Martin Luther King

Five years prior to his 1966 visit, King spoke at a Religious Activities Commission banquet at Illinois Wesleyan's Memorial Center on Feb. 14, 1961 (shown above).

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Now this would be a wonderful place for me to bring an end to my talk tonight.  First, it would mean making a short speech and that would be a magnificent accomplishment for a Baptist preacher.  But that would mean that the problem is about solved in America and that we really have nothing to be concerned about, we don’t have much work to do.  And it would be a marvelous thing if every speaker was able to talk about this problem in terms of a problem that once existed, but that no longer has existence.  But I’m afraid if I stop now I will not be telling the total truth.  I would be stating a fact, certainly, but not the whole truth.  You see a fact is merely the absence of contradiction, but truth is the presence of coherence.  Truth is the relatedness of facts.  Now it is a fact that we have come a long, long way, but in order to get the whole truth, we’ve got to bring the other side into being.  And if I stop at this point, I will leave you the victims of a dangerous optimism.  If I stop here, I will allow us to end up with an illusion wrapped in superficiality.  So in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on and say not only have we come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go all over America before the dream of brotherhood, before the ideal of integration is a reality.  Now we need not look very far to make this point.  We need only open out eyes, read our newspapers, look at our televisions and look around in our communities.  And we know that we are not yet at the point where we can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood.  I mentioned the fact that lynchings have about ceased, but other things are happening, just as tragic.  I can remind you of a fact tonight that over the last 18 months more than 13 or 14 Negro and white civil rights workers have been brutally murdered all across the South. And if one would look at the jury system, look at the courts, you would soon discover that in most cases nobody has even been convicted for all of these murders.  This reveals that we have a long, long way to go.  I mention the fact that we have made strides in voter registration and we have a new voting rights bill and this is marvelous.  But there are still areas where Negroes who seek to register and vote confront economic reprisals and I submit to you tonight that in places like Lawrence County in Alabama, numerous counties in Mississippi, people have been put off, thrown off the land and put out of their little humble dwelling places, simply because they went down on the basis of the new voting rights bill and sought to register and become citizens by being registered voters.

"... 42 percent of the Negro families of our country still earn less that $2,000 a year, while just 16 percent of white families earn less than $2,000 a year.  Some 20 percent of the Negro families of our country earn less that $1,000 a year, while just 5 percent of the white families earn less than $1,000 a year."

This tells us that we have a long, long way to go.  I mention the economic area and that figure $30 billion sounded big.  We must see the other side and that is a painful tragic side.  And that is the fact that 42 percent of the Negro families of our country still earn less that $2,000 a year, while just 16 percent of white families earn less than $2,000 a year.  Some 20 percent of the Negro families of our country earn less that $1,000 a year, while just 5 percent of the white families earn less than $1,000 a year.  Eighty-eight percent of the Negro families of our country earn less than $5,000 a year, while just 58 percent of white families earn less than $5,000 a year.  And so the Negro finds himself perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.  And the problem is becoming even more difficult today.  For years we have been victimized with discrimination in many areas and on many levels, denied apprenticeship training, deprived of educational opportunities, facing discrimination in so many areas and this meant that so often we were limited to unskilled and semi-skilled labor.  And now because automation and cybernation have come into being, these are the jobs that are passing away.  And so while the nation stands in its most prosperous period, while the nation faces its lowest level of unemployment that it has over the last seven or eight years, unemployment among Negroes is at its highest level.  And while the average for the nation is still around 4 percent and we turn to the Negro community the unemployment rate at times goes as high as 14 percent, which means there is a major depression within the Negro community economically.  Now we can see the problems that this would bring about when people are deprived of economic security.  They are deprived of the opportunity to educate their children.  They are deprived of opportunity of getting proper medical care.  They are deprived of the opportunity of being able to live in decent housing situations.  They are deprived of the opportunity of having the basic necessities of life.  And finally, they are deprived of the opportunity of respecting themselves.  And so often out of self-hatred and out of embarrassment and out of humiliation, they lose motivation.  And it is not enough to look at the effects of discrimination.  It is necessary for a concerned and compassionate nation to look at the cause or the basis of the whole problem.  For instance, there are those who can argue item for item about the fact that the Negro is culturally behind.  And so they say we must not integrate certain areas of life whether it is in housing or schools or what have you, because the Negro is so far behind that he will pull the white race a generation behind.

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