MLK: Where Do We Go from Here?

seeking the highest good

martin-luther-king-jr-photo
Jan 15, 1929- Apr 4, 1968

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “Where Do We Go from Here” sermon at the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on August 16, 1967. You can read the sermon in full in the book The Radical King, edited by Cornel West.

West wrote in the book introduction. “The radical King was a democratic socialist who sided with poor and working people in the class struggle taking place in capitalist societies. . . . The response of the radical King to our catastrophic moment can be put in one word: revolution—a revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life, and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. . . . Could it be that we know so little of the radical King because such courage defies our market-driven world?”

MLK’s Concerns

“I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence, you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence, you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today.

“And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens’ Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear.

“I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.”

Echoes of 1 Corinthians 13  

“And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels, you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing.

“Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy, you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules, you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights. Yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing.

“You may even give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts to charity, and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing.

“You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain.

“What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.”

In conclusion

“I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about ‘Where do we go from here?’ that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’

“And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.

“We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’ These are words that must be said.”

And much earlier: Give Us The Ballot

Per Alan Singer: “‘On May 17, 1957, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the speakers at a Prayer Pilgrimage held at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. King demanded that Congress pass legislation ensuring the right of African Americans to vote.

“He condemned Democrats for ‘capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats’ and Republicans for ‘capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary northerners.’ In typical King linguistic poetry, he charged ‘These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.'”

Also, from Jeffrey Cass: The Absurdity of Racists Co-opting MLK’s Legacy. Stop using King’s words to support oppressive systems

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “MLK: Where Do We Go from Here?”

  1. Wonderful column Roger – especially the Corinthians quote. I’m in the nonprofit world, and without love in your heart, all the philanthropic deeds don’t mean a thing. You’ve got to have love, act with love (even when you’re met with hate). Take care and thanks for showing this side of Martin Luther King.

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