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The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. - Clayborne Carson

Last updated Aug 29, 2023


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He is conscientious in all of his undertakings. Even the person who disagrees with his frankness has to admit that his motives and actions are sincere. He never hesitates to tell the truth and speak his mind, however cutting it may be. (Location 172)

He led the fight in Atlanta to equalize teachers’ salaries and was instrumental in the elimination of Jim Crow elevators in the courthouse. (Location 177)

My father never made more than an ordinary salary, but the secret was that he knew the art of saving and budgeting. (Location 182)

The church has always been a second home for me. As far back as I can remember I was in church every Sunday. (Location 194)

We were at the dinner table when the situation was discussed, and here for the first time I was made aware of the existence of a race problem. (Location 213)

That experience revealed to me at a very early age that my father had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience. I still remember walking down the street beside him as he muttered, “I don’t care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.” (Location 225)

I didn’t retaliate at any point; I wouldn’t dare retaliate when a white person was involved. I think some of it was part of my native structure—that is, that I have never been one to hit back. (Location 238)

I said to myself, “One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.” (Location 245)

I had also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice. (Location 266)

in a plant that hired both Negroes and whites. Here I saw economic injustice firsthand, and realized that the poor white was exploited just as much as the Negro. (Location 269)


The professors were not caught up in the clutches of state funds and could teach what they wanted with academic freedom. They encouraged us in a positive quest for a solution to racial ills. (Location 304)

Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On Civil Disobedience” (Location 307)

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. (Location 310)

my college training, especially the first two years, brought many doubts into my mind. It was then that the shackles of fundamentalism were removed from my body. (Location 333)


It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion that professes concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried. (Location 373)

Too often do educated ministers leave the people lost in the fog of theological abstraction, rather than presenting that theology in the light of the people’s experiences. (Location 382)

I see the preaching ministry as a dual process. On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that their societies may be changed. On the other I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change. (Location 398)

for as a Christian I believe that there is a creative personal power in this universe who is the ground and essence of all reality—a power that cannot be explained in materialistic terms. (Location 406)

I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. (Location 416)

Communism in theory emphasized a classless society, and a concern for social justice, though the world knows from sad experience that in practice it created new classes and a new lexicon of injustice. (Location 421)

capitalism can lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the materialism taught by communism. (Location 435)

My reading of Marx also convinced me that truth is found neither in Marxism nor in traditional capitalism. Each represents a partial truth. (Location 440)

Nineteenth-century capitalism failed to see that life is social and Marxism failed and still fails to see that life is individual and personal. (Location 441)

War, horrible as it is, might be preferable to surrender to a totalitarian system—Nazi, Fascist, or Communist. (Location 447)

The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. (Location 468)

I became so enamored of the insights of liberalism that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically everything that came under its name. (Location 485)

Liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. (Location 491)

there is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason. (Location 499)

My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil. (Location 517)

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart. (Location 519)

Niebuhr’s great contribution to theology is that he has refuted the false optimism characteristic of a great segment of Protestant liberalism. Moreover, Niebuhr has extraordinary insight into human nature, especially the behavior of nations and social groups. He is keenly aware of the complexity of human motives and of the relation between morality and power. His theology is a persistent reminder of the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence. (Location 523)

After reading Niebuhr, I tried to arrive at a realistic pacifism. In other words, I came to see the pacifist position not as sinless but as the lesser evil in the circumstances. (Location 530)

I felt that the pacifist would have a greater appeal if he did not claim to be free from the moral dilemmas that the Christian non-pacifist confronts. (Location 533)

in my recent seminary days, I was able to strengthen my spiritual life through communing with nature. The seminary campus is a beautiful sight, particularly so in the spring. And it was at this time of year that I made it a practice to go out to the edge of the campus every afternoon for at least an hour to commune with nature. (Location 554)


Personalistic philosophy—the theory that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality. This personal idealism remains today my basic philosophical position. (Location 588)

positive social philosophy. One of the main tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice. (Location 606)

William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” (Location 615)

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values—that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control. (Location 627)


I never will forget, the first discussion we had was about the question of racial and economic injustice and the question of peace. (Location 646)

After an hour, my mind was made up. I said, “So you can do something else besides sing? You’ve got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday.” (Location 648)

he had to suffer certain insults and even humiliation in order to survive in his community. The amazing thing is that he came through all of this with his courage undaunted, without becoming bitter. (Location 662)

