Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: 'To carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair'

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:


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  • Source: Library of Congress




  • Source: Library of Congress




  • Source: Library of Congress Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28. 1963.




  • Source: Library of Congress President Lyndon B. Johnson accepts the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following the president's signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.




Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed on Monday, Jan. 21, in recognition of the civil rights leader's contributions and service to the nation.

What follows are excerpts from speeches King delivered in 1957, 1963 and 1967. It is no surprise that these words resonate in 2019.

Give Us the Ballot“Give Us the Ballot” is a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. advocating voting rights for African Americans in the United States. King delivered the speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1957. Here is an excerpt:

Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights ...

Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law ...

Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will ...

Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy ...

Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education).”

The Walk to FreedomMartin Luther King Jr. delivered a precursor speech of “I Have a Dream” on June 23, 1963, at The Walk to Freedom in Detroit, Michigan. It drew crowds of an estimated 125,000 or more and was known as “the largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history” up to that date. Here is an excerpt:

Almost one hundred and one years ago, on September the 22nd, 1862, to be exact, a great and noble American, Abraham Lincoln, signed an executive order, which was to take effect on January the first, 1863. This executive order was called the Emancipation Proclamation and it served to free the Negro from the bondage of physical slavery.

But one hundred years later, the Negro in the United States of America still isn’t free.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination."

And so we must say, now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to transform this pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our nation. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of racial justice.”

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

And so this afternoon, I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day, right down in Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to live together as brothers.

I have a dream this afternoon that one day, one day little white children and little Negro children will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters.

I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children, that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words of Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every valley shall be exalted, and every hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

And with this faith I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair.

With this faith, I will go out with you and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

With this faith, we will be able to achieve this new day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

Beyond VietnamOn April 4, 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New Jersey condemning the Vietnam War. Declaring “my conscience leaves me no other choice,” King described the war’s deleterious effects on both America’s poor and Vietnamese peasants and insisted that it was morally imperative for the United States to take radical steps to halt the war through nonviolent means. Here is an except from “Beyond Vietnam:”

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.

We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.

So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.

So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

King would be assassinated exactly one year later in Memphis, Tennessee.






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