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tv   U.S. Senate - MLK Letter  CSPAN  April 14, 2019 6:45pm-7:55pm EDT

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this past tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators led by alabama democrat doug jones, mark the anniversary of martin luther king junior's letter from jail, which he wrote in 1963. joining senator jones were ted cruz and lisa murkowski. and kamala harris and tim kaine. dr. mario the king was
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arrested in birmingham, alabama. crime, protesting in the jim crow era. he violated birmingham public ban oncommissioner's public demonstrations, which targeted the growing resistance of african-americans to the injustices they were suffering. in solitary confinement in birmingham, dr. king what became -- wrote what became known as a letter from a birmingham jail. to a groupresponse of white clergy in alabama who had denounced his tax xcom and questioned the wisdom and timing of his arrival in birmingham. they insisted that he was an outside agitator coming to alabama to instigate trouble. dr. king responded famously, injustice, anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. in his letter he rejected the
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idea that african american should be more patient for change. in the face of the daily indignities inflicted by segregation. in the face of violence and threats and intimidation. there comes a time, he wrote, when the cup of endurance runs over. while i did not experience this struggle as a young child, a young white child growing up in a nearby birmingham suburb, i spent much of my adult life and career as a lawyer, and former united states attorney examining the history and absorbing its lessons. i have often returned to dr. kings letter, to understand the forces at play and the height of the civil rights shrug all. each time i read his words i am in ah of his courage and resolve in the face of such personal risk. while we have come so far, and while we have made great
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progress in loosening the binds of racial injustice, have constrained our nation for so many years, we are not yet fully relieved the weight of our country's abdominal history of slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination. as our why i rise today, civic duty, i believe our moral obligation to remember dr. king's words and his deeds to tell his story. to appreciate that 1963 was not all that long ago. to reflect on how many things have changed, and how many have not. our obligation is to honor dr. king's legacy by joining him in envisioning the mounting top, and working to make real his famous dream that our nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed. "we hold these truths to be self
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evident, that all men are created equal." that is why we rise today. dr. king saw an america that had the potential to lift up to its lofty ideals, where every man, woman, and child had an equal opportunity to succeed and to live life free from discrimination. he saw the good in our country. what it would have been easier for him to see the bad, that positive spirit and clarity of vision that made his legacy so enduring. president, we would honor that legacy by reading the letter from the birmingham jail in its entirety in the senate chamber. i am honored to be joined today by martin luther king the third, who is in the gallery. the oldest son of dr. king and kuroda scott king. as well as my old friend charles steele, the president of the southern christian leadership conference and reverent.
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together, they are at the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, and personally carry on the legacy that dr. king bequeathed us. severaly grateful that of my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle will stand with me to read portions of the letter today. i want to thank senators lamar alexander of tennessee, ted cruz of texas, kamala harris of california, tim kaine of virginia, and lisa murkowski of alaska for participating in this historic reading today. i urged the rest of our theeagues, and anyone in gallery and anyone watching on television at home that we might still learned today from this powerful message about justice and freedom from oppression. and the indifference of people who stand idly by when their fellow americans are persecuted. to begin the reading of the letter i would like to yield to
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my colleague in tennessee, my friend senator alexander. president. >> senator from tennessee. lexander: i think the senator from alabama for including me in the reading of the letter from dr. king from jail. he is not doing this just because he is from alabama, but because of his work as united states attorney and prosecuting klansman who blew up a church killing little children. thisor jones said that all was not too long ago. it was not too long ago for me. day on august 28, 1963, i was a student at pat time -- at that time with an internship in the united states department of justice. was a hot summer day in the
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streets were filled with a march on washington. that iabout lunchtime went outside and went into that crowd and i heard a booming voice from a man who was standing on the steps of the lincoln memorial. that he hopedrds that his four little children would one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, i am not sure at that time or that age that i understood what i was seeing and hearing. but i was hearing dr. king with his "i have a dream" speech. in 1962, i hadr, been a senior at vanderbilt university. it was not that want to go. a lot has changed since then. vanderbilt, a prestigious institution, was just
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desegregating its undergraduate school in that year. i was a part of that effort. even then, black americans could not go to the same restrooms, stay in the same motel's, go to the same bathrooms, even then. it was not that long ago. four months before i heard dr. 1963 heak in august of wrote a letter from the birmingham jail. the 16th of april, 1963. -- myar fellow clergymen dear fellow clergymen, this was his letter. birminghamined in a city jail, a came across your statement calling my present activity unwise and untimely. seldom do i pause to answer critics of my work and ideas. if i sought to answer all the criticisms that crossed my desk,
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my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and i would have no time for constructive work. but since i feel that you are men of genuine good will, and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, i want to try to answer your statement and what i hope would be patient and reasonable terms." went on toletter say. "i think i should indicate why i am here in birmingham. since you have been influenced by the view which argues against outsiders coming in. honor of serving as president of the southern christian leadership conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in atlanta, georgia. we have some 85 affiliated agents across the south. one of them is the alabama christian movement for human
