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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Other America

Least We Forget

By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Information Clearing House
Friday, August 03, 2012

On 14 April 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his second
visit to Stanford's Memorial Auditorium.

On this occasion he delivered “The Other America,” an address
that calls everyone together to create a more just world.

Transcript

Members of the faculty and members of the student body of this
great institution of learning; ladies and gentlemen.

Now there are several things that one could talk about before such
a large, concerned, and enlightened audience. There are so many
problems facing our nation and our world, that one could just take
off anywhere.

But today I would like to talk mainly about the race problems since
I'll have to rush right out and go to New York to talk about Vietnam
tomorrow. and I've been talking about it a great deal this week and
weeks before that.

But I'd like to use a subject from which to speak this afternoon,
The Other America.

And I use this subject because there are literally two Americas.

One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this
America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the
honey of opportunity.

This America is the habitat of millions of people who have
food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture
and education for their minds; and freedom and human
dignity for their spirits.

In this America, millions of people experience every day the
opportunity of having life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
in all of their dimensions. And in this America millions of young
people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity.

But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America.

This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly
transforms the ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair.

In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets
daily in search for jobs that do not exist.

In this America millions of people find themselves living in
rat-infested, vermin-filled slums.

In this America people are poor by the millions. They find
themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the
midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

In a sense, the greatest tragedy of this other America is what it
does to little children. Little children in this other America are
forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in
their little mental skies.

As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted
hopes and shattered dreams. Many people of various backgrounds
live in this other America.

Some are Mexican Americans, some are Puerto Ricans, some are
Indians, some happen to be from other groups. Millions of them
are Appalachian whites. But probably the largest group in this
other America in proportion to its size in the Population is the
American Negro.

The American Negro finds himself living in a triple ghetto. A ghetto
of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery.

So what we are seeking to do in the Civil Rights Movement is to deal
with this problem. To deal with this problem of the two Americas.

We are seeking to make America one nation, Indivisible, with
liberty and justice for all.

Now let me say that the struggle for Civil Rights and the struggle
to make these two Americas one America, is much more difficult
today than it was five or ten years ago.

For about a decade or maybe twelve years, we've struggled all
across the South in glorious struggles to get rid of legal, overt
segregation and all of the humiliation that surrounded that
system of segregation.

In a sense this was a struggle for decency; we could not go to
a lunch counter in so many instances and get a hamburger or a
cup of coffee. We could not make use of public accommodations.

Public transportation was segregated, and often we had to sit
in the back and within transportation — transportation within
cities — we often had to stand over empty seats because sections
were reserved for whites only.

We did not have the right to vote in so many areas of the South.
And the struggle was to deal with these problems.

And certainly they were difficult problems, they were humiliating
conditions. By the thousands we protested these conditions.

We made it clear that it was ultimately more honorable to accept
jail cell experiences than to accept segregation and humiliation.

By the thousands students and adults decided to sit in at
segregated lunch counters to protest conditions there.

When they were sitting at those lunch counters they were in
reality standing up for the best in the American dream and
seeking to take the whole nation back to those great wells
of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers
in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration
of Independence.

Many things were gained as a result of these years of struggle.

In 1964 the Civil Rights Bill came into being after the Birmingham
movement which did a great deal to subpoena the conscience of
a large segment of the nation to appear before the judgment seat
of morality on the whole question of Civil Rights.

After the Selma movement in 1965 we were able to get a Voting
Rights Bill. And all of these things represented strides.

But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It's
more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine
equality.

It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee
a livable income and a good solid job.

It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to
guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions.

It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make
genuine, quality, integrated education a reality.

And so today we are struggling for something which says we
demand genuine equality.

It's not merely a struggle against extremist behavior toward
Negroes. And I'm convinced that many of the very people who
supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go
all the way now.

I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way. In Chicago
the last year where I've lived and worked. Some of the people
who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham
weren't active around Chicago.

