And they go on to say you know the Negro is a criminal. He has the highest crime rate in any community. The arguments go on and on and on and on. Well if there are lagging standards in the Negro community, and there certainly are, they lag because of segregation and discrimination. Criminal responses are environmental and not racial. Poverty, ignorance, social isolation, economic deprivation, breed crime whatever the racial group may be and it is a torturous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. It is necessary for a great and a concerned nation to go back to the cause or basis for the problem. And we have a long, long way to go in order to make economic justice a reality all over this country. It means that there must be massive programs, training programs and massive public works programs in order to get the jobless on the job. And so that people can work, so that they are able to walk the earth with dignity and make an adequate income and they can stand before their families with that kind of creativity and that kind of creative response that will make the family a real and meaningful unit. And so in the economic area, we still have a long, long way to go. I mention the fact that we have come a long, long way in ending legal segregation. But I must point out the other side. If I can put it in figurative language, it may be true that the system of segregation is on its deathbed, but history has proven that social systems always have a last minute, a strong breathing power. And the guardians of the status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. And so in a sense segregation is still with us. Not in the open sense that it used to be with us, with legal sanction, but in the covert, in the subtle, in the defacto sense. And so even in the major cities of our country outside of the South, there is absolute segregation in so many situations. The Negro finds himself hovered up in crowded ghettos. And these ghettos are usually absolutely segregated. The Negro finds himself attending segregated schools which are almost always inadequately staffed, devoid of quality education. And then as we look into the whole problem of slum life, the total mental outlook of the individuals who live in the slums, we see deprivation, we see the destruction of personality. And all of these things reveal that before brotherhood is a reality, there is much that must be done.
"It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time."
So segregation is still with us. But if democracy is to live, segregation must die. For racial segregation is a consentient body politic which must be removed before our moral health can realized. And we don’t have long to do this. It is urgent to do it now because the shape of the world today no longer affords us the luxury of an anemic democracy. And we must not only do it because it will help the image of the United States, and it will certainly do that. We must not only solve this problem because it will be diplomatically expedient. We must not only seek to solve this problem because it will help us to appeal to Asian and African peoples, and it will certainly do that. We must not only seek to solve this problem to meet the communist challenge, and it will certainly do that. But in the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society because it is morally wrong. It must be uprooted from American society because it is sinful. And somewhere we have seen in all of the major religious faiths something that tells us that there is something immoral and sinful about segregation and discrimination. The late, great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber used to talk about the I-it and I-thou relationship. And I say segregation is wrong because it substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship. St. Thomas Aquinas used to talk about natural law and moral law and human law. And I say that segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws that are out of harmony with the natural, and the moral and eternal laws of the universe. Somewhere the late Protestant theologian, Paul Thillich, said that sin is separation. And what is segregation but an acquiescential affirmation of man’s tragic estrangement, his terrible separation, his awful sinfulness. And the great challenge facing the nation today is to get rid of a system that is evil and that is morally wrong. Now in order to get rid of this system, it will be necessary to develop massive action programs. The problem will not work itself out. In order to develop massive action programs, we’ve got to get rid of one or two myths that are quite prevalent and that we hear a great deal around various communities. One is what I often speak of as the myth of time. I’m sure that you’ve heard this. This is the argument that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. Only time can bring integration into being. And so those who set forth this argument tend to say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, just be nice and just be patient and wait 100 or 200 years and the problem will work itself out. I think there is an answer to that myth. That is that time is neutral, it can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that in so many instances the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme righteous of our nation have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must some to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes though the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so it is necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always right to do right. Now the other myth that we hear a great deal is a myth that says in substance that legislation can’t solve the problem that we face in race relations because you can’t change the heart. And so we must rely on education to solve the problem and not even look to any legislation. Now I guess there is some truth in this, at least a half-truth. We realize that if the problem is to be solved ultimately, if we are to have a truly integrated society, men and women must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable. And I would be the first to acknowledge that. So it may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. It maybe true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, religion and education will have to do that, but it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also. And so that while legislation may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And we see this every day. And certainly there is need for continuing legislative proposals to deal with many problems that we face in the housing area, in the job area, in the school area and all of the other areas where we face the continuation of segregation and discrimination. And so a strong action program will recognize the need for legislation to deal with many of the ills that we still face. And along with this, is the need for nonviolent direct action.