Website Editor’s comment: Why should we listen to this speech today? In the fifty years since Dr. King gave this speech, many overt forms of racial discrimination in the United States have lessened. But systemic forms of discrimination, such as better schools in predominantly white neighborhoods, continue with powerful negative effects. The work of righting the wrongs of slavery is not yet done. [DR]
“Compared with a White child in the Oakland Hills, an African American born in West Oakland is 1.5 times more likely to be born premature or low birth weight, seven times more likely to be born into poverty, twice as likely to live in a home that is rented, and four times more likely to have parents with only a high school education or less. As a toddler, this child is 2.5 times more likely to be behind in vaccinations. By fourth grade, this child is four times less likely to read at grade level and is likely to live in a neighborhood with twice the concentration of liquor stores and more fast food outlets. Ultimately, this adolescent is 5.6 times more likely to drop out of school and less likely to attend a four-year college than a White adolescent. As an adult, he will be five times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes, twice as likely to be hospitalized for and to die of heart disease, three times more likely to die of stroke, and twice as likely to die of cancer. Born in West Oakland, this person can expect to die almost 15 years earlier than a White person born in the Oakland Hills.”
Excerpted from A. Iton:
LIFE and DEATH FROM UNNATURAL CAUSES:
HEALTH A ND SOCIAL INEQUITY IN ALAMEDA COUNTY
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2011
Website Editor’s comment: To understand why Dr. King is so adamant and frustrated in the above video clips, I believe it is important to remember that by 1968 the Vietnam war had been going on for seven years, with mounting military losses and gigantic civilian casualties. It was a war fought in the name of vague slogans. And it was a war that could not be won, but no general or politician wanted to be blamed for losing it. Thus, the tragedy dragged on for another seven years after Dr. King’s death. History has vindicated his brave and often unpopular stance.
I am deeply convinced that facing the truth and telling the truth, especially when it is unflattering to oneself or one’s country, makes a person truly beautiful in the eyes of God. Dr. King spoke the truth than many did not want to hear.
The words that Dr. King spoke forty years ago ring sadly and powerfully true today. Meditating on Dr. King’s words, and then thinking about the situation of America today, we can see that wars develop an insane momentum of their own, become very difficult to stop, and consume all the resources that could have made life better for everyday citizens. The U.S. has now spent more in Afghanistan and Iraq than we spent in Vietnam, close to a trillion dollars, and we have nothing to show for it except thousands of wounded soldiers and millions of impoverished citizens. [DR]
The Autobiography of
Martin Luther King, Jr.
edited by Clayborne Carson (selected chapters online)
From the publisher: A professor of history and the noted author and editor of several books on the civil rights struggle, Dr. Clayborne Carson was selected by the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to edit and publish Dr. King’s papers. Drawing upon an unprecedented archive of King’s own words –including unpublished letters and diaries, as well as video footage and recordings — Dr. Carson creates an unforgettable self-portrait of Dr. King. In his own vivid, compassionate voice, here is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as student, minister, husband, father, and world leader…as well as a rich, moving chronicle of a people and a nation in the face of powerful-and still resonating-change.
The following selected chapters are available free of charge in web page format as part of the King Papers project at Stanford University. We gratefully acknowledge the King family and The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University for making this work available to the public. (You can purchase this book from online bookstores around the world through this Link to Global-Find-A-Book.)
A Knock at Midnight
Martin Luther King, Jr.
With fiery words of hope, wisdom, and a passion for justice that resonate as much today as they did years ago, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., stirred the deepest convictions of listeners everywhere, inspiring them to extraordinary acts of courage and perseverance that ignited one of the most influential movements of the twentieth century.
Knock at Midnight is the definitive collection of eleven of Dr. King’s most powerful and spiritual sermons, moving and meaningful words to live by for everyone. Compiled by Stanford historian Dr. Clayborne Carson, director of the King Papers Project, and by contributing editor Peter Holloran, this volume covers the full range of Dr. King’s preaching career, from the earliest known audio recording of King preaching to his last sermon, delivered just days before his assassination.
Especially featured are the title sermon, among Dr. King’s favorite and most challenging, and seven sermons never before seen in print. A Knock at Midnight also includes eleven important introductions by some of the renowned ministers and theologians of our time: Reverend Billy Graham, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Bishop T. J. Jakes, among others. Here they share their personal reflections on the sermons and firsthand accounts of the events surrounding their delivery.
With humor, insight, and a fierce and unstoppable desire for equality, as well as deeply felt compassion, A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT is Dr. King’s voice today. It stands as one of his enduring legacies … and a resounding call to the soul. It not only reveals words that shaped our history, but lives and breathes with an urgency and relevance that inspires the greatness in us all. “I am convinced that Martin’s faith in the precious, embracing, amazing love of God was rewarded… Several years after his death I saw my friend in a dream. ‘It’s all right, Vincent. It is well with my soul.’ Somehow that message seemed large enough for me, for all of us, forever.”