And I came to see that so many people who supported morally
and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and
Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior
of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than
believing in genuine equality for Negroes.

And I think this is what we've gotta see now, and this is what
makes the struggle much more difficult.

So as a result of all of this, we see many problems existing
today that are growing more difficult. It's something that is
often overlooked, but Negroes generally live in worse slums
today than 20 or 25 years ago.

In the North schools are more segregated today than they were
in 1954 when the Supreme Court's decision on desegregation was
rendered.

Economically the Negro Is worse off today than he was 15 and 20
years ago. And so the unemployment rate among Whites at one
time was about the same as the unemployment rate among Negroes.

But today the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of
Whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than
Whites.

As we look at these problems we see them growing and developing
every day.

We see the fact that the Negro economically is facing a depression
in his everyday life that is more staggering than the depression of
the 30's.

The unemployment rate of the nation as a whole is about 4%.
Statistics would say from the Labor Department that among
Negroes it's about 8.4%.

But these are the persons who are in the labor market, who
still go to employment agencies to seek jobs, and so they
can be calculated. The statistics can be gotten because they
are still somehow in the labor market.

But there are hundreds of thousands of Negroes who have given
up. They've lost hope.

They've come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor for
them with no Exit sign, and so they no longer go to look for a job.

There are those who would estimate that these persons, who
are called the Discouraged Persons, these 6 or 7% in the Negro
community, that means that unemployment among Negroes
may well be 16%.

Among Negro youth in some of our larger urban areas it goes to 30
and 40%. So you can see what I mean when I say that, in the Negro
community, there is a major, tragic and staggering depression that
we face in our everyday lives.

Now the other thing that we've gotta come to see now that many of
us didn't see too well during the last ten years — that is that racism
is still alive in American society.

And much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see
racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior
race.

It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one
particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the
insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another
group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and
innately inferior.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is
genocide.

Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical
conclusion. He ended up leading a nation to the point of killing
about 6 million Jews.

This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide.

If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if
one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or
to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely
because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously
that I do not deserve to exist.

To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some
empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological
affirmation.

It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally
or otherwise because of environmental conditions.

It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior.
And this is the great tragedy of it.

I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and
admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. It is still
deeply rooted in the North, and it's still deeply rooted in the South.

And this leads me to say something about another discussion that
we hear a great deal, and that is the so-called "white backlash".

I would like to honestly say to you that the white backlash is
merely a new name for an old phenomenon.

It's not something that just came into being because of shouts
of Black Power, or because Negroes engaged in riots in Watts,
for instance.

The fact is that the state of California voted a Fair Housing bill
out of existence before anybody shouted Black Power, or before
anybody rioted in Watts.

It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts
and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences
of the white backlash rather than the cause of them.

What it is necessary to see is that there has never been a single
solid monistic determined commitment on the part of the vast
majority of white Americans on the whole question of Civil Rights
and on the whole question of racial equality.

This is something that truth impels all men of good will to admit.

It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles.
It doesn't take us long to realize that America has been the home
of its white exiles from Europe.

But it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern
for its black exiles from Africa.

It is no wonder that in one of his sorrow songs, the Negro could
sing out, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child."

What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a
people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their
lives.

What I'm trying to get across is that our nation has constantly taken
a positive step forward on the question of racial justice and racial
equality.

But over and over again at the same time, it made certain
backward steps. And this has been the persistence of the
so called white backlash.

In 1863 the Negro was freed from the bondage of physical slavery.
But at the same time, the nation refused to give him land to make
that freedom meaningful.

And at that same period America was giving millions of acres of
land in the West and the Midwest, which meant that America
was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an
economic floor that would make it possible to grow and develop,
and refused to give that economic floor to its black peasants, so
to speak.

This is why Frederick Douglas could say that emancipation for the
Negro was freedom to hunger, freedom to the winds and rains of
heaven, freedom without roofs to cover their heads.