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rights. frequently, we share staff. it is occasional financial resources with our affiliates. theral months ago affiliates here in birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. we readily consented. when the hour came, we lived up to our promise. along with several members of my staff are here because i was invited here. i am here because i have organizational ties here. but more basically, i am in birmingham because in justice is here -- in justice is here. just as the profits of the eighth century before christ left their villages and carried them far beyond the boundaries of their hometown. just as the apostle paul left his village and carried that
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hospital of jesus christ to the far corners of the roman world, so am i compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. constantlyi am as responding to the macedonian call for aid. moreover, i am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. i cannot sit idly by in atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in birmingham. ce anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. inexcusablet in an network of mutuality. tied at a single garment of destiny. whatever affects one, directly affects all, directly. never again can we afford to live with a narrow provincial
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outside agitator idea. anyone who lives inside the united states can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. you deplore the demonstrations taking place in birmingham. but your statement, i am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. " letter continues. "i am sure none of you would want to rest content with the superficial analysis that deals with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. it is unfortunate the demonstrations are taking place in birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the negro community with no alternative. in any nonviolent campaign there
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are four basic steps. collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist. negotiation. self purification. and direct action. we have gone through all the steps in birmingham. sayingan be no gain the fact that racial injustice engulfs the community. birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the united states. it's ugly record of brutality is widely known. s have experienced unjust treatment in the course. there have been more unsolved homes andf negro churches in birmingham than in any other city in the nation. these are the hard, brutal facts of the case. on the basis of these conditions, negro leaders stopped to negotiate with the
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city fathers. but the latter refused to engage in good faith negotiations." king's letter continues. "then, last september came the opportunity to talk with the leaders of birmingham's economic community. in the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants. for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. on the basis of these promises, the reverend fred shuttlesworth and the leaders of the alabama christian movement for human rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. as the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. renewed -- briefly removed, returned. the others remained. as in so many other past experiences, our hopes had been blessed, and the shadow of deep
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disappointment settled upon us. we had no alternative except to prepare for direct action. present ourould very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the conscience of the local and national community. mindful of the difficulties toolved, we decided undertake a process of self purification. we began a series of workshops on nonviolence. we repeatedly asked ourselves, are you able to accept blows without retaliating? are you able to into her the ordeal of jail? dr. king's letter continues. ourecided to schedule direction action program for the easter season, realizing that except for christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear
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on the merchants for the needed change. then it occurred to us that birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in march, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. when we discovered that the commissioner of public safety, eugene bull conner, had piled up enough votes to be in the runoff, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the runoff so that the demonstration could not be used to cloud the issues. dr. king continues -- like many others, we waited to see mr. conner defeated, and to this end, we endured postponement after postponement. having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.
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i yield the floor to the senator from california, senator harris. sen. harris: thank you to the great senator from tennessee. and dr. king continues -- you may well ask why direct action? why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? isn't negotiation a better path? you are quite right in calling for negotiation. indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. nonviolent 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 so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. my citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking, but i must confess that i am not
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afraid of the word tension. i have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. 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. the purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
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i therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. too long has our beloved southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue. one of the basic points in your statement is that the action that i and my associates have taken in birmingham is untimely. some have asked why didn't you give the new city administration time to act? the only answer i can give to this inquiry is that the new birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one before it it will act. we are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of albert boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to birmingham. while mr. boutwell is a much more gentle person than mr. conner, they are both
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segregationists, dedicated to the maintenance of the status quo. i have hope that mr. boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation, but he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. my friends, i must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. lamentably, it is a 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 niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
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we know from experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. it must be demanded by the oppressed. frankly, i have yet -- by the oppressed. frankly, i have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well-timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. 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. we have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and god-given rights.