–DR. VINCENT HARDING
The individual chapters of this book are available free of charge in web page or pdf format by clicking on the chapter titles below. We gratefully acknowledge the King family and The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University for making this work available to the public. (You can purchase this book from online bookstores around the world through this Link to Global-Find-A-Book.)
Contents: (available online — click title)
INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS TO READ/DOWNLOAD:
Martin Luther King, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam”
Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s account of the first successful large-scale application of nonviolence resistance in America is comprehensive, revelatory, and intimate. King described his book as “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 human worth.’’ It traces the phenomenal journey of a community, and shows how the twenty-eight-year-old Dr. King, with his conviction for equality and nonviolence, helped transformed the nation—and the world.
“Martin Luther King’s early words return to us today with enormous power, as profoundly true, as wise and inspiring, now as when he wrote them fifty years ago.”
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind—for the first time—has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.
“Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the greatest organic intellectuals in American history. His unique ability to connect the life of the mind to the struggle for freedom is legendary, and in this book—his last grand expression of his vision—he put forward his most prophetic challenge to powers that be and his most progressive program for the wretched of the earth.”
—Cornel West, author of Race Matters
The Strength to Love
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Review by Fr. Kurt Messick: In the popular eye, Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his work in the Civil Rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s; his public speeches and public acts are part of the general pattern of American history. However, his ability at public speaking came largely from his experience as a preacher in Black church – the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had a ‘day job’ as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as part of this task, he regularly delivered sermons to his congregation. This is a collection of 15 sermons, illustrating major points of King’s theology and sense of social justice.
This book has a foreword by Coretta Scott King, who speaks of this book as one that is most influential to others – the primary feature of King’s theology and practice, nonviolence, is contained here. King’s sense of justice, the love of the divine, the interconnectedness of all peoples in the human community, and King’s ultimate sense of optimism come through the powerful words of these sermons.
King’s words often take conventional phrases and ideas and bring out new meanings. King’s ideas of the practical meaning of being a nonconformist, or of loving one’s enemies, put new interpretations on these ideas. King talks of the difficulty of being a nonconformist, and the echoes of the Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau are present, as are theologians such as Niebuhr. King does not speak of the kind of simple nonconformity that typifies teen-age rebellion and angst (which is, in itself a very conformist kind of nonconformity), but rather a working against the prevailing norms of society toward a transformation in love and furtherance of the gospel message.
King states that of all Jesus’ commands, the command to love one’s enemies is the most difficult to follow in practice. King looks not only at the question of how, but also why should we love our enemies, concluding with the observation that ‘love is the most durable power in the world.’ Love, being a creative and transformative force, is the greatest hope for lasting and meaningful peace. Quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, who built a great empire, he observes that all empires and authorities that rest on force are destined to fail, but Jesus’ empire built on love continues generation after generation.
King risked unpopularity among the dominant white culture of America; this is well known. However, he also risked unpopularity among his own community (and risked giving the powers that be further ammunition against him) by delivering sermons such as ‘How should Christians view Communism?’ and not giving a unilateral condemnation of the same. This was a perilous stand to take in Cold-War America. Admitting the problems with Communism, King was equally honest about the shortcomings of Capitalism, and wrote, ‘We who cannot accept the creed of the Communists recognize their zeal and commitment to a cause which they believe will create a better world.’ King takes both Communism and Capitalism to task for failing to appreciate the social aspect of humanity, concentrating more on the Enlightenment-generated individual.
This is no simple Baptist preaching – King’s erudition shows through without being oppressive or condescending; he weaves in references from Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, English and Continental philosophers, the Declaration of Independence, and American writers with grace and ease, all the while maintaining a close attention to the primary biblical message. King doesn’t engage in prooftexting, but does provide a new hermeneutic (for the time) that provides foundation for more recent liberation theologies of diverse strands.
Perhaps pride of place goes to the final sermon in this collection (‘and the last shall be first’), which is King’s ‘Pilgrimage to Nonviolence’. King gives a brief spiritual and intellectual autobiography, talking of his quest for understanding from fundamentalism to liberalism to neo-orthodoxy and beyond; he gives credit to examples such as Gandhi and the people of bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama as proof that nonviolent action can have dramatic, lasting and beneficial power for the whole community. The sermon ends with hope for the future, a future we are called to continue to build.
This is a text to be read again and again, as the words remain fresh and powerful even as nearly half a century has passed since their first utterance. There is inspiration for our time as well as a glimpse of times past in King’s sermons. It is worthy of a place in history, and deserves a place in the future.
Table of Contents of The Strength to Love
M O R E O F DR. K I N G ‘ S W O R K :
Comprehensive index of Dr. King’s books, articles and sermons
at Stanford University. Click here for extensive collection of free documents.