On December 8th, 1964, Amherst College students tuned in to the college's student-run radio station, WAMF (now WAMH), to listen to a rebroadcast of a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at The New School on February 6, 1964. It was the opening address of the American Race Crisis lecture series. The original recording is part of a collection of 46 open reel audio tapes transferred to the Archives & Special Collections of Amherst College in 1989. This tape was digitized in the fall of 2015 and shared with The New School Archives.
The Amherst broadcast recording of King's speech, however, concludes before King's question and answer session with the audience. The New School Archives holds the recording of the question and answer session, and not the lecture itself. The transcript presented here includes both the lecture and the question and answer session, while the files of the recordings remain separate.
In his lecture, Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses the question, "Why did things happen in the civil rights movement as they happened in '63?" He identifies a range of causes for the start of what he calls "America's second revolution - the Negro revolution" including the slow pace of school desegregation, broken campaign promises of the Kennedy administration and others, superficial changes to the status of black Americans who nevertheless remained excluded from rising national wealth, the hypocrisy of cold war rhetoric calling for the defense of liberty, the inspiration of decolonization in Africa and Asia since World War II, and the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation underscoring the lack of significant progress in one hundred years. He draws attention to the not only social but also economic ramifications of racial discrimination, overlooked by "white Americans of good will" who have "never connected bigotry with economic exploitation."
Outlining the shortcomings of previous attempts at racial justice, such as the defeatist acceptance of Booker T. Washington following Reconstructions, the elitist focus of W.E.B DuBois on the talented tenth at the turn of the century and the impractical African return movement of Marcus Garvey, King traces the turn to federal courts as a vehicle for change. After the successes of legal victories gave way to disappointment as they failed to be implemented, he describes the recourse to nonviolent action beginning in 1955 as "the way to supplement, not replace, the progress of change through legal recourse."
King calls on the "white community and the political power structure of our nation" to provide a fitting response to the challenge posed by the large scale nonviolent actions of 1963, starting with passage of the Civil Rights Bill. He ends with a resolution to remain "maladjusted" and entreats others to similarly refuse to adjust to discrimination, religious bigotry, militarism, and violence.
The text of this speech was used as the basis for the first section of Why We Can't Wait
, published by King later in the year.
In the second audio file, King responds to questions from the audience following his opening address.
Here he comments on the then-pending Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s commitment toward civil rights. King also comments on the Black Muslim movement, as well as the recent trajectory and projected future of the civil rights movement. He describes and explains the perceived “lull” in civil rights activism following his “I Have A Dream” speech and the August 28, 1963, march on Washington as being one of reassessment and “introspection.”
King emphasizes the need for policies that remedy the United States’ history of slavery and systemic racism. He responds to concerns of reverse racism sometimes generated by such proposed policies, and likens reparations to existing programs for veterans. King draws parallels between the treatment of African-Americans with India’s caste system.