He went on to say that it was freedom without bread to eat,
freedom without land to cultivate. It was freedom and famine
at the same time. But it does not stop there.

In 1875 the nation passed a Civil Rights Bill and refused to enforce
it. In 1964 the nation passed a weaker Civil Rights Bill and even to
this day, that bill has not been totally enforced in all of its
dimensions.

The nation heralded a new day of concern for the poor, for the
poverty stricken, for the disadvantaged. And brought into being a
Poverty Bill and at the same time it put such little money into the
program that it was hardly, and still remains hardly, a good skirmish
against poverty.

White politicians in suburbs talk eloquently against open housing,
and in the same breath contend that they are not racist.

And all of this, and all of these things tell us that America has
been backlashing on the whole question of basic constitutional
and God-given rights for Negroes and other disadvantaged groups
for more than 300 years.

So these conditions, existence of widespread poverty, slums, and
of tragic conniptions in schools and other areas of life, all of these
things have brought about a great deal of despair, and a great deal
of desperation.

A great deal of disappointment and even bitterness in the Negro
communities. And today all of our cities confront huge problems.

All of our cities are potentially powder kegs as a result of the
continued existence of these conditions. Many in moments
of anger, many in moments of deep bitterness engage in riots.

Let me say as I've always said, and I will always continue to say,
that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating.

I'm still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon
available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and
justice.

I feel that violence will only create more social problems than
they will solve.

That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even
think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States.

So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my
brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to
affirm that there is another way.

But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in
condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they
must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air.
Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be
condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.

But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And
what is it that America has failed to hear?

It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened
over the last few years.

It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have
not been met.

And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are
more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about
justice, equality, and humanity.

And so in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused
by our nation's winters of delay.

And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position
of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over
again.

Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot
prevention.

Now let me go on to say that if we are to deal with all of the
problems that I've talked about, and if we are to bring America
to the point that we have one nation, indivisible, with liberty
and justice for all, there are certain things that we must do.

The job ahead must be massive and positive. We must develop
massive action programs all over the United States of America
in order to deal with the problems that I have mentioned.

Now in order to develop these massive action programs we've got
to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our
society.

One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial
injustice. I'm sure you've heard this idea.

It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of
time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I've heard this over
and over again.

There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to
Negroes and their allies In the white community, that we should
slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray, and
in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself
out because only time can solve the problem.

I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is
neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively.

And I'm absolutely convinced that the forces of ill-will in our nation,
the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much
more effectively than the forces of good will.

And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation
not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent
actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and
indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on
time.

Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls
in on the wheels of inevitability.

It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work
of dedicated Individuals. And without this hard work time itself
becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.

And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is
always right to do right.

Now there's another notion that gets out, it's around everywhere.
It's in the South, it's in the North, it's In California, and all over our
nation.

It's the notion that legislation can't solve the problem, it can't do
anything in this area. And those who project this argument contend
that you've got to change the heart and that you can't change the
heart through legislation.

Now I would be the first one to say that there is real need for a
lot of heart changing in our country, and I believe in changing
the heart. I preach about it.

I believe in the need for conversion in many instances, and
regeneration, to use theological terms.

And I would be the first to say that if the race problem In America
is to be solved, the white person must treat the Negro right, not
merely because the law says it, but because it's natural, because
It's right, and because the Negro is his brother.

And so I realize that if we are to have a truly integrated society,
men and women will have to rise to the majestic heights of being
obedient to the unenforceable.

But after saying this, let me say another thing which gives the other
side, and that is that although it may be true that morality cannot
be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

Even though it may be true that the law cannot change the heart,
it can restrain the heartless.

Even though it may be true that the law cannot make a man love
me, it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that's pretty
important also.

And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it can and
it does change the habits of men.

And when you begin to change the habits of men, pretty soon the
attitudes will be changed; pretty soon the hearts will be changed.

And I'm convinced that we still need strong civil rights legislation.
And there is a bill before Congress right now to have a national or
federal Open Housing Bill. A federal law declaring discrimination in
housing unconstitutional.

