While most public remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr. highlight his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Few, other than historians and modern day civil rights activists, remember the phenomenal leader’s critical statements condemning war, capitalism, and the complicity of white moderates with racist structures.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
On MLK Day, teleSUR highlights some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most radical quotes that still urge people today to leave their comfort zones and work for change and justice.
1. On the Anti-War Movement
"Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: 'Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?' 'Why are you joining the voices of dissent?' 'Peace and civil rights don't mix,' they say. 'Aren't you hurting the cause of your people,' they ask?
And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.”
From the speech “A Time to Break Silence," delivered at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
2. On White Moderates and Progressives
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963
3. On Capitalism
And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”
Speech to SCLC, Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 16, 1967
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”
Speech to SCLC Board, March 30, 1967
4. On the Church
“Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to white ministers, most folded their hands — and some even took stands against us.
The white church, I’m sorry to say. Its leadership has greatly disappointed me. Let me hasten to say there are some outstanding exceptions. As one whose Christian roots go back through three generations of ministers — my father, grandfather and great-grandfather — I will remain true to the church as long as I live. But the laxity of the white church collectively has caused me to weep tears of love.
There cannot be deep disappointment without deep love. Time and again in my travels, as I have seen the outward beauty of white churches, I have had to ask myself, “What kind of people worship there? Who is their God? Is their God the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is their Savior the Savior who hung on the cross at Golgotha? Where were their voices when a Black race took upon itself the cross of protest against man’s injustice to man? Where were their voices when defiance and hatred were called for by white men who sat in these very churches?”
Interview with Alex Haley, 1965