Remembering 51 Years Since Martin Luther King Jr. Spoke At Penn State
51 years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. was in Happy Valley preparing to give a speech to a full auditorium at Rec Hall. Dr. King spoke to students, faculty, and community members about the Civil Rights movement and shared with the audience ideas he believed would eventually change the world. Silently, they all listened to the Reverend speak about the past segregation and the future that lay ahead.
“I know that there are still some difficult days ahead, that there is still much work to be done, and I know that some of us so often have to stand amid the surging movement of life’s restless sea, constantly face chilly winds of adversity, but in spite of this I still believe that we will solve this problem,” Dr. King said to the crowd of 8,000. A full transcript of the script can be found below.
As the speech continued, he emphasized the progress that still needed to be made around the country. “We need only open our newspapers and turn on our televisions, and we see with our own eyes that this problem is still with us…we will see it because no community in our country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood.”
Here’s a recap of the event from University Archivists, who recall the entire audience being moved to tears during the speech.
This dedication was especially salient during his Penn State visit, which occurred just days after he was assaulted by a segregationist in Selma, Alabama and two months after he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Ever the powerful orator, Dr. King’s speech concluded with an emotional message:
“Before victory is won, some more will be thrown into crowded and frustrating jail cells, but we shall overcome,” his voice rang.
The speech, which is more than 6,000 words, was commemorated in 2006 with a historical marker outside of Rec Hall. To celebrate Dr. King and his legacy in 2016, there are events on campus all week.
Here’s a full transcript of Dr. King’s speech from Penn State News:
Dean [Jules] Heller [of the Department of Arts and Architecture], members of the faculty and members of the student body of this great institution of learning, ladies and gentlemen.
I did not pause to say how delighted and honored to be here tonight and to be part of your lecture series. It’s always a rich and rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students and concerned people of goodwill all over our nation and over the world. So I can assure you it’s a real pleasure to be with you.
As has been stated, I would like to use as a subject from which to speak the future of integration. My basic theme for the evening is that we have come a long, long way in the struggle for racial justice, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.
Now let us begin by noticing that we have come a long, long way. I would like to open this point by stating that the Negro himself has come a long, long way in reevaluating his own intrinsic worth. In order to illustrate this, a little history is necessary. You will remember that it was in the year 1619 when the first Negro slaves landed on the shores of this nation. They were brought here from the shores of Africa. Unlike the Pilgrims fathers who landed at Plymouth a year
Throughout slavery, the Negro was treated in a very inhuman fashion. He was a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. The famous Dred Scott decision of 1857 well illustrated the status of the Negro during slavery. In this decision, the Supreme Court said in substance that the Negro is not a citizen of the United States; he is merely property, subject to the dictates of his owner. And it went on to say that the Negro has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.
With the growth of slavery it became necessary to give some justification for it. It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness. This is exactly what happened. Even the Bible and religion was misused to crystallize the patterns of the status quo. And so from some pulpits it was argued that the Negro is inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. And the apostle Paul’s dictum became a watchword: “Servants, be obedient to your master.” And then one brother had probably read the logic of the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle did a great deal to bring into being what we know as pharmacological philosophy. And in pharmacologic you have a big word called the syllogism, which has a major premise and 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 came out with his major premise, all men are created in the image of God. Then came his minor premise, God, as everybody knows, is not a Negro. Therefore, the Negro is not a man. This was the kind of reasoning that prevailed.
Living with the conditions of slavery and then later segregation, many Negroes lost faith in themselves, and 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. And even his cultural life was gradually rising through the steady decline of crippling illiteracy. And all of these forces conjoined to cause the Negro to take a new look at himself. The Negro masses all over began to reevaluate themselves, and the Negro came to feel that he was somebody. His religion revealed 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. And so the Negro could now unconsciously cry out with the eloquent poet, “Fleecy locks and black complexion cannot forfeit nature’s claim. Skin may differ, but affection dwells in white and black the same, and were I so tall as to reach the pole of the grasp the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul; the mind is the standard of the man.”
With this new sense of dignity and with this new sense of Determination to struggle, suffer and sacrifice in order to be free. So in a real sense we have come a long, long way since 1619. But not only has the Negro come a long, long way in reevaluating his own intrinsic worth; if we are to be true to the facts, we must say that the whole nation has come a long, long way in extending the frontiers of civil rights.