And also a bill to make the administration of justice real all over
our country.

Now nobody can doubt the need for this. Nobody can doubt the
need if he thinks about the fact that since 1963 some 50 Negroes
and white Civil Rights workers have been brutally murdered in
the state of Mississippi alone, and not a single person has been
convicted for these dastardly crimes.

There have been some indictments but no one has been convicted.
And so there is a need for a federal law dealing with the whole
question of the administration of justice.

There is a need for fair housing laws all over our country. And it
is tragic indeed that Congress last year allowed this bill to die.

And when that bill died in Congress, a bit of democracy died,
a bit of our commitment to justice died. If it happens again
in this session of Congress, a greater degree of our commitment
to democratic principles will die.

And I can see no more dangerous trend in our country than
the constant developing of predominantly Negro central cities
ringed by white suburbs. This is only inviting social disaster.

And the only way this problem will be solved is by the nation
taking a strong stand, and by state governments taking a strong
stand against housing segregation and against discrimination in
all of these areas.

Now there's another thing that I'd like to mention as I talk about
the massive action program and time will not permit me to go
into specific programmatic action to any great degree.

But it must be realized now that the Negro cannot solve the
problems by himself.

There again, there are those who always say to Negroes, "Why don't
you do something for yourself? Why don't you lift yourselves by your
own bootstraps?" And we hear this over and over again.

Now certainly there are many things that we must do for ourselves
and that only we can do for ourselves. Certainly we must develop
within a sense of dignity and self-respect that nobody else can give
us.

A sense of manhood, a sense of personhood, a sense of not being
ashamed of our heritage, not being ashamed of our color.

It was wrong and tragic of the Negro ever to allow himself to be
ashamed of the fact that he was black, or ashamed of the fact
that his ancestral home was Africa. And so there is a great deal
that the Negro can do to develop self respect.

There is a great deal that the Negro must do and can do to amass
political and economic power within his own community and by
using his own resources.

And so we must do certain things for ourselves but this must not
negate the fact, and cause the nation to overlook the fact, that
the Negro cannot solve the problem himself.

A man was on the plane with me some weeks ago and he
came up to me and said, "The problem, Dr. King, that I
see with what you all are doing is that every time I see
you and other Negroes, you're protesting and you aren't
doing anything for yourselves."

And he went on to tell me that he was very poor at one time, and
he was able to make by doing something for himself. "Why don't
you teach your people," he said, "to lift themselves by their own
bootstraps?" And then he went on to say other groups faced
disadvantages, the Irish, the Italian, and he went down the line.

And I said to him that it does not help the Negro, it only deepens
his frustration, upon feeling insensitive people to say to him that
other ethnic groups who migrated or were immigrants to this
country less than a hundred years or so ago, have gotten beyond
him and he came here some 344 years ago.

And I went on to remind him that the Negro came to this country
involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily.

I went on to remind him that no other racial group has been a
slave on American soil.

I went on to remind him that the other problem we have faced
over the years is that this society placed a stigma on the color
of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black.

Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups.

And I finally said to him that it's a nice thing to say to people that
you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel
jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own
bootstraps.

And the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries
of denial and neglect, have been left bootless.

They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society.
And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the
Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs.

Now one of the answers it seems to me, is a guaranteed annual
income, a guaranteed minimum income for all people, and for
our families of our country.

It seems to me that the Civil Rights movement must now begin
to organize for the guaranteed annual income.

Begin to organize people all over our country, and mobilize forces
so that we can bring to the attention of our nation this need, and
this is something which I believe will go a long long way toward
dealing with the Negro's economic problem and the economic
problem which many other poor people confront in our nation.

Now I said I wasn't going to talk about Vietnam, but I can't make
a speech without mentioning some of the problems that we face
there because I think this war has diverted attention from civil
rights.

It has strengthened the forces of reaction in our country and
has brought to the forefront the military-industrial complex
that even President Eisenhower warned us against at one time.