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the nations of asia and africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say wait. but when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim, when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters, when you see the vast majority of your 20 million
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negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society, when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your 6-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that funtown is closed to colored children and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people, when you have to
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concoct an answer for a 5-year-old son who is asking daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean? when you have to take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you, when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored, when your first name becomes a racial slur and your middle name becomes boy, however old you are, and your last name becomes john, and your wife and mother are never given the respected
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title "mrs.," when you are harryied by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments, when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodyness, then you will understand why i find it difficult to wait. i'd now like to yield to my colleague, senator cruz, from texas. sen. cruz: thank you, madam president. >> the senator from texas. sen. cruz: madam president, dr. king's profoundly just and moral letter from a birmingham jail continued. there comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
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i hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. you express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. this is certainly a legitimate concern. since we so diligently urge people to obey the supreme court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. one may well ask how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? the answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws --tt 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.
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conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. i would agree with saint augustine that an unjust law is no law at all. now, what is the difference between the two? how does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? 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 st. thomas aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. any law that uplifts human personality is just. any law that degrades human
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personality is unjust. all segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. it gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregateed a false sense of inferiority. segregation, to use the terminology of the jewish philosopher martin buber i-ittutes an relationship for an i-thou relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. hence, segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. paul tillich has said that sin is separation.
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is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful he -- awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? thus it is that i can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the supreme court for it is morally right, and i can urge them to disobey segregation ordinance -- ordinances for they are morally wrong. let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. an unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. this is difference made legal. by the same token, a just law is
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a law that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. this is sameness made legal. let me give another explanation. a law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. who can say that the legislature of alabama, which set up that state's segregation laws, was democratically elected? throughout alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single negro is registered. can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered
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democratically structured? sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. for instance, i have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. now, there is nothing wrong with having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. but such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the first amendment privilege to peacefullably assemble and protest. i hope you are able to see the distinction i am trying to point out. 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
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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. of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. it was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of shadrach, meshach, and abedego, to obey the laws of nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. it was practiced superbly by the early christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than
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submit to certain unjust laws of the roman empire. to a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because is a -- because socrates practiced civil disobedience. in our own nation, the boston tea party represented a massive act of civil disobedience. we should never forget that everything that adolf hitler did andermany was "legal" everything the hungarian freedom fighters did in hungary was open ." it wasllegal "illegal" to aid and comfort a jew in hitler's germany. even so, i am sure that, had i lived in germany at the time, i
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would have aided and comforted my jewish brothers. if today i lived in a communist country where certain principles dear to the christian faith are suppressed, i would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws. i must make two honest confessions to you, my christian and jewish brothers. first, i must confess that over the past few years i have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. i have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the white citizen's counselor or the ku klux klaner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of
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tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, i agree with you in the goal you seek, but i cannot agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically believes that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises to negro league -- the negro wait for a "more convenient season." shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. i had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice
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and that when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. i had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the south is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace in which the negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. actually, 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. we bring it out in the open,
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where it can be seen and dealt with. like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. madam speaker, i yield the yield to the senator from the virginia. >> i thank the senator. >> senator from virginia. >> in your statement, you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.
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but is this a logical assertion? isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? isn't this like condemning socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? isn't this like condemning jesus because his unique god consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to god's will precipitated the evil act of crucifix? -- crucifixion? we must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. i had also hoped that the white
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moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. i have just received a letter from a white brother in texas. he writes "all christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a really -- a religious harry -- hurry. it has taken christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. the teachings of christ take time to come to earth." such an attitude steams from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. more and more i feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.
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we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with god, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. we must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity. you speak of our activity in birmingham as extreme. at first i was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my
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nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. i began thinking about the fact that i stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the negro community. one is a force of complacency, made up in part of negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense somebodiness that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part a few middle-class negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and because in some case they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. the other force is one of bitterness and hatred and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. it is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best being elijah muhammad's muslim movement. nourished by the negro frustration over the continued existence of racial
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discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in america, who have absolutely repudiated christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrespondent eligible -- an incorrigible devil. i have tried to stand between these two forces saying that we need emulate near the the do -- emulate neither, the nothingism of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. for there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. i am grateful to god that, through the influence of the negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. if this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the south would, i am convinced, be flowing with blood. and i am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as rabble-rousers and outside agitators those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if
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they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist dialogue -- black nationalist ideologies, a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare. oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. the yearning for freedom eventually man i fests itself, and that is what has happened to the american negro. something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the diet -- site christ and with his black brothers of africa and his brown and yellow brothers of asia, south america and the caribbean, the united states negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the
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promised land of racial justice. if one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. the negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. so let them march. let him make prayer probe -- prayer pilgrimages to the city hall. let him go on freedom rides. and try to understand why he must do so. if his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. so i have not said to my people, get rid of your discontent. rather, i have tried to say that this is normal and healthy , discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. and now this approach is being termed extremist.