Fifty years ago or even 25 years ago, a year had hardly passed when numerous Negroes were not brutally lynched in the South by some vicious mob. Lynchings have about ceased today, and this represents progress. At the turn of the century, there were very few Negroes registered to vote in the South. By 1948 that number had leaped to 750,000. By 1960, it had leaped to about 1.2 million. And when we went into the presidential elections some few weeks ago, we had a few more than 2 million Negroes registered to vote in the South, which means we have added more than 800,000 new Negro registered voters in the last three or four years, far from what it ought to be, but it represents progress. We’ve come a long, long way.
In the area of economic justice we have seen some strides. The average Negro wage-earner of today who happens to be employed earns 10 times more than the average Negro wage-earner of 10 years ago. The national income of the Negro is now better than $28 billion a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States and more than the national budget of Canada. This reveals that we have made some strides in the quest for economic justice.
But probably more than in any other area, we have seen in our day and in our age the gradual demise of the system of legal segregation. Now, we all know the long history of segregation in our country. It had its legal beginning in 1896, when the Supreme Court rendered a decision known as the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which established the doctrine of separate but equal as the law of the land. And for years we have lived with this Plessy doctrine, which ended up plunging the Negro into the abyss of exploitation, where he experienced the bleakness of nagging injustice. Then something else happened. It was in the year 1954 that the Supreme Court examined the legal body of segregation and pronounced it constitutionally dead, and said in substance that the old Plessy doctrine must go, that separate facilities are inherently unequal, and that to segregate a child a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. We have seen many, many changes since that decision in 1954.
And then just last year, on July 2, the president of out nation signed into law a strong, comprehensive civil rights bill. I am happy to say that since the signing of that bill, we have seen surprising and extensive levels of compliance all across the South, particularly in with reference to the public accommodations section of the bill. Certainly there are still some pockets of resistance, where we will have to do a great deal of work. We can all be consoled by the fact that by and large, in cities and communities and states all across the south, have responded to the civil rights bill with amazing good sense and reasonableness. This reveals that we have come a long, long way. And I am absolutely convinced that the system of segregation is on its deathbed today, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly is how costly the segregationists will make the funeral. We have come a long, long way since 1896.
Now, this would be a very fine and good place for me to end my speech tonight. First, it would mean making a short speech, and this would be a magnificent accomplishment for a Baptist preacher. Second, it would mean that the problem is almost solved now and that we don’t have much to do. It would be a marvelous thing if speakers all over our country could talk about this problem in terms of the problem that once existed but that no longer has existence. But if I stopped at this point, I would be merely be stating a fact and not telling the truth. You know, a fact is merely the absence of contradiction but truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now, it is a fact that we have come a long, long way, but it isn’t the whole truth, and I am afraid that if I stop at this point, I would leave you the victims of a dangerous optimism and I will send you away victimized with an illusion wrapped in superficiality. So in order to tell the truth it is necessary to move on and not only say that we’ve come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved.
I don’t think I have to point this out too much. We need only open our newspapers and turn on our televisions, and we see with our own eyes that this problem is still with us. We can look around in our communities, wherever we live, and we will see it because no community in our country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood, and so if we will only look, we will only notice the developments in our nation, we will be objective enough and realistic enough and honest enough to know that we have a long, long way to go.
I mentioned that lynchings have about ceased, but other things are happening just as tragic. Civil rights workers are still being brutally murdered, simply because they are working for the ideals of justice and freedom. And we can never forget the fact, that not too long ago, four beautiful innocent, unoffending girls, Negro girls, were killed in the church of God on Sunday morning. We can never forget the fact that Medgar Evers was shot down in Jackson, Miss., not too long ago. We can never forget the fact that just this past summer, three civil rights workers were brutally murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., and to this day nothing has been done about it. This reveals that justice is far from a reality.
Down in Mississippi now they seem to have a new motto, not “attend the church of your choice” but “burn the church of your choice.” Since May of last year, more than 45 Negro churches have burned down in the state of Mississippi. This reveals that we are far from the goal of freedom, far from the goal of brotherhood.