But how else can we express the deep emotions of life other than in poetry? Isn’t love too ineffable to be grasped by the cold calculating hands of intellect? (Location 668)

like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness. (Location 674)

More than anyone else, she taught Coretta her moral and ethical values, not by what she said alone, but also by her example. (Location 684)

She saw the greatness of the movement and had a unique willingness to sacrifice herself for its continuation. (Location 691)


The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church had a rich history. Many outstanding ministers served there, including Dr. Vernon Johns. It was a very fine church with even greater possibilities. (Location 744)

one of my favorite operas—Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. (Location 749)

I said to myself over and over again, “Keep Martin Luther King in the background and God in the foreground and everything will be all right. Remember you are a channel of the gospel and not the source.” (Location 766)

I arose early on Sunday morning—a custom I follow every Sunday in order to have an hour of quiet meditation. (Location 770)

Finally we agreed that, in spite of the disadvantages and inevitable sacrifices, our greatest service could be rendered in our native South. We came to the conclusion that we had something of a moral obligation to return—at least for a few years. (Location 798)

I was convinced that worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God. (Location 835)

I continued to study hard as usual. I rose every morning at five-thirty and spent three hours writing the thesis, returning to it late at night for another three hours. (Location 839)

some of the most implacable and vehement advocates of racial equality are consecrated white persons. (Location 857)

Although the Council never had a large membership, it played an important role. As the only truly interracial group in Montgomery, it served to keep the desperately needed channels of communication open between the races. (Location 866)

Anyone who starts out with the conviction that the road to racial justice is only one lane wide will inevitably create a traffic jam and make the journey infinitely longer. (Location 873)


Through each of these mediums E. D. Nixon worked fearlessly to achieve the rights of his people, and to rouse the Negroes from their apathy. (Location 898)

I was filled with joy when I found so many of them there; for then I knew that something unusual was about to happen. (Location 911)

As a result of reading that article, I was forced for the first time to think seriously on the nature of the boycott method. Up to this time I had uncritically accepted this method as our best course of action. Now certain doubts began to bother me. (Location 931)

From this moment on I conceived of our movement as an act of massive noncooperation. From then on I rarely used the word “boycott.” (Location 944)

Students of Alabama State College were cheerfully walking or thumbing rides. Job holders had either found other means of transportation or made their way on foot. Men were seen riding mules to work, and more than one horse-drawn buggy drove the streets of Montgomery that day. (Location 963)

They knew why they walked, and the knowledge was evident in the way they carried themselves. (Location 967)

Coretta’s opposition probably resulted in one of the luckiest decisions of my life. For when the bus protest movement broke out, I would hardly have been able to accept the presidency of the Montgomery Improvement Association without lending weight to the oft-made white contention that the whole thing was an NAACP conspiracy. (Location 991)

This argument was so convincing that we almost resolved to end the protest. But we finally agreed to let the mass meeting—which was only about an hour off—be our guide. If the meeting was well attended and the people were enthusiastic, we would continue; otherwise we would call off the protest that night. (Location 1008)

this speech had evoked more response than any speech or sermon I had ever delivered, and yet it was virtually unprepared. I came to see for the first time what the older preachers meant when they said, “Open your mouth and God will speak for you.” (Location 1066)


from time to time strategic decisions would have to be made; we needed the best minds of the association to think them through and then make recommendations to the executive board. (Location 1108)

Knowing that Jemison and his associates had set up an effective private car pool, I put in a long-distance call to ask him for suggestions for a similar pool in Montgomery. (Location 1120)

The act of walking, for many, had become of symbolic importance. (Location 1137)

Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method. (Location 1168)

They thus drew a moral line between aggressive and retaliatory violence. But in spite of these honest disagreements, the vast majority were willing to try the experiment. (Location 1176)

I was the victim of an unwarranted pessimism because I had started out with an unwarranted optimism. (Location 1205)

I came to see that no one gives up his privileges without strong resistance. (Location 1207)

Not only was there a conscious attempt to raise questions about the integrity of the Negro leaders, and thereby cause their followers to lose faith in them, there was also an attempt to divide the leaders among themselves. (Location 1225)

Yoki and Beethoven, she said, kept her company when she was alone. (Location 1242)

The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. (Location 1337)

Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. (Location 1374)

