The Martin Luther King holiday often features stills and videos of Dr. King delivering his “I Have a Dream” during the March on Washington in 1963. And it is a brilliant speech.
But it is not his only brilliant speech. Dr. King, of course, delivered many more.
Since Norway has been in the news in the United States and around the world lately, (and January 15 is Dr. King’s actual birthday) today is the perfect day to present Dr. King’s Nobel acceptance speech and lecture.
In both the acceptance speech and lecture, he both indicts an unjust society while remaining boldly optimistic that it can change. It is quite the balancing act.
It is a balancing act that we are still trying to achieve: overcoming our “moral and spiritual lag” by choosing and embracing love.
(Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize are selected by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The committee members are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament. Dr. King was the youngest recipient of the award at the time.)
A few excerpts. First, from his acceptance speech:
Courtesy The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
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 men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!
And from his lecture:
Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau1: “Improved means to an unimproved end”. This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the “without” of man’s nature subjugates the “within”, dark storm clouds begin to form in the world. (Emphasis mine.)
And he ends the lecture this way:
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. As Arnold Toynbee20 says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.” We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world. (Emphasis mine.)
Serve. Learn. Love. Happy MLK Day.