Dr. Martin Luther King gave this speech in September 1960 at the Golden Anniversary conference of the National Urban League. In this speech, King discusses the growing self-respect and a new sense of dignity that African Americans were feeling. He attributed the following as factors in this new sense of self for African Americans: 1) a population shift from rural to urban life due to the rise of the automobile, two World Wars, the Great Depression and new communication methods. 2) Due to the rapid advancements in education, literacy rates increased from only 5% at Emancipation versus 95% in 1960, allowing African Americans to see a larger view of themselves and of the world. 3) A gradual improvement in the economic status of African Americans. 4) The Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools. And 5) the awareness of the worldwide struggle for dignity by lots of people – African Americans are not alone in their struggles. (145-46)

King continues to explain that African Americans “would rather suffer in dignity than accept segregation in humiliation.” (146) He forewarned that America’s price for continuing oppression is her own destruction if people keep using old arguments based on social and cultural grounds to continue the oppression of African Americans. Half-truths and twisted arguments can no longer work in keeping segregation on the books. King reminded that racial discrimination is morally wrong, comparing discrimination to a cancerous disease that was a national problem. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (147)

Concluding this speech, King discusses that two fronts need to be attacked in order to for African Americans to have first-class citizenship and that African Americans must assume the responsibility for making it happen. The first front is breaking down the barrier of segregation and racial discrimination. This needs to be accomplished with nonviolence, passive resistance, or plain old Christian love, ultimately winning the white man’s understanding and friendship, allowing the broken community to be reformed. King sums up the message with “we will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act.” (149) The second front that African Americans need to deal with is increasing their personal standards; the need to back away from the conditioning of segregation. Folks need to regain their initiative and rise above mediocrity.

While I enjoyed the message and reading the various speeches, I felt this one clearly explained the steps that need to be followed in order to rise above segregation and open the doors for full citizenship and economic status. No where does King mention that the path will be easy but that with perseverance, love, and support, first-class citizenship for African Americans will happen.

Advertisements