We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. (Location 1394)

Coretta and I talked the matter over for several days and finally agreed that arms were no solution. (Location 1408)

We tried to satisfy our friends by having floodlights mounted around the house, and hiring unarmed watchmen around the clock. I also promised that I would not travel around the city alone. (Location 1409)

Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors. (Location 1412)


Many Negroes had gone voluntarily to the sheriff’s office to see if their names were on the list, and were even disappointed when they were not. (Location 1478)

Where there is true unity, every effort to disunite only serves to strengthen the unity. (Location 1500)

when a person lives with the fears of the consequences for his personal life he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving many of the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation. (Location 1507)

history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power. And the guardians of the status-quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. (Location 1525)

So I confront inequality on three levels: I confront aesthetic inequality; I confront inequality in the sense of a greater potential for the accumulation of bitterness; and I confront inequality in the sense that I can’t communicate with the person who was my seat mate.” (Location 1558)

As the Klan drove by, the Negroes behaved as though they were watching a circus parade. Concealing the effort it cost them, many walked about as usual; some simply watched from their steps; a few waved at the passing cars. After a few blocks, the Klan, nonplussed, turned off into a side street and disappeared into the night. (Location 1617)

We have seen truth crucified and goodness buried, but we have kept going with the conviction that truth crushed to earth will rise again. (Location 1635)

As we go back to the buses let us be loving enough to turn an enemy into a friend. We must now move from protest to reconciliation. (Location 1644)

Some perhaps feared what might happen when they began to ride the buses again the next day. Others had found a spiritual strength in sacrifice to a cause; now the sacrifice was no longer necessary. Like many consummations, this one left a slight aftertaste of sadness. (Location 1651)

Montgomery contributed a new weapon to the Negro revolution. This was the social tool of nonviolent resistance. It was a weapon first applied on the American scene and in a collective way in Montgomery. In that city too, it was honed well for future use. It was effective in that it had a way of disarming the opponent. It exposed his moral defenses. It weakened his morale, and at the same time it worked on his conscience. It also provided a method for Negroes to struggle to secure moral ends through moral means. (Location 1679)


The decline of agriculture and the parallel growth of industry had drawn large numbers of Negroes to urban centers and brought about a gradual improvement in their economic status. (Location 1786)

in a real sense, the racial crisis in America is a part of the larger world crisis. (Location 1813)

In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical. (Location 1834)


colonialism was made for domination and exploitation. It was made to keep a certain group down and exploit that group economically for the advantage of another. (Location 1906)

you will never learn how to swim until you get in the water. People have to have an opportunity to develop themselves and govern themselves. (Location 1940)


The lack of restraint upon violence in our society along with the defiance of law by men in high places cannot but result in an atmosphere which engenders desperate deeds. (Location 1999)


How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that of India’s 400 million people, more than 365 million make an annual income of less than sixty dollars a year? Most of these people have never seen a doctor or a dentist. (Location 2053)

there were others—perhaps the majority—who said that Westernization would bring with it the evils of materialism, cutthroat competition, and rugged individualism. (Location 2071)

Accordingly, each village would be virtually self-sufficient and would thus free itself from the domination of the urban centers that were like evil loadstones drawing the people away from the rural areas, concentrating them in city slums, and debauching them with urban vices. (Location 2090)

This is one of the few points in all the world where you can see the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon simultaneously. (Location 2112)

Gandhi criticized himself when he needed it. And whenever he made a mistake, he confessed it publicly. (Location 2122)

I’m convinced today that there would be a religion around Gandhi, if Gandhi had not insisted, all through his life: I don’t want a religion around me because I’m too human, I’m too fallible, never think I’m infallible. (Location 2124)

Gandhi went on and reached down in the river and brought up a little salt in his hands to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced over all the years with these salt laws. (Location 2130)

Gandhi said to his people: “If you are hit, don’t hit back; even if they shoot at you, don’t shoot back. If they curse you, don’t curse back. Just keep moving. Some of us might have to die before we get there. Some of us might be thrown in jail before we get there, but let’s just keep moving.” (Location 2132)

To them, as to me, it also suggested that nonviolent resistance when planned and positive in action could work effectively even under totalitarian regimes. (Location 2149)

True nonviolent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart. (Location 2153)

