Last week I was searching for a new book to read and stumbled upon The Essential Martin Luther King, Jr. — on sale for less than a latte. And I realized, I’ve never actually read King’s writing before. The fact that I never encountered even one of his speeches during all my years of education seems somewhat shocking. So I decided, what the hey, it’s on sale.
It comes as no surprise, but King was a great writer. This book collects a series of his speeches, ranging from the years 1956 to 1968. It includes the well-known ones — “I Have a Dream”, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, “Eulogy for the Martyred Children” — and a lot of others, ranging on topics from segregation, education, India, nonviolent resistance, and the Vietnam War. All, of course, have one universal theme in common: civil rights.
When I read “I Have a Dream”, I closed my eyes and imagined standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the sun warming my face, as I looked out at the Washington Monument from the exact spot where King delivered his now famous speech. King’s words inspire you to think, to pause, to reflect on what you are doing for the greater good. They’re also relevant — civil rights are still an issue in this country (and, oh hey, the world at large). Today being Martin Luther King Day, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite passages from the book so far.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. –“A Time to Break Silence“
There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. —“The Social Organization of Nonviolence“
Whatever career you may choose for yourself — doctor, lawyer, teacher — let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in. –“Speech Before the Youth March for Integrated Schools“
I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. –“I Have a Dream“