And above all, it is destroying human lives. It's destroying the
lives of thousands of the young promising men of our nation.
It's destroying the lives of little boys and little girls In Vietnam.

But one of the greatest things that this war is doing to us in Civil
Rights is that it is allowing the Great Society to be shot down on
the battlefields of Vietnam every day.

And I submit this afternoon that we can end poverty in the United
States. Our nation has the resources to do it. The National Gross
Product of America will rise to the astounding figure of some $780
billion this year.

We have the resources:

The question is, whether our nation has the will, and I submit that
if we can spend $35 billion a year to fight an ill-considered war in
Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, our nation can
spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet
right here on earth.

Let me say another thing that's more in the realm of the spirit I
guess, that is that if we are to go on in the days ahead and make
true brotherhood a reality, it is necessary for us to realize more
than ever before, that the destinies of the Negro and the white
man are tied together.

Now there are still a lot of people who don't realize this.

The racists still don't realize this. But it is a fact now that
Negroes and whites are tied together, and we need each other.

The Negro needs the white man to save him from his fear.
The white man needs the Negro to save him from his guilt.

We are tied together in so many ways, our language, our music, our
cultural patterns, our material prosperity, and even our food are an
amalgam of black and white.

So there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment
that does not intersect white groups.

There can be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short
of social disaster.

It does not recognize the need of sharing that power with black
aspirations for freedom and justice.

We must come to see now that integration is not merely a
romantic or esthetic something where you merely add color
to a still predominantly white power structure. Integration
must be seen also in political terms where there is shared
power, where black men and white men share power together
to build a new and a great nation.

In a real sense, we are all caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

John Donne placed it years ago in graphic terms, "No man is an
island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a
part of the main."

And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man's death diminishes
me because I'm Involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."

And so we are all in the same situation: the salvation of the Negro
will mean the salvation of the white man. And the destruction of
life and of the ongoing progress of the Negro will be the destruction
of the ongoing progress of the nation.

Now let me say finally that we have difficulties ahead but I haven't
despaired. Somehow I maintain hope in spite of hope. And I've
talked about the difficulties and how hard the problems will be as
we tackle them.

But I want to close by saying this afternoon, that I still have faith
in the future. And I still believe that these problems can be solved.

And so I will not join anyone who will say that we still can't develop
a coalition of conscience.

I realize and understand the discontent and the agony and the
disappointment and even the bitterness of those who feel that
whites in America cannot be trusted. And I would be the first to say
that there are all too many who are still guided by the racist ethos.

And I am still convinced that there are still many white persons
of good will.

And I'm happy to say that I see them every day in the student
generation who cherish democratic principles and justice above
principle, and who will stick with the cause of justice and the cause
of Civil Rights and the cause of peace throughout the days ahead.

And so I refuse to despair. I think we're gonna achieve our freedom
because however much America strays away from the ideals of
justice, the goal of America is freedom.

Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up in
the destiny of America.

Before the pilgrim fathers landed at Plymouth we were here.

Before Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic
words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here.

Before the beautiful words of the Star Spangled Banner were
written, we were here.

For more than two centuries, our forebearers labored here
without wages. They made cotton king.

They built the homes of their masters in the midst of the
most humiliating and oppressive conditions.

And yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to grow
and develop.

And I say that if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery couldn't stop
us, the opposition that we now face, including the so-called white
backlash, will surely fail.

We're gonna win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of
our nation and the eternal will of the Almighty God are embodied
in our echoing demands.

And so I can still sing "We Shall Overcome."

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long
but it bends toward Justice.

We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, "No lie can live
forever."

We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, "Truth
crushed to earth will rise again."

We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, "Truth
forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that
scaffold sways the future."

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of
despair a stone of hope.

With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse
of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith, we will be able to speed up the 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 live
together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation.

That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow.

In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be
the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of
God will shout for joy.


Copyright © Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967

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