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but though i was initially disappointed as being categorized as an extremist as i continued to think about the matter, i gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. was not jesus an extremist for love? love your enemies. bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. was not amos an extremist for justice? let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. was not paul an extremist for the christian gospel? i bear in my body the marks of the lord jesus. was not martin luther an extremist? here i stand, i cannot do otherwise, so help me god. and john bunyan, i will stay in jail to the end of my days before i make a butchery of my conscience.
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and abraham lincoln, this nation cannot survive half slave and half free. and thomas jefferson, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. so the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. will we be extremists for hate or for love? will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? in that dramatic scene on calvary's hill, three men were crucified. we must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime, the crime of extremism. two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. the other, jesus christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. perhaps the south, the nation , and the world are in dire need
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of creative extremists. i yield to the senator from alaska. >> i had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. perhaps i was too optimistic. perhaps i expected too much. i suppose i should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. i am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the south have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. they are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. some, such as ralph mcgill, lillian smith, harry golden, james mcbride dabbs, ann
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bradden, and sarah patton boyle, some have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. others marched with us down nameless streets of the south. they have languished in filthy , roach-infested jails suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as dirty expletive lovers. unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful action antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. let me take note of my other major disappointment. i have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. of course, there are some notable exceptions. i am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. i commend you, reverend
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stallings, for your christian stand on this past sunday in welcoming negroes to your worship service on a non-segregated basis. i commend the catholic leaders of this state for integrating spring hill college several years ago. but despite these notable exceptions, i must honestly reiterate that i have been disappointed with the church. i do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. i say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church, who has nurtured in its bosom, who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings, and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. when i was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in montgomery, alabama, a few years ago, i felt we would
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be supported by the white church. i felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the south would be amongst our strongest allies. instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders. all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows. in spite of my shattered dreams, i came to birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure.
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i had hoped that each of you would understand. but again, i have been disappointed. i have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law. but i have longed to hear white ministers declare, follow this decree because integration is morally right and the negro is your brother. in the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the negro, i have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. in the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, i have heard many ministers say those are social issues which
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-- with which the gospel has no real concern. and i have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion, which makes a strange , unlivable -- unbiblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular. i have traveled the length and the breadth of alabama, mississippi, and all the other southern states. on sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings, i have looked at the south's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. i have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. over and over, i have found myself asking, what kind of people worship here? who is their god? where were their voices when the lips of governor barnett dripped
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with words of interposition and nullification? where were they when governor wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? where were their voices of support when bruised and weary negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest? yes, these are the questions that are still in my mind. in deep disappointment, i have wept over the laxity of the church. but be assured that my tears have been tears of love. there can be no deep disappointment when there is not deep love. yes, i love the church. how could i do otherwise? i am in the rather unique
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position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. yes, i see the church as body of christ. but, oh, how we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists. there was a time when the church was very powerful, in the time when the early christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. in those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion. it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. whenever the early christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the christians for being disturbers of the peace and outside agitators. but the christians pressed on in the conviction that they were a
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colony of heaven called to obey god rather than man. small in number, they were big in commitment. they were too god intoxicated to be astronomically intimidated. by their effort and example, they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. things are different now. so often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. so often, it is an archdefender of the status quo. far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are. but the judgment of god is upon the church as never before.
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if today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. every day, i meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. perhaps i have once again been too optimistic. is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? perhaps i must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. but again, i am thankful to god that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing
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chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. they have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of albany, georgia, with us. they have gone down the highways of the south on torturous rides for freedom. mr. president, i yield to my friend from alabama and thank him for his leadership. mr. jones: mr. president, dr. king continues. yes, they have gone to jail with us. some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. but they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. they have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. i hope the church as a whole
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will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. but even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, i have no despair about the future. i have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in birmingham, even if our motives are not at present misunderstood. we will reach the goal of freedom in birmingham and all over the nation because the goal of america is freedom. abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with america's destiny. before the pilgrims landed at plymouth, we were here. before the pen of jefferson etched the majestic words of the declaration of independence across the pages of history, we were here. for more than two centuries, our forebearers labored in this country without wages. they made cotton king.
