This speech was delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at The New School on February 6, 1964. It was the opening address of the American Race Crisis lecture series.
In his lecture, Dr. 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 not only the social but also the economic ramifications of racial discrimination. Dr. King considers that the latter issue has been 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 Reconstruction, the elitist focus of W.E.B DuBois on the "talented tenth" at the turn of the twentieth century, and the impractical African return movement of Marcus Garvey, Dr. King traces the turn to federal courts as a vehicle for change. After the successes of legal victories gave way to disappointment when 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."
Dr. 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, Dr. 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 to civil rights. Dr. 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.” Dr. King emphasizes the need for policies that remedy the United States’ history of slavery and systemic racism. He responds to concerns about reverse racism that arise in reaction to the proposed policies, and likens reparations to existing programs for veterans. Dr. King compares the United States's treatment of African Americans to India’s caste system.
The original recording is part of a collection of audio tapes in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections in 1989. Dr. King's speech had been rebroadcast on Amherst's student-run radio station, WAMF (now WAMH). The tape was digitized in the fall of 2015 and shared with The New School Archives. The Amherst broadcast recording, however, concludes before Dr. King's question and answer session with the audience begins. The New School Archives holds the recording of the question and answer session. The transcript presented here includes both the lecture and the question and answer session, while the recordings remain available as separate files.