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An MLK Commentary on Peace and Justice

January 19, 2011

Each MLK Day, I try to find at least one letter, speech, or other material of Dr. King’s that I’m not familiar with – something beyond the usual “I Have a Dream” speech – and read it. Below is a powerful excerpt of the piece I read this year, via The Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute Research and Education Institute at Stanford.

The context is a larger sermon on peace, stemming from a comment in the local newspaper that “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama,” after Autherine Lucy was accepted at the University’s first black student but was asked to leave after a violent and threatening response from opponents of desegregation.

But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes, it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be a peace boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity, and if peace means this, I don’t want peace.

1) If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
2) If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
3) If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
4) If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.

29 March 1956, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” Sermon Delivered on 18 March 1956, Louisville, Ky.

Relatedly, here’s Jay Smooth’s ever popular “Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said:”


[I didn’t find a transcript available]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 20, 2011 9:32 am

    Note to myself, and others: I was looking at this text and wondering if it was the sort of thing that could be accused of inciting people, such as the Tuscon situation or anti-choice violence. Therefore, I want to reinforce the last line: “So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.”

  2. January 20, 2011 1:37 pm

    That is a great post. I love hearing other people’s views.

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