He said, “I will refuse to eat until the leaders of the caste system will come to me with the leaders of the untouchables and say that there will be an end to untouchability and the Hindu temples of India will open their doors to the untouchables.” (Location 2183)

In part, this change in climate was created through the moral leadership of the late Mahatma Gandhi. In part, it was the result of the Indian Constitution, which specified that discrimination against the untouchables is a crime, punishable by imprisonment. (Location 2194)

India won her independence, but without violence on the part of Indians. The aftermath of hatred and bitterness that usually follows a violent campaign was found nowhere in India. The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the way of nonviolence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community. (Location 2225)


A generation of young people has come out of decades of shadows to face naked state power; it has lost its fears, and experienced the majestic dignity of a direct struggle for its own liberation. These young people have connected up with their own history—the slave revolts, the incomplete revolution of the Civil War, the brotherhood of colonial colored men in Africa and Asia. (Location 2233)

I knew that I could not continue to live with such a tension-filled schedule. My whole life seemed to be centered around giving something out and only rarely taking something in. My failure to reflect would do harm not only to me as a person, but to the total movement. (Location 2266)

Jim Crow (Location 2286)

Our ultimate aim was not to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We had a moral obligation to remind him that segregation is wrong. (Location 2299)

The white Southern power structure, in an attempt to blunt and divert that effort, (Location 2318)

The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines. This courageous willingness to go to jail may well be the thing to awaken the dozing conscience of many of our white brothers. We are in an era in which a prison term for a freedom struggle is a badge of honor. (Location 2324)

It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. (Location 2329)

They brought to the courtroom wisdom, courage, and a highly developed art of advocacy; but most important, they brought the lawyers’ indomitable determination to win. (Location 2337)

truth and conviction in the hands of a skillful advocate could make what started out as a bigoted, prejudiced jury, choose the path of justice. (Location 2341)


I fear that there is a dearth of vision in our government, a lack of a sense of history and genuine morality. (Location 2346)

he didn’t have the emotional involvement then. He had not really been involved enough in and with the problem. He didn’t know too many Negroes personally. (Location 2376)

I must honestly say that we firmly believe that segregation is evil, and that our Southland will never reach its full potential and moral maturity until this cancerous disease is removed. (Location 2399)

The first thing he did was call my wife. She was pregnant, and this was kind of a rough experience for her, so he called her and expressed his concern. He said that he would do whatever he could and that he would think this over with his brother and try to use his influence to get me released. (Location 2444)

And I had known Nixon longer. He had been supposedly close to me, and he would call me frequently about things, seeking my advice. And yet, when this moment came, it was like he had never heard of me. (Location 2458)

With Mr. Kennedy, after I looked over his voting record, I felt at points that he was so concerned about being president of the United States that he would compromise basic principles to become president. But I had to look at something else beyond the man—the people who surrounded him—and I felt that Kennedy was surrounded by better people. (Location 2484)

After he became president I thought we really saw two Kennedys—a Kennedy of the first two years and another Kennedy emerging in 1963. He was getting ready to throw off political considerations and see the real moral issues. (Location 2493)


On that broad front, the Albany Movement used all the methods of nonviolence: direct action expressed through mass demonstrations; jail-ins; sit-ins; wade-ins, and kneel-ins; political action; boycotts and legal actions. (Location 2546)

Jail is depressing because it shuts off the world. It leaves one caught in the dull monotony of sameness. It is almost like being dead while one still lives. (Location 2611)

We had fasted all day Tuesday in order to prepare ourselves, spiritually, for the ordeals ahead. We broke the fast by eating breakfast. The food is generally good in this jail. (Location 2627)

We had witnessed persons being kicked off lunch counter stools during the sit-ins, ejected from churches during the kneel-ins, and thrown into jail during the Freedom Rides. But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail. (Location 2643)

We discussed how the Albany battle must be waged on all four fronts. A legal battle in the courts; with demonstrations and kneel-ins and sit-ins; with an economic boycott; and, finally, with an intense voter registration campaign. (Location 2705)

I thought the federal government could do more, because basic constitutional rights were being denied. (Location 2748)

Human beings with all their faults and strengths constitute the mechanism of a social movement. They must make mistakes and learn from them, make more mistakes and learn anew. They must taste defeat as well as success, and discover how to live with each. (Location 2777)

I’m sorry I was bailed out. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening. We lost an initiative that we never regained. We attacked the political power structure instead of the economic power structure. You don’t win against a political power structure where you don’t have the votes. (Location 2779)

