than
the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, "Let justice
roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the
preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he
hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men:
James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he's been to
jail for struggling; but he's still going on, fighting for the rights of his
people. Rev. Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the
list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank them all. And I want you
to thank them, because so often, preachers aren't concerned about anything
but themselves. And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It's alright to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its
symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to
wear down here. It's alright to talk about "streets flowing with milk and
honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here,
and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's alright to talk
about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the New
York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new
Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external
direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people,
individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America.
We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us
together, collectively we are richer than all the nation in the world, with
the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the
United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I
could name the others, the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of
the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a
year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more
than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That's power right
there, if we know how to pool it.
We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around
acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't
need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to
these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to
say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by
here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda--fair treatment, where
God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do
have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing
economic support from you."
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell
your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to
buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy--what is the other bread?--Wonder
Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy
Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have
been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing
these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies; and
we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are
going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And
then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we've got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon
you to take you money out of the banks downtown and deposit you money in
Tri-State Bank--we want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. So go by the savings
and loan association. I'm not asking you something that we don't do ourselves
at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in
the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference. We're just telling you to follow what we're doing. Put your money
there. You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out
your insurance there. We want to have an "insurance-in."
Now there are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of
building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting
pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves
to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at
this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our
march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be
on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to
Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters in
life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little
more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base. Now that question
could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But
Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a
dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain
man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed
by on the other side. They didn't stop to help him. And finally a man of
another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be
compassionate by proxy. But with him, administered first aid, and helped the
man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the
capacity to project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his
brother. Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to
determine why the priest and the Levite didn't stop. At times we say they
were busy going to church meetings--an ecclesiastical gathering--and they had
to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn't be late for their meeting. At
other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that "One who
was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body
twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and then we begin to
wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to
Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road Improvement Association." That's
a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem
from the casual root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual
But I'm going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It's possible that
these men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I
remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and
drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I
said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his
parable." It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for
ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or rather
1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen
or twenty minutes later, you're about 2200 feet below sea level. That's a
dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass."
And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that
man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's
possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he
was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over
there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so 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. Not, "If I stop to help the
sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend
in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If
I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do no 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 to make 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.
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first
book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a
demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, "Are
you Martin Luther King?"
And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt
something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this
demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday
afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the
tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once
that's punctured, you drown in your own blood--that's the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I
would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the
operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out,
to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read
some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states, and the world,
kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I
had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I've forgotten
what those telegrams said. I'd received a visit and a letter from the
Governor of New York, but I've forgotten what the letter said. But there was
another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student
at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I'll never
forget it. It said simply, "Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the
Whites Plains High School." She said, "While it should not matter, I would
like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your
misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you
would have died. And I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy that you
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I am happy that I didn't
sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here in 1960,
when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I
knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best
in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells
of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been
around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their
backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are
going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent. If I
had sneezed, I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the black people of
Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into
being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance
later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had
had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see
the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis
to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.
And they were telling me, now it doesn't matter now. 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 with 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 that 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 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.
-- Martin Luther King Jr.
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