Today we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2018 — he should’ve been 88 years old today, but he was cut down in his prime 50 years ago.
A masterful organizer and leader, it was Dr. King’s voice and his oratory that set the scene for non-violent actions to accomplish the goals of justice and equality. As we continue his struggle, we take inspiration from his most noted speeches, especially the passionate and moving “I Have A Dream” — and rightly so. These days, we have access to so many more of Dr. King’s incredible speeches (thanks to the internet — especially YouTube), that I want to share just a few of his lesser-known speeches today.
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10 1964
Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, University of Oslo, Norway
“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.”
“What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” Oct. 26, 1967
Speaking to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia
“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera…If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
Addressing peace protestors, Jan. 14, 1968
Outside the jail where Joan Baez, her mother, and Ira Sandperl had been held for 45 days for civil disobedience protesting the draft during the Vietnam War
“Somebody said to me ‘Dr. King don’t you think you are hurting your leadership by taking a stand against the war in Vietnam?…and I had to look at that person and say, ‘I’m sorry sir — you don’t know me’…
Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but he is a molder of consensus. And on some positions, cowardice asks the question ‘Is it safe?’, expediency asks the question ‘Is it politic?’ , vanity asks the question ‘Is it popular?’ but conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ “
“If I had sneezed…”
A story of how he narrowly survived a knife attack in 1958, leading up to the more famous portion of his final speech on April 3, 1968, the night before he was killed.
Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman…It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died…
(After a few days) They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters.
Gone nearly a half-century now, Dr. King still speaks to those with ears to listen.