The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. (Location 2781)

The people of Albany had straightened their backs, and, as Gandhi had said, no one can ride on the back of a man unless it is bent. (Location 2796)


If you believed your history books and thought of America as a country whose governing officials—whether city, state, or nation—are selected by the governed, you would be swiftly disillusioned when you tried to exercise your right to register and vote. (Location 2840)

In Connor’s Birmingham, the silent password was fear. It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. (Location 2851)

The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people. (Location 2854)

we decided that the most thorough planning and prayerful preparation must go into the effort. We began to prepare a top secret file which we called “Project C”—the (Location 2872)

After the first day we held a mass meeting, the first of sixty-five nightly meetings conducted at various churches in the Negro community. Through these meetings we were able to generate the power and depth which finally galvanized the entire Negro community. (Location 2928)

We did not hesitate to call our movement an army. It was a special army, with no supplies but its sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except its faith, no currency but its conscience. It was an army that would move but not maul. It was an army that would sing but not slay. (Location 2953)

There comes a time in the atmosphere of leadership when a man surrounded by loyal friends and allies realizes he has come face-to-face with himself and with ruthless reality. I was alone in that crowded room. (Location 3016)

“Friends,” I said, “I’ve made my decision. I have to make a faith act. (Location 3024)


In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. (Location 3114)

Nonvio-lent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. (Location 3137)

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. (Location 3140)

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Neibuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. (Location 3152)

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. (Location 3154)

For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” (Location 3156)

there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” (Location 3178)

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas: an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. (Location 3181)

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. (Location 3197)

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. (Location 3200)

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” (Location 3208)

law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. (Location 3220)

we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. (Location 3223)

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. (Location 3240)

Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” (Location 3274)

We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. (Location 3338)

I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. (Location 3353)

One day the South will recognize its real heros. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. (Location 3358)

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers? (Location 3366)


If our drive was to be successful, we must involve the students of the community. Even though we realized that involving teenagers and high school students would bring down upon us a heavy fire of criticism, we felt that we needed this dramatic new dimension. (Location 3393)

We taught them the philosophy of nonviolence. We challenged them to bring their exuberance, their youthful creativity, into the disciplined dedication of the movement. We found them eager to belong, hungry for participation in a significant social effort. (Location 3401)

when Birmingham youngsters joined the march in numbers, a historic thing happened. For the first time in the civil rights movement, we were able to put into effect the Gandhian principle: “Fill up the jails.” (Location 3424)

Somebody has to have some sense on this highway and if somebody doesn’t have sense enough to dim the lights, we’ll all end up destroyed on this highway.” (Location 3449)

I simply suggest that it was powerfully symbolic of shifting attitudes in the South that the majority of the white citizens of Birmingham remained neutral through our campaign. (Location 3471)

Whoever planted the bombs had wanted the Negroes to riot. They wanted the pact upset. (Location 3550)

But these factors only serve to emphasize the truth that even the segregationists know: The system to which they have been committed lies on its deathbed. The only imponderable is the question of how costly they will make the funeral. (Location 3585)


A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution. (Location 3625)


in 1963, a new Kennedy had emerged. He had found that public opinion was not in a rigid mold. American political thought was not committed to conservatism, nor radicalism, nor moderation. It was above all fluid. As such it contained trends rather than hard lines, and affirmative leadership could guide it into constructive channels. (Location 3884)

So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes. (Location 3903)


I came away strengthened in my conviction that an undifferentiated approach to white Southerners could be a grave error, all too easy for Negro leaders in the heat of bitterness. Later, it was Vice President Johnson I had in mind when I wrote in The Nation that the white South was splitting, and that progress could be furthered by driving a wedge between the rigid segregationists and the new white elements whose love of their land was stronger than the grip of old habits and customs. (Location 3994)

The legislature had joined the judiciary’s long line of decisions invalidating state-compelled segregation, and the office of the President with its great tradition of executive actions, including Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Roosevelt’s war decree banning employment discrimination, Truman’s mandate ending segregated Armed Forces units, and Kennedy’s order banning discrimination in federally aided housing. (Location 4005)

demonstrations have a creative effect on the social and psychological climate that is not matched by the legislative process. Those who have lived under the corrosive humiliation of daily intimidation are imbued by demonstrations with a sense of courage and dignity that strengthen their personalities. (Location 4011)