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they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation. and yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to thrive and develop. if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. we will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of god are embodied in our echoing demands. before closing, i feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. you warmly commended the birmingham police force for keeping order and preventing violence. i doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen the dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent negroes. i doubt you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of negroes in their city jail. if you were to watch them push and curse old negro women and
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young negro girls. if you were to see them slap and kick old negro men and young boys. if you were to observe them as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. i cannot join you in your praise of the birmingham police department. it is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. in this sense, they have conducted themselves rather nonviolently in public. but for what purpose? to preserve the evil system of segregation. over the past few years, i have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. 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
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just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. perhaps mr. connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was chief pritchett in albany, georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. as t.s. eliot has said, "the last temptation is the greatest treason. to do the right deed for the wrong reason." i wish you had commended the negro sit-inners and demonstrators of birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. one day, the south will recognize its real heroes. they will be the james merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to
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face jeering and hostile mobs and with agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. they will be old, oppressed, battered negro women, symbolized in a 72-year-old woman in montgomery, alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses and who responded with ungram mat cal profundity to one who inquired about her weariness. my feets is tired but my soul is rested. they will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel, and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in the church, lunch counters, and willing to go to jail for conscience sake. one day, the south will know that when these disinherited children of god sat down at the
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lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best of the american dream and for the most sacred values in the judaeo christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy, which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the constitution and the declaration of independence. 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? if i said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable patience, i beg you to forgive me.
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if i said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, i beg god to forgive me. i hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. i also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a christian brother. let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow, the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. yours for the cause of peace and brotherhood, martin luther king, jr.
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mr. president, i am struck by a fortuitous phrase in the closing of this remarkable letter. one day, the south will recognize its heroes. the south will and has recognized its real heroes indeed, heroes like dr. king, like rosa parks, my old friend fred sheltersworth. he rose like congressman jo -- john lewis, fannie lou hammer, and ida b. wells, like the countless others who stood alongside them in the fight for civil rights, like the innocent victims swept up in the brutal crackdowns during this hopeful movement toward universal human dignity. we carry on their legacy in our daily lives, in our schools, our houses of worship, our workplaces and throughout our society, and that includes the institution of the united states senate. and it is carried on in the work
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of dr. king's family members, like martin luther king iii. dr. king wrote his letter in the midst of this struggle and knew that much work still lay ahead. less than six months after his arrest, the klan in birmingham planted a bomb outside the ladies lounge at the 16th street baptist church, killing four innocent young african-american girls. a year later, though, congress passed the civil rights act of 1964. and the year after that, the voting rights act of 1965. historic changes were afoot. but despite this incredibly historic progress, or perhaps because of it, in april 1968, dr. martin luther king, jr. was assassinated in memphis, tennessee. he was just 39 years old.
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he gave his life for this cause. he gave his life in a struggle that so many gave their lives to, but we have to remember that this is not ancient history. we know that we still have our challenges, albeit in a world that has no doubt benefited tremendously from the progress he achieved. but it is still a work in progress. it will always be a work in progress. if we truly believe in carrying on his legacy, we must recognize that we cannot stand idly by when we see injustice. we cannot stand idly by when we see a reemergence of hateful rhetoric in our public discourse. we've seen it before. we've seen it before in birmingham and elsewhere. we've seen before the devastating violence that can follow. and it lives with us today. it lives with us today in tragedies like charleston and charlottesville and pittsburgh
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and now in new zealand. we need to strive not just for civility, but to make sure we live in a country that does not hold each other in contempt. that bears repeating. we talk a lot in this chamber about civility and respect and dignity. but the fact of the matter is, when we leave this chamber and you go out into the world, people will hold each other in contempt more so than it's just a public discourse. that has got to change, ladies and gentlemen. it has got to change. importantly, we, each of us, should continue to do our part to ensure that the art of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice. thank you, mr. president. and thank you to my colleagues who joined me this evening for this historic event.
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it has been an honor and a privilege. i yield the floor. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. this year, c-span is touring cities across the country, exploring american history. visita look at our recent to san luis obispo, california. you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. >> our membership is comprised of people, families whose ancestry dates back to this one region for well over 10,000 years. with the coming of the mission and the missionaries, there was a lot of destruction they brought with them. and


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