- Martin Luther King Jr. is well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, but he gave a lot of other moving talks during his years of activism.
- “Our God is Marching On,” “A Time to Break the Silence,” and “The Other America” are all moving speeches from King that many have not heard.
- His final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” is also famous for being strangely prophetic, as he was killed the next day.
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Throughout his fight for equality, King delivered a number of speeches that drew large audiences but got lost in the shadow of “I Have a Dream.” As a master orator, the reverend was able to inspire an entire nation, so many of his speeches are worth a revisit.
Here are some of King’s inspirational words that you may have missed in history class.
Montgomery Bus Boycott speech — Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1955
When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus, she sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and gave King one of his first opportunities to make a public speech. It was in this speech that he introduced some of his now-famous ideas, including nonviolent protests.
“Now let us go out to stick together and stay with this thing until the end,” King said in the speech. “Now it means sacrificing, yes, it means sacrificing at points. But there are some things that we’ve got to learn to sacrifice for. And we’ve got to come to the point that we are determined not to accept a lot of things that we have been accepting in the past.”
The speech catapulted the reverend into the national spotlight and made him one of the front-runners in the Civil Rights Movement.
“Proud to be maladjusted” — Dartmouth College in 1962
Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at Dartmouth College in 1962 is sometimes forgotten, but it’s a great example of the reverend’s powerful rhetoric. In the talk, he first explains the sociological term “maladjusted” as someone who cannot accept social norms and society. But King turns the entire term on its head, saying he is happy to be maladjusted if it means adapting to racism and a society built against him and his people.
“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 realise,” he said in the speech. “I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination.”
Acceptance speech at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony — December 10, 1964
In 1964, King was 35 years old and the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time of his honour, it had been a year since his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the country just passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Along with the honour, he was given $US54,600, which he donated to the movement.
Here’s a snippet of his acceptance speech:
“I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize,” King said. “After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”
At the end of his speech, he called peace “more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”
“Our God is Marching On” — Selma, Alabama, on March 25, 1965
In March 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. marched with 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to fight for African American voting rights. At the end of the march, the reverend gave his “Our God is Marching On” speech, which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of focusing on legal and political rights, King’s speech prompted the movement to fight for economic equality.
At the end of the speech, King used a call-and-response technique that made this speech truly iconic.
“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long … How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” — Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967
King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” is well known because of the debate it sparked. He gave the anti-Vietnam speech when the country still supported the war. King received extreme backlash, especially for attempting to unite the peace movement with the Civil Rights Movement. The reverend’s controversial views caused him to lose many supporters, including African American followers. Many say this is the speech that made him a target, as he was assassinated exactly one year later.
“We are taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” he said the speech.
“The Other America” – Stanford University on April 14, 1967
Just ten days after his controversial “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech, the reverend gave another iconic speech at Stanford University. This time, he focused on the inequality between whites and blacks in America. In “The Other America” he talked about how the poverty gap and economic injustice were a result of racism.
“One America is beautiful for situation … millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity,” he says in the speech. “But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair … They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
“The Three Evils of Society” — The Hungry Club Forum in Atlanta on May 10, 1967
In 1967, King visited the Hungry Club Forum, which was comprised of white politicians who met out of public view to discuss the idea of helping African Americans earn their rights. In May, King gave a speech highlighting the progress that had been made, but much of his speech focused on the three problems that blacks face: racism, poverty, and war.
“For those who are telling me to keep my mouth shut, I can’t do that,” he said at the end of his speech. “I’m against segregation at lunch counters, and I’m not going to segregate my moral concerns. And we must know on some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there’re times when you must take a stand that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but you must do it because it is right.”
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” – Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968
Just one day before he was assassinated, King gave his final speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” He gave the speech to a packed church of workers protesting working conditions. In the talk, the reverend emphasised his main beliefs: unifying African Americans and the importance of nonviolent protests.
But the speech is most known for being oddly prophetic, seeming to predict his death just the next day, highlighting the fact that he has accepted his fate.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” King said in his final speech. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place but I’m not concerned about that now … 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.”
He ended the speech with: “I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
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