It is precisely because education is the road to equality
and citizenship, that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than
many other rights. The walling off of Negroes from equal education is
part of the historical design to submerge him in second class status.
Therefore, as Negroes have struggles to be free they have had to fight
for the opportunity for a decent education.
If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry
on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
From my experience of hundreds of children, I know that
they have perhaps a finer sense of honour than you or I have. The greatest
lessons in life, if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would
learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant
As the years progress, what women and men will discover
is that the most lasting and rewarding educational experiences come
not from specific information provided in classroom lectures or assigned
textbooks, but from the values obtained in active engagement in meaningful
issues. We achieve for ourselves only as we appreciate the problems
and concerns of othersand only as we see our own lives as part
of a much greater social purpose.
As June approaches, with its graduation ceremonies and
speeches, a thought suggests itself... Whatever career you may choose
for yourselfdoctor, lawyer, teacherlet me propose an avocation
to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights.
Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor,
a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing
else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that
can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man . Make
a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human
rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation
of your country, and a finer world to live in.
I said to my children, 'I'm going to work and do everything
that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don't ever want
you to forget that there are millions of God's children who will not
and cannot get a good education, and I don't want you feeling that you
are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be
until they are what they ought to be.'
The Negro has no room to make any substantial compromises
because his store of advantages is too small. He must press unrelentingly
for quality, integrated education or his whole drive for freedom will
be undermined by the absence of a most vital and indispensable elementlearning.
I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance
is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United
The survival of democracy depends on the renunciation of violence and the
development of nonviolent means to combat evil and advance the good.
In our struggle against racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, I
came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi's method of nonviolence and
the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for
freedom and human dignity. It may well be that the Gandhian
approach will bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit
is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.
Once one assumes an attitude of intolerance, there is no knowing where it
will take one. Intolerance, someone has said, is violence to the intellect
and hatred is violence to the heart.
There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
I do believe that when there is only a choice between
cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have
India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should
in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless victim of her own dishonor.
But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence,
forgiveness is more manly than punishment... Let me not be misunderstood.
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable
Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such
creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to
confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored...
I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly
worked and preached against violent tension, and there is a type of constructive tension that
is necessary for growth.
Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will.
Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our
Non-violent resistance implies the very opposite of weakness.
Defiance combined with non-retaliatory acceptance of repression from
one's opponents is active, not passive. It requires strength, and there
is nothing automatic or intuitive about the resoluteness required for
using nonviolent methods in political struggle and the quest for Truth.
Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training
for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for
non-violence. Violence does not mean the emancipation from fear, but
discovering the means of combating the cause of fear. Nonviolence, on
the other hand, has no cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has
to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order
to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth,
I contend that non-violent acts exert pressure far more effective than violent
acts, for the pressure comes from goodwill and gentleness.
Courtesy towards opponents and eagerness to understand their view-point
is the ABC of non-violence.
Truth and nonviolence are not cloistered virtues but applicable
as much in the forum and the legislatures as in the market place.
Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not
emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of
one's whole being into the being of another.
While the nature of this account causes me to make frequent
use of the pronoun 'I,' in every important part of the story it should
be 'we.' This is not a drama with only one actor. More precisely it
is the chronicle of fifty thousand Negroes who took to heart the principles
of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon
of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own
If we arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are
trampled over every day, don't ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them.
We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who
hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that
they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are
always on the threshold of a new dawn.
I believe that it is impossible to end hatred with hatred.
We have learned that change cannot come through war. War is not a
feasible tool to use in fighting against the oppression we face. War has caused
more problems. We cannot embrace that path.
I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other
ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. Nonviolence also means
the recognition that the person on one side of the trench and the person on the
other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. At so
me point they have to begin to understand one another.
...instead of giving a rifle to somebody, build a school; instead of
giving a rifle, build a community with adequate services. Instead of giving a
rifle, develop an educational system that is not about conflict and violence,
but one that promotes respect for values, for life, and respect for one's elders.
This requires a huge investment. Yet if we can invest in a different vision of
peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem
has a nonviolent answer.
The reason I can't follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy
is that it ends up leaving everyone blind. Somebody must have sense
and somebody must have religion. I remember some years ago, my brother
and I were driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee. And for some
reason the drivers that night were very discourteous or they were forgetting
to dim their lights... And finally A.D. looked over at me and he said,
'I'm tired of this now, and the next car that comes by here and refuses
to dim the lights, I'm going to refuse to dim mine.' I said, 'Wait a
minute, don't do that . Somebody has to have some sense on this highway.'
And I'm saying the same thing for us here in Birmingham. We are moving
up a mighty highway toward the city of Freedom. There will be meandering
points. There will be curves and difficult moments, and we will be tempted
to retaliate with the same kind of force that the opposition will use.
But I'm going to say to you, 'Wait a minute, Birmingham. Somebody's
got to have some sense in Birmingham.'
World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor
unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a
good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of
reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and
emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.
In the event of a violent revolution, we would be sorely
outnumbered. And when it was all over, the Negro would face the same
unchanged conditions, the same squalor and deprivationthe only
difference being that his bitterness would be even more intense, his
disenchantment even more abject. Thus, in purely practical as well as
moral terms, the American Negro has no rational alternative to nonviolence.
I was out in Watts during the riots. One young man said
to me... 'We won!' I said, 'What do you mean, 'we won'? Thirty-some
people deadall but two are Negroes. You've destroyed your own.
What do you mean 'we won'?' And he said, 'We made them pay attention
to us.' When people are voiceless, they will have temper tantrums like
a little child who has not been paid attention to. And riots are massive
temper tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people.
I would be misleading you if I made you feel that we could
win a violent campaign. It's impractical even to think about it. The
minute we start, we will end up getting many more people killed unnecessarily.
