With the riots and the current State of Emergency in Baltimore as the backdrop, a friend posted this reminder on Facebook earlier today of Martin Luther King Jr’s 1967 address at Stanford University that later became known as his ‘Other America’ speech. His words remain remarkably, tragically and sadly apropos nearly half a century later. Indeed, nothing that he said then seems remotely dated today:
… it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.
And what is it that America has failed to hear?
It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.
It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.
And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.
And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.
Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
If you haven’t heard it, listen above. Making the time to spend 47 minutes with a King speech is always a wise investment. Likewise, you can download the entire speech transcript here. (PDF)