A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.by Martin Luther King Jr.
This companion volume to "A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr". includes the text of his most well-known oration, "I Have a Dream", his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, and "Beyond Vietnam", a powerful plea to end the ongoing conflict. Includes contributions from Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin, the Dalai Lama… See more details below
This companion volume to "A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr". includes the text of his most well-known oration, "I Have a Dream", his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, and "Beyond Vietnam", a powerful plea to end the ongoing conflict. Includes contributions from Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin, the Dalai Lama, and many others.
- Grand Central Publishing
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Read an Excerpt
ADDRESS TO THE FIRST MONTGOMERY
IMPROVEMENT ASSOCIATION (MIA) MASS MEETING
INTRODUCTION BY ROSA LOUISE PARKS
December 5, 1955, was one of the memorable and inspiring days of my life. History records this day as the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement that transformed America and influenced freedom revolutions around the world.
I had been arrested four days earlier, on December 1, in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to get up and give my seat on a city bus to a white man, which was a much-resented customary practice at the time. Local black community leaders, the Reverend E. D. Nixon and attorney Fred Gray, asked me if I would be willing to make a test case out of my arrest, with the goal of ending segregation on Montgomery's buses, and I agreed to cooperate with them.
Mrs. Joanne Robinson and other local black women leaders of the Women's Political Council of our community met on the evening of my arrest and decided to call a boycott to begin on December 5, the day of my trial. I was found guilty of violating a segregation statute and given a suspended sentence, with a ten-dollar fine plus four dollars in court costs. This was in keeping with our legal strategy, so we could appeal and challenge the segregation law in a higher court.
A group of ministers met later in the afternoon of December 5 and formed a new organization, the Montgomery Improvement Association. An open meeting of the black community was called for that evening at the Holt Street Baptist Church. The ministers elected a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., whom I had met briefly a few months before, to serve as its first president and spokesman. Dr. King was chosen in part because he was relatively new to the community and so did not have any enemies. Also Dr. King had made a strong impression on Rufus Lewis, an influential member of our community who attended Dr. King's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. I had met Dr. King's wife, Coretta, and had attended concerts where she sang, but I didn't know she was his wife at the time.
By the time I arrived at the meeting, the church was so filled up that a crowd of hundreds spilled out into the street, and speakers had to be set up outside to accommodate everyone. The excitement around the church was electrifying, and I remember having a sense that something powerful was being born. I squeezed my way through the crowd to my seat on the platform, where a lively discussion about the boycott strategy was underway.
Then Dr. King was introduced to the audience and began to speak in the rich, poised baritone and learned eloquence that distinguished even this debut speech of his career as a civil rights leader. Later Dr. King would write that he normally took fifteen hours to prepare his sermons, but because of the hectic events of the day, he'd had only twenty minutes to prepare for "the most decisive speech of my life." He spent five minutes of his time worrying about it, and then wisely prayed to God for guidance.
His prayer must have been heard, because on that historic night, despite all of the pressure on him, Dr. King showed no trace of doubt or hesitancy. He spoke like a seasoned preacher and was frequently interrupted throughout his remarks by an energetic chorus of "Amen," "That's right," "Keep talkin'," and "Yes, Lord."
Dr. King recounted the abuses Montgomery's black citizens had experienced leading up to the boycott. He spoke about what had happened to me and why we must win this struggle. He told the crowd that our boycott was a patriotic protest, very much in the tradition of American democracy. He underscored the critical importance of honoring the principles of nonviolence and rooting our protest in the teachings of Jesus Christ, alongside our unshakable determination to win the boycott.
And then, as he concluded, he said the words that I will never forget, the prophetic words that, for me, still define the character of our nonviolent freedom movement: "When the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, 'There lived a race of people, a black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.'"
Amid the thundering applause that met the conclusion of Dr. King's speech on that night, there was a sense that this speech had launched a brave new era. Dr. King had spelled it out with clarity and eloquence: This movement was not just about desegregating the buses, or even just the mistreatment of our people in Montgomery. This movement was about slaking the centuries-old thirst of a long-suffering people for freedom, dignity, and human rights. It was time to drink at the well.
In these pages we celebrate the wonderful oratory of one of America's greatest leaders. But let us remember that what gave his speeches and sermons legitimacy was that Dr. King didn't just talk the talk; he walked the walk from Montgomery to Memphis, enduring jails, beatings, abuse, threats, the bombing of his home, and the highest sacrifice a person can make for a righteous cause.
When I entered the courtroom that morning, I heard one of our supporters chanting, "They messed with the wrong one now." But when I headed home after Dr. King's speech I knew that we had found the right one to articulate our protest. As the weeks and months wore on, it became clear to me that we had found our Moses, and he would surely lead us to the promised land of liberty and justice for all.
ROSA LOUISE PARKS was a civil rights activist and local NAACP official in Montgomery, Alabama, for over a decade before her refusal to abide by segregated bus-seating practices on December 1, 1955, sparked the successful Montgomery bus boycott. Parks, facing the loss of her job and other forms of intimidation, left Montgomery for Detroit, Michigan, where she continued her political work and cofounded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.
Copyright (c) 2001 by The Heirs to the Estate of
Martin Luther King, Jr. All rights reserved.
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