The Negroes in Mississippi had begun to learn that change would come in that lawless, brutal police state only as Negroes reformed the political structure of the area. They had begun this reform in 1964 through the Freedom Democratic Party. (Location 4088)

I decided that I had no alternative but to go on into Mississippi, because I had a job to do. If I were constantly worried about death, I could not function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility of death philosophically. (Location 4097)

The problems of poverty, urban life, unemployment, education, housing, medical care, and flexible foreign policy were dependent on positive and forthright action from the federal government. (Location 4163)


Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meaning can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart. (Location 4169)

We can join in the one form of nonviolent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa, the action which African leaders have appealed for: a massive movement for economic sanctions. (Location 4237)

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up. (Location 4253)

three problems which I considered as the largest of those that confront mankind: racial injustice around the world, poverty, and war. (Location 4286)

just as nonviolence has exposed the ugliness of racial injustice, we must now find ways to expose and heal the sickness of poverty—not just its symptoms, but its basic causes. (Location 4296)

the ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy. (Location 4324)


I think one must understand that Malcolm X was a victim of the despair that came into being as a result of a society that gives so many Negroes the nagging sense of “nobody-ness.” Just as one condemns the philosophy, which I did constantly, one must be as vigorous in condemning the continued existence in our society of the conditions of racist injustice, depression, and man’s inhumanity to man. (Location 4361)

But in his youth, there was no hope, no preaching, teaching, or movements of nonviolence. He was too young for the Garvey Movement, too poor to be a Communist—for (Location 4373)

The American Negro cannot afford to destroy its leadership. Men of talent are too scarce to be destroyed by envy, greed, and tribal rivalry before they reach their full maturity. (Location 4391)

# 26 SELMA

By all means, we cannot let them get the offensive. I feel they were trying to give the impression that they were orderly and that Selma was a good community because they integrated public accommodations. We have to insist that voting is the issue and here Selma has dirty hands. We should not be too soft. We have the offensive. We cannot let Baker control our movement. In a crisis, we needed a sense of drama. (Location 4488)

Long years of experience indicated to us that Negroes could achieve this goal when four things occured: nonviolent demonstrators go into the streets to exercise their constitutional rights; racists resist by unleashing violence against them; Americans of good conscience in the name of decency demand federal intervention and legislation; the administration, under mass pressure, initiates measures of immediate intervention and supports remedial legislation. (Location 4536)

We realized that we had to exercise extreme caution so that the direct-action program would not be conducted in a manner that might be considered provocative or an invitation to violence. (Location 4548)

To go forward recklessly can have terrible consequences in terms of human life and also can cause friends and supporters to lose confidence if they feel a lack of responsibility exists. On the other hand, it is ineffective to guarantee that no violence will occur by the device of not marching or undertaking token marches avoiding direct confrontation. (Location 4575)

as a matter of conscience, I felt it was necessary to seek a confrontation with injustice on Highway 80. I felt that I had a moral obligation to the movement, to justice, to our nation, to the health of our democracy, and above all to the philosophy of nonviolence to keep the march peaceful. I felt that, if I had not done it, the pent-up emotions would have exploded into retaliatory violence. (Location 4597)

This is additional proof that segregation knows no color line. It attempts to control the movement and mind of white persons as well as Negroes. When it cannot dominate, it murders those that dissent. (Location 4627)

We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Location 4682)

# 27 WATTS

The looting in Watts was a form of social protest very common through the ages as a dramatic and destructive gesture of the poor toward symbols of their needs. (Location 4797)

When people are voiceless, they will have temper tantrums like a little child who has not been paid attention to. And riots are massive temper tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people. (Location 4802)

Violence only serves to harden the resistance of the white reactionary and relieve the white liberal of guilt, which might motivate him to action, and thereby leaves the condition unchanged and embittered. (Location 4821)


I thought the great challenge facing the civil rights movement was to move into these areas to organize and gain identity with ghetto dwellers and young people in the ghetto. (Location 4897)

From this vantage point you saw only hundreds of children playing in the streets. You saw the light of intelligence glowing in their beautiful dark eyes. Then you realized their overwhelming joy because someone had simply stopped to say hello; for they lived in a world where even their parents were often forced to ignore them. (Location 4907)

