by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Every man lives in
two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of
spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external
is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by
means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal
to become lost in the external…
This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes
modern man’s chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which
grow out of man’s ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing
to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and
The first problem
that I would like to mention is racial injustice. The struggle to eliminate the
evil of racial injustice constitutes one of the major struggles of our time.
The present upsurge of the Negro people of the United States grows out of a
deep and passionate determination to make freedom and equality a reality “here”
and “now”. In one sense the civil rights movement in the United States is a
special American phenomenon which must be understood in the light of American
history and dealt with in terms of the American situation. But on another and more
important level, what is happening in the United States today is a relatively
small part of a world development.
…What we are seeing now is a freedom explosion, the realization
of “an idea whose time has come”, to use Victor Hugo’s phrase3. The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is
the thunder of disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to the
bright hills of freedom, in one majestic chorus the rising masses singing, in
the words of our freedom song, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.”4All over the world, like a fever, the freedom movement
is spreading in the widest liberation in history. The great masses of people
are determined to end the exploitation of their races and land.
These developments should not surprise any student
of history. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for
freedom eventually manifests itself…Fortunately,
some significant strides have been made in the struggle to end the long night
of racial injustice. We have seen the magnificent drama of independence unfold
in Asia and Africa. Just thirty years ago there were only three independent
nations in the whole of Africa. But today thirty-five African nations have
risen from colonial bondage. In the United States we have witnessed the gradual
demise of the system of racial segregation.
that progress is being made was found in the recent presidential election in
the United States. The American people revealed great maturity by overwhelmingly
rejecting a presidential candidate who had become identified with extremism,
racism, and retrogression8. The voters of our nation rendered a telling blow to the
radical right9. They defeated (in a nonviolence movement) those
elements in our society which seek to pit white against Negro and lead the
nation down a dangerous Fascist path.
as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not
unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results.
Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of
temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social
problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is
impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It
is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his
understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral
because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes
brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.
Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and
brutality in the destroyers.
nonviolent resisters can summarize their message in the following simple terms:
we will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of
governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust
laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly,
cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence
because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade
with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.
We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to
suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as
we see it.
Let me not leave you
with a false impression. The problem is far from solved. We still have a long,
long way to go before the dream of freedom is a reality for the Negro in the
United States. To put it figuratively in biblical language, we have left the
dusty soils of Egypt and crossed a Red Sea whose waters had for years been
hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance. But before we
reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and
bewildering wilderness ahead.
second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous
octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages
all over the world…There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is
that we have the resources to get rid of it. More than a century and a half ago
people began to be disturbed about the twin problems of population and
production. A thoughtful Englishman named Malthus wrote a book13 that set
forth some rather frightening conclusions. He predicted that the human family
was gradually moving toward global starvation because the world was producing
people faster than it was producing food and material to support them. Later
scientists, however, disproved the conclusion of Malthus, and revealed that he
had vastly underestimated the resources of the world and the resourcefulness of
too many years ago, Dr. Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book
entitled Enough and to Spare14. He set forth the
basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today,
therefore, the question on the agenda must read: Why should there be hunger and
privation in any land, in any city, at any table when man has the resources and
the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of
time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must
use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the
unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate
third great evil confronting our world is that of war. Recent events have
vividly reminded us that nations are not reducing but rather increasing their
arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The best brains in the highly
developed nations of the world are devoted to military technology. The
proliferation of nuclear weapons has not been halted, in spite of the Limited
Test Ban Treaty16.
man’s proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience
should tell us that war is obsolete…f we assume that life is worth living and
that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. In a
day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles
carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory
in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy
of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment. A world
war – God forbid! – will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a
human race whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death. So if modern man
continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly
habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
I venture to suggest to all of you and all who hear and may eventually read
these words, that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately
a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human
conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations. It is, after
all, nation-states which make war, which have produced the weapons which
threaten the survival of mankind, and which are both genocidal and suicidal in
will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough
to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for
it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the
positive affirmation of peace.
All that I have said
boils down to the point of affirming that mankind’s survival is dependent upon
man’s ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty, and war; the
solution of these problems is in turn dependent upon man squaring his moral
progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living
in harmony. Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a
list of suggested story plots for future stories, the most prominently
underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in
which they have to live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind. We
have inherited a big house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together
– black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and
Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and
interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn,
somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.
This means that more and more our loyalties must become
ecumenical rather than sectional. We must now give an overriding loyalty to
mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies.
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.
Excerpt from the Nobel Peace Prize 1964 Lecture