I mentioned voter registration and the fact that we have about 2 million Negroes registered to vote in the South, and I guess this looks good on the surface, but we must see the other side. There are still approximately 10 million Negroes still living in the South, and about 6 million are of voting age. This means that there are 4 million Negroes in the southern part of the United States who are not registered to vote as voters. It is not merely because of apathy and complacency here and there. Many of these persons are not registered because all types of conniving methods are still being used to keep the Negro from becoming a registered voter. Complex literacy tests are still given, with questions that a person with a Ph.D. in any field couldn’t answer or a person with a law degree from the best universities in our nation couldn’t answer, to the even more difficult question of “how many bubbles do you find in a bar of soap.” They tell me they ask questions like that occasionally in some parts of Alabama and Mississippi. And then in many instances individuals are faced with threats of violence and outright acts of violence if they seek to register and if they seek to vote.
In the last few days my organization has been working in Selma, Ala., where we have centered the struggle mainly around the right to vote. And there is an accounting, For almost 16,000 Negroes, and only about 250 are registered to vote, not because they don’t want to register, but because the registrars absolutely refuse to register Negroes as voters. On Last Monday, we led more than 800 people down to the courthouse. Not a single one was registered. On Tuesday we led a similar number down, and they were only greeted with arrests from the brutal sheriff of Dallas County, and the same thing on Wednesday. And at the pace at which they are registering Negroes in Dallas County, it will take exactly 132 years to get half of the Negroes eligible to vote registered in that county. This is the pattern throughout most of the so-called Black Belt counties across the South.
If democracy is to be a reality, this problem must be solved. And I think now the time has come for the federal government to do much more than it has ever done or ever dreamed of doing to make justice a reality at the ballot box. I think the time has come for federal registrars to be posted in every county where Negroes cannot register. I think the time has come to make the process even more simple than that. If local registrars refuse to register Negroes, then some system must be set up where they can go directly to the post office and register. This falls under the domain of the president and of the federal government. Every obstacle must be removed if we are to have a healthy and mature democracy. Every obstacle must be moved that stands in the way of the Negro becoming a registered voter. And so we still have a long, long way to go in this area.
I mentioned economic justice, and I used the figure $28 billion, which sounds good and sounds large. But before we become too optimistic and complacent, let me give you some other figures, which tell us about a glaring gulf, a terrible gap that we still find in our society. Forty-two percent of the Negro citizens of our country, the Negro families of our country, still earn less than $2,000 a year, while just 17 percent of the white families earn less than $2,000 a year. Twenty-one percent of the Negro families of our country earn less than $1,000 a year, while six percent of the white families earn less than $1,000 a year. Eighty-eight percent of the Negro families of our country earn less than $5,000 a year, while just 58 percent of the white families earn less than $5,000 a year.
The problem is becoming even more difficult today because of a denial of educational opportunities, because of a denial of apprenticeship training in so many instances. We as a people have been limited to unskilled and semi-skilled labor by and large. Now a force known as automation or cybernation, scrapping some 40,000 jobs a week. The Negro is getting the double blow of outright discrimination on the one hand and the inevitable shifts taking place in our society as a result of automation. And I say if this problem is to be solved there must be massive retraining programs, massive public works programs, and this will be the way to somehow change the injustices that we see, and bring about the new adjustments necessary to survive in an automated society.
There is nothing more tragic than to build a society with a segment of people in that society who feel they have no stake in it, who feel that they have nothing to lose, who walk around the streets day in and day out with no jobs, who walk the streets day in and day out feeling that life is little more than a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. These are the people who will riot. These are the people who have lost a sense of hope and out of despair turn to the methods that we all abhor. And so economic justice must become a reality in order to meet and solve all of the social problems that we face today.
I mentioned the fact that segregation is gradually passing away. Here again I must mention the other side. It may be true as I implied, figuratively speaking, that Old Man Segregation is on his death bed, but history has shown that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power. The guardians of the status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. And so segregation is still with us. It is still confronted in certain places in the South in its glaring and conspicuous forms. And we still confront it all over the North in its hidden and subtle forms. The battle in the days ahead will be to remove these subtle forms. The battle will not be in the days ahead to integrate a lunch counter. It will be to deal with the hardcore problems of discrimination expressed in inadequate jobs, expressed in ghettoized and in inadequate housing, expressed in de facto segregation within the public schools. It will be much more difficult to deal with these problems. Until the job problem is solved, until the problem of housing discrimination is solved, until the problem of de facto segregation in the public schools is solved, we will still have a long, long way to go before the American dream becomes a reality.