Our society was only concerned that the aggressions thus generated did not burst outward. Therefore, our larger society had encouraged the hostility it created within slum dwellers to turn inward—to manifest itself in aggression toward one another or in self-destruction and apathy. (Location 4932)

Freedom is never voluntarily granted by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed. (Location 4958)

genuine peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice. (Location 4962)

Negroes cannot irrationally expect honorable Jews to curb the few who are rapacious; they have no means of disciplining or suppressing them. We can only expect them to share our disgust and disdain. (Location 5075)

Forsaken by society, they once proudly fought and lived for street gangs like the Vice Lords, the Roman Saints, the Rangers. I met these boys and heard their stories in discussions we had on some long, cold nights at the slum apartment I rented in the West Side ghetto of Chicago. (Location 5105)

They learned in Mississippi, and returned to teach in Chicago, the beautiful lesson of acting against evil by renouncing force. (Location 5119)


We left the room assuring him that we would conduct the march in his spirit and would seek as never before to expose the ugly racism that pervaded Mississippi and to arouse a new sense of dignity and manhood in every Negro who inhabited the bastion of man’s inhumanity to man. (Location 5151)

disappointment produces despair and despair produces bitterness, and that the one thing certain about bitterness is its blindness. Bitterness has not the capacity to make the distinction between some and all. (Location 5171)

I tried to make it clear that besides opposing violence on principle, I could imagine nothing more impractical and disastrous than for any of us, through misguided judgment, to precipitate a violent confrontation in Mississippi. We had neither the resources nor the techniques to win. (Location 5179)

Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create. (Location 5195)

the ability of Negroes and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready-made; it must be created by the fact of contact. (Location 5197)

to change Mississippi we’ve got to be together. We aren’t dealing with a force that has little power. We are dealing with powerful political dynasties, and somehow we must set out to be that David of Truth sent out against the Goliath of Injustice. (Location 5209)

“No one has ever heard the Jews publicly chant a slogan of Jewish power, but they have power. Through group unity, determination, and creative endeavor, they have gained it. (Location 5246)

“We must use every constructive means to amass economic and political power. This is the kind of legitimate power we need. We must work to build racial pride and refute the notion that black is evil and ugly. (Location 5249)

Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. (Location 5298)

power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Location 5301)

America power is unequally distributed. This has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through love and moral suasion devoid of power and white Americans to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience. (Location 5304)

It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times. (Location 5306)

We were certain that the program would end with the most original of all American music, the Negro spiritual. (Location 5351)

I wept within that night. I wept for my children and all black children who have been denied a knowledge of their heritage; I wept for all white children, who, through daily miseducation, are taught that the Negro is an irrelevant entity in American society; I wept for all the white parents and teachers who are forced to overlook the fact that the wealth of cultural and technological progress in America is a result of the commonwealth of inpouring contributions. (Location 5355)

As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable, when they looked out and saw more poverty, more school segregation, and more slums, despair began to set in. (Location 5369)

When hope dies, a revolution degenerates into an undiscriminating catchall for evanescent and futile gestures. (Location 5374)

Sometimes they talk of overthrowing racist state and local governments. They fail to see that no internal revolution has ever succeeded in overthrowing a government by violence unless the government had already lost the allegiance and effective control of its armed forces. (Location 5392)

I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time. (Location 5407)

Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. (Location 5410)

Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence. (Location 5413)

Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Many of our inner conflicts are rooted in hate. This is why the psychiatrists say, “Love or perish.” (Location 5423)


I went away for two months to do a lot of thinking, but basically to write a book. I had a chance to reflect, to meditate, and to think. (Location 5464)

I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you. (Location 5470)

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. (Location 5548)

the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” (Location 5552)

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. (Location 5556)

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. (Location 5570)

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. (Location 5599)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy. (Location 5602)

I have always insisted on justice for all the world over, because justice is indivisible. And injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Location 5619)

I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. (Location 5623)

You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice…. (Location 5629)

Yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul, but I heard the voice of Jesus saying, still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. (Location 5634)


Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. (Location 5784)


I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. (Location 5816)

so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered. (Location 5830)

And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. There’s a civil war going on. (Location 5843)

There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it. (Location 5852)

In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. (Location 5853)

When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity. (Location 5898)

The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. (Location 5939)

whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent. (Location 5963)

I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. (Location 5983)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Location 5988)

If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. (Location 5991)