Trending Topics

‘White People of America Believe They Have So Little to Learn’: Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes People Ignore But Shouldn’t

White Americans Aren’t Doing Their Part to End Racism — and They Don’t Want to

In his final manuscript “Where Do We Go From Here?” published in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr., discussed the way white Americans are not doing enough to remove the stain of racism from America, addressing their refusal to give up their privilege and learn from the Black people who are oppressed.

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance,” he said. “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans…”

His Thoughts On the Dangers of Integration

During Dr. King’s last conversation with singer/activist Harry Belafonte at the actor’s home shortly before the reverend’s 1968 assassination, King said he feared he may have done more harm than good with Black people when it comes to integration.

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house. …

“Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”

How Some White Americans Don’t Have to Wear Hoods to Block Black Liberation

In 1963’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King explained the issue with white people who are more concerned with polite demonstrations than doing what it takes to secure freedom for Black people.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate,” the activist said. “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”

A Man No So Turned Away By Violence

While many people drop King quotes to espouse peace, the icon wasn’t completely opposed to violence toward the end of his life. After the riots of 1967 rocked the nation that summer, King spoke at the American Psychology Association’s annual convention in September, explaining Black people don’t riot for the reason some may think.

“Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections,” he said. “The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.”

Taking Back the Power of “Black” 

During a speech reported to have taken place in Atlanta on Aug. 11, 1967, King discussed the way “black” had been transformed into a negative word and then it had been used, in turn, to describe African-Americans. He vowed to make the “black” so positive that attendees would take pride in their race.

“Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms for the word black. It’s always something degrading, low, and sinister. Look at the word white, it’s always something pure, high. Well, I wanna get the language right tonight. I wanna get the language so right that everybody here will cry out, ‘Yes! I’m Black! I’m proud of it! I’m Black and beautiful!”

King Hit Back At Critics of the Movement

When writer William Faulkner said in a March 1956 Life magazine essay that he would caution the NAACP and civil rights activists to “Go slow now. Stop now for a time, a moment,” to give white southerners time to get used to desegregation, King hit back in a Brooklyn, New York speech later that month.

“We can’t slow up because of our love for democracy and our love for America,” he said. “Someone should tell Faulkner that the vast majority of the people on this globe are colored.”

Power Has to Be Rebalanced Systemically

In his 1967 speech, “The Three Evils of Society,” King explained the importance of rallying support for the Black community to balance power among races — that means white people must do their part, too.

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power,” he said. “We must further recognize that the ghetto is a domestic colony. Black people must develop programs that will aid in the transfer of power and wealth into the hands of residence of the ghetto so that they may, in reality, control their own destinies. This is the meaning of New Politics. People of will in the larger community must support the Black man in this effort.”

The War In Vietnam Is a Ridiculous Expense Compared to the Cost of Freedom

In his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” King discussed the need to put an end to the Vietnam War in order for Black liberation to be achieved

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” he said.

Back to top