Now, I'm ready to die myself. Many other committed people are ready
to die. If you believe in something firmly, if you believe in it truly,
if you believe it in your heart, you are willing to die for it, but
I'm not going to advocate a method that brings about unnecessary death.
I cannot make myself believe that God wanted me to hate. I'm tired
of violence, I've seen too much of it. I've seen such hate on the faces of too
many sheriffs in the South. And I'm not going to let my oppressor dictate to me
what method I must use. Our oppressors have used violence. Our oppressors
have used hatred. Our oppressors have used rifles and guns. I'm not going to
stoop down to their level. We have a power that can't be found in Molotov cocktails.
The policy of the federal government is to play Russian
roulette with the riots; it is prepared to gamble with another summer
of disaster. Despite two consecutive summers of violence, not a single
basic cause of riots has been corrected. All of the misery that stoked
the flames of rage and rebellion remains undiminished. With unemployment,
intolerable housing, and discriminatory education, a scourge in Negro
ghettos, Congress and the administration still tinker with trivial,
halfhearted measures. Yet only a few years ago, there was discernible,
if limited, progress through nonviolence. Each year, a wholesome, vibrant
Negro self confidence was taking shape. The fact is inescapable that
that the tactic of nonviolence, which had then dominated the thinking
of the civil rights movement, has in the last two years not been playing
its transforming role. Nonviolence was a creative doctrine in the South
because it checkmated the rabid segregationists who were thirsting for
an opportunity to physically crush Negroes. Nonviolent direct action
enabled the Negro to take to the streets in active protest, but it muzzled
the guns of the oppressor because even he could not shoot down in daylight
unarmed men, women, and children. This is the reason there was less
loss of life in ten years of Southern protest than in ten days of Northern
The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves;
they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end
is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation
of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
The method of nonviolence seeks not to humiliate and not to defeat
the oppressor, but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding. And thereby
and therefore the aftermath of this method is reconciliation.
Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate
tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the 'fight with fire' method
which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love
method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical
force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and
organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, lovewhich
means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one's enemiesis
the solution to the race problem.
I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It
is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from
being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity
for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but
intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough
and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be
done through love.
It is the best thing to blame ourselves when people cannot get
on well with us. Boundless charity necessarily includes all or it ceases
to be boundless. We must be strict with ourselves and lenient with our
neighbors. For we know not their difficulties and what they overcome.
In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of
the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate
campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but
intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must
have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.
This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center
of our lives.
The Negro who experiences bitter and agonizing circumstances as a
result of some ungodly white person is tempted to look upon all white persons as
evil, if he fails to look beyond his circumstances. But the minute he looks beyond
his circumstances and sees the whole of the situation, he discovers that some of the
most implacable and vehement advocates of racial equality are consecrated white persons.
True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness
which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has
to be based on an acknowledgment of what was done wrong, and therefore
on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.
This morning the long awaited mandate from the United States
Supreme Court concerning bus segregation came to Montgomery. Our experience
and growth during this past year of united nonviolent protest has been
of such that we cannot be satisfied with a court 'victory' over our
white brothers. We must respond to the decision with an understanding
of those who have oppressed us and with an appreciation of the new adjustments
that the court order poses for them. We must act in such a way as to
make possible a coming together of white people and colored people on
the basis of a real harmony of interests and understandings. We seek
an integration based on mutual respect.
There are two types of laws: there are just laws and there
are unjust laws... What is the difference between the two?...An unjust
law is a man-made code that is out of harmony with the moral law...
Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn't segregation an existential
expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement,
his terrible sinfulness?
We are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong,
the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution
of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.
If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that
never came down to earth. And we are determined here is Montgomery to
work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness
like a mighty stream.
In matters of conscience, the Law of Majority has no place.
The golden rule to apply in all such cases is resolutely to
refuse to have what millions cannot.
Stability and peace in our land will not come from the barrel
of a gun, because peace without justice is an impossibility.
...when we allow one group of people to look down upon
another, then we may for a short time bring hardship on some particular
group of people, but the real hardship and the real wrong is done to
democracy and to our nation as a whole. We are then breeding people
who cannot live under a democratic form of government but must be controlled
by force. We have but to look out into the world to see how easy it
is to become stultified, to accept without protest wrongs done to others,
and to shift the burden of decision and responsibility for any action
onto some vague thing called a government or some individual called
I must confess that I have enjoyed being on this mountaintop
and I am tempted to want to stay here and retreat to a more quiet and
serene life. But something within reminds me that the valley calls me
in spite of all its agonies, dangers, and frustrating moments. I must
return to the valley. Something tells me that the ultimate test of a
man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience,
but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.
So I must return to the valleya valley filled with the misguided
bloodthirsty mobs, but a valley filled at the same time with the little
Negro boys and girls who grow up with the ominous clouds of inferiority
forming in their little mental skies; a valley filled with millions
of people who because of economic deprivation and social isolation,have
lost hope, and see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit
sign. I must return to the valleya valley filled with literally
thousand of Negroes in Alabama and Mississippi who are brutalized, intimidated,
and sometimes killed when they seek to register and vote. I must return
to the valley all over the South and in the big cities of the Northa
valley filled with millions of our white and Negro brothers who are
smoldering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent
Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.
In the application of the method of non-violence, one must believe
in the possibility of every person, however depraved, being reformed under humane and skilled treatment.
We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, '...we shouldn't have done that.'
We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, 'We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history.'
We have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain
basic questions about the whole society. We are still called upon to give aid
to the beggar who finds himself in misery and agony on life's highway. But one day, we must ask the question of whether an edifice which produces beggars must not be restructured and refurbished.
The nation is sick; trouble is in the land, confusion
all around... 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. 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.'.