So segregation is still with us. I am absolutely convinced that if democracy is to live, segregation must die. Racial segregation is a cancer in the body politic which must be removed before our moral health can be realized. And so the challenge ahead is to work passionately and unrelentingly to remove racial injustice from every area of our nation’s life. In order to do this, it will be necessary to develop a powerful, creative action program. This problem will not solve itself. It will not work itself out. Massive action programs will be necessary all over the nation in order to remove the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination.
Now if we are going to have this kind of massive action program that is necessary to solve the problem, we’ve got to get rid of one or two false notions that are disseminated around our nation, false ideas and myths that are constantly circulated.
Now, one is the myth of time. You’ve heard this idea. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem. It is the idea that we must somehow sit down comfortably by the wayside and wait on time. The individuals who believe in this constantly say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, “Just be nice and just be patient and don’t disturb the peace and just continue to pray, and in a hundred or 200 years the problem will just work itself out. Only time can solve the problem.”
I think there is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used either constrictively or destructively. I must honestly say to you tonight that I feel that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation, the forces committed to negative ends of our nation have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Ala., but for the appalling silence of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” Somewhere we must see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. We must help time, and we must constantly realize that the time is always right to do right.
Now, there is another myth that is constantly circulated. It is the notion that legislation really can’t solve this problem; it doesn’t really have a role. Of course, you’ve heard this: There are those individuals who say the main thing is to change the heart, and you can’t change the heart through legislation. I think there is an answer to that myth. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but 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 you cannot legislate integration but you can legislate desegregation. It may even be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. So while the law may not be able to change the hearts of men, it does the change the habits of men. When you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be change.
There is a need for strong civil rights legislation. I think there is a need for additional legislation on the federal level, particularly in the area of voter registration. I think there is a need for federal legislation to grapple with other issues in the housing area and others. But I think, even more, it is necessary for every state to have strong civil rights legislation, to deal with the problems I mentioned earlier, namely job discrimination, segregated housing and segregated educational facilities. There is a need for every state to have a strong FEPC (Fair Employment Practices Commission) bill; there is a need for every state to have a strong housing law outlawing discrimination in housing, and I think, with this kind of legislative thrust, we can see many, many changes in the future and this will help us a great deal to go this additional distance to make justice a reality.
Now along with all of this, it would be necessary to continue what we refer to as direct action against injustice, where individuals are willing to present their very bodies and their very lives in order to rectify the social evils that may engulf the community. And this is what we have seen across the past few years, powerful direct action programs that have brought about many changes all over the South and all over the United States. And, of course, I believe that this direct action program must be undergirded with a creative philosophy and a powerful method, namely the method of nonviolent resistance.
Now, I’d like to take a few minutes just to say a few words about nonviolence since it has been at the center of our struggle and has been the basic philosophical system that has undergirded our struggle, so to speak. May I say that I am still absolutely convinced that nonviolence is a most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. 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, and he just doesn’t know how to handle it. If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful. If he beats you, you’ll 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 to jail. But 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 there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for, and if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live. This is what the nonviolent discipline says, and I submit to you this evening that there is power here and there is something here that can change social situations.
There is another thing about nonviolence; it gives one ways to struggle to secure moral ends through moral means. One of the great debates of history, mainly through philosophical circles, has been over the whole question of ends and means. There have always been those who argue that the end justifies the means. This is where nonviolence would break with their idea that the end justifies the means because in the real sense, the end is preexistent in the means. The means represents the ideal and the making and the end in process. In the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends, and it is a marvelous thing to have a method of struggle which says that means and ends must cohere. The means that we use to get to the noble end of integration and brotherhood must be as pure as the end that we seek.
That is another thing about nonviolence; when one is true to it in its essence and true to it in its most genuine expression, that is that the love ethic stands at the center. In other words, it becomes possible to struggle against an unjust system and yet maintain an attitude of active good will toward the perpetrators of that unjust system. Now when I get to this point people always question me; they begin to say, “What in the world do you mean? How can you love people who are oppressing you and are seeking to destroy you and who would use to violence to block your just and legitimate aspirations?” I always have to stop and try to explain what I mean at this point, because when I talk about love I’m not talking about emotional bosh; I’m not talking about a weak sentimental, affectionate emotion. I’m talking about something much deeper. It would be nonsense for me or anybody to stand up and love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense.
Fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid at this point. There are three words in Greek for love. There is the word eros. Eros is a sort of aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his dialogues, a yearning in the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and in this sense we all know about eros, we have experienced it and read about it in all of the beauties of literature. In a sense Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he was talking about his beautiful Annabelle 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 it alteration finds or bends with a remover to remove. It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, it is a star to every wandering bark.” You know, I can remember it because I used to quote it to my wife when we were courting. That’s eros.
Then the Greek language talks about phileo, which is another level of love. On this level you love because you are loved. It is a reciprocal love. You love the people that you like, the people that you get along with. This is friendship. Then the Greek language comes out with the word agape. Agape is more than aesthetic or romantic love; agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to love on this level, he loves the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said “Love your enemies,” and I am happy he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because it is pretty difficult to like some people, and I must confess I find it hard some of the things that Sen. Eastland and Sen. Stennis and Sen. Thurmond and Gov. Wallace and Gov. Barnett are doing. I really find it difficult to like what they are doing and to like them, but Jesus said love them, and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all men. And when it becomes a great and powerful love, it becomes a demanding love which demands justice. It becomes a love that says in substance, “You are your brother’s keeper, and you have a moral responsibility to lead him from his evil ways.” And I think this is the kind of love ethic, I think this is the kind of attitude, that will help us rise from dark yesterdays to bright and noble tomorrows.
I think it will help those of us who have been on the oppressed end emerging with the right attitude. We will not seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage, thereby subverting justice. We will not seek to substitute one tyranny for another. We will know that a doctrine of black supremacy is as dangerous as the doctrine of white supremacy, and that God is not interested merely in the freedom of brown men and yellow men and black men; God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers, and every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality. So with hard, determined work, undergirded by a philosophy of nonviolence, I believe we will be able to go this additional distance in the days ahead.
If we are to solve this problem, men and women of good will, students all over this country must develop a sort of divine discontent. You know, there are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than other word in psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.”
Certainly we all want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must honestly say to you tonight, my friends, that there are some things in our nation and some things in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted, in which I call all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.
I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never intend to become adjusted to economic conditions which will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence, for 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 either nonviolence or nonexistence. The alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater 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.
So it may well be that our world is in dire need of a new organization, 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 could not survive half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could etch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights , and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”; as maladjusted as Jesus Christ, who could say to the men and women around the hills of Galilee, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you,” and who could go on to say, “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
And I say to you that I still have faith in America, and I have still have the faith to believe that we will solve this problem. We have the resources in this nation to solve it and I believe that gradually we are gaining the will to solve it, and that is developing a coalition of conscience on the question of racial injustice, and I would hope that in the days ahead, the forces of goodwill will work even harder in order to go this additional distance in order to make the brotherhood of man a reality all over America.
I know that there are still some difficult days ahead, that there is still much work to be done, and I know that some of us so often have to stand amid the surging movement of life’s restless sea, constantly face chilly winds of adversity, but in spite of this I still believe that we will solve this problem. Oh, every now and then it becomes difficult to believe it, but I will never lose that faith. Living every day amid the threat of death, living amid the agony of the tensions that inevitably come as a result of being on the front lines of the struggle, one is tempted to despair at moments, but we have a theme song in our movement, and I will continue to sing it because I believe it: “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. “
Now, before the victory’s won, some of us will have to get scarred up a bit, but we shall overcome. Before the victory is won, some more will be thrown into crowded and frustrating jail cells, but we shall overcome. Before the victory is won, some will be called bad names, some will be called Reds and Communists because they believe in the brotherhood of man, but we shall overcome. Before the victory is won, some more may have to face physical death, but if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children and their white brothers from an eternal psychological death and eternal death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive. Yes, we shall overcome, because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, no lie can live forever. We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, truth crushed to earth will rise again. We shall overcome because there is something in the very structure of the cosmos that justifies James Russell Lowell in saying, “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. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope; with this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children all over this nation, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the world of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”