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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. discusses civil rights in regards to his "I Have a Dream" speech

BROADCAST: Oct. 22, 1964 | DURATION: 00:12:16


Studs Terkel interviews Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the home of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. They discuss King's "I Have a Dream" speech that he made in 1963, at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. At the end of the program there are various gospel music selections featuring Jackson and others.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel "I have a dream. I have a dream in which the valleys shall be exalted in which God shall be revealed. And all the flesh shall see it." The man said this at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a glorious August afternoon last year. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who has brought more honors to our country and now being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964 and we're seated at the bedside of Mahalia who's relaxing right now. She's a little tired. She is relaxing and feeling better at the bedside of a mutual friend of ours who has the finest gospel singer in the world Mahalia Jackson. Dr. King who happens to be passing through as he does passing through traveling 275,000 miles a year just bringing a truth to people. Dr.King, this dream that you spoke of at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial last August of '63 when did this dream first come to you, this dream of equity?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Well this has always been my dream as far back as I can remember even as a, a teenager growing up even though I lived in a southern community where segregation and discrimination were a part of our everyday lives. I always dreamed of the day that these conditions would not exist and I dreamed of a time that our nation would erase this ugly problem and that we would be able to live as brothers and that the Negro could walk the earth with dignity and self-respect. So this has been a dream for many many years now.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of people who perhaps influenced you in your growth, your father for one. You are co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Auburn Street, Atlanta. Your father, I imagine was an influence in your life, is

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes he has been and still is a great influence in my life. My father has been very active in the civil rights struggle and in the civil rights movement all along. And he has always made it clear that he could never adjust himself to segregation and that influenced me from the very beginning and he is still a great influence. He is an active supporter of all that I attempt to do and I'm sure that part of the dream grew out of the dream that my father has always had.

Studs Terkel Thinking in reading about you, certain memories you have of writing with your father dining cars. There was the curtain separated, white from black. You remember these memories I suppose are vivid going into which shoe store and your father always being there telling you something.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, yes. These are very vivid things in my memory right now. The one thing I always remember and always will remember about my father is the fact that racial segregation was an evil system in his mind and one that he was determined not to adjust to and that he did not allow his children to adjust to in the sense that he always taught us that we even though we had to face the reality of the system that there was a sense of somebodyness within us that always kept us moving toward the sense of dignity and self-respect that any human being should have.

Studs Terkel Thinking of course how this hurts the white child as well as the black child; the hurt, the separation, the hurt is to both really, is it not?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes it certainly is. Segregation injures the soul, the mind of the segregated as well as the segregator. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and it so often leaves the segregated with a false sense of inferiority. So it does scar the soul of both.

Studs Terkel The jailer and the jailed both, equally.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Yes exactly.

Studs Terkel Isn't the phrase you use, 'Hate hurts the hater as much as the hated'.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Yes. Hate is a dangerous force. And it is an injurious force because it injures the object of hate, as well as the subject of hated, injures the hater as well as the hated. And it's very interesting that many of the psychiatrists are saying to us now that the strange things that happen in this sub-conscience and many of the inner conflicts are rooted in hate. And this is why many are saying love or perish.

Studs Terkel You're thinking about this element of the revolutionary aspects of love. You yourself when you went to Morehead, Morehouse College with Dr. Mays, president, your things, your growth, Thoreau played a role. You-your father then Thoreau.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Well Thoreau played a very significant role in that, I came to see when I first read his essay on civil disobedience which I read my second year in Morehouse College that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good and that has lived with me ever since. I think this is the, the most moving or the most important influence of Thoreau in my life.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the thread that has created Martin Luther King, Thoreau. And then there was Gandhi. Your reading of Gandhi

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes.

Studs Terkel About an individual man as an end rather than a mean.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Well Gandhi by far, did more than any human being to lift the love ethic of the New Testament. Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, to the powerful level of sociopolitical action. And I often say that I received a great deal of the inspiration for this movement from Gandhi because he provided the kind of operational technique that made the, the love ethic a reality in so many dimensions. And I think Gandhi certainly stands as one of the truly great persons of history and that the whole nonviolent movement that we see in the United States today is greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and particularly the revolutionary work that he did in India.

Studs Terkel Thinking of love is revolutionary. Love, as a, as a technique for social transformation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes exactly. And this on the whole we had seen love merely in terms of individual relations and the love ethic usually was thought of as something that applied between individuals as they thought in the context of their relationship with each other. But what Gandhi did was to lift the love ethic to this this great level of, of social transformation so that not only must an individual love an individual but a whole racial group must love another racial group and that somehow through this love process organized into mass action we can bring about powerful social change.

Studs Terkel You know I'm thinking as we're sitting here with Mahalia listening to us and nodding. I want to ask you later on about the matter of humor and call and response. And your friend Ralph Abernathy, too. You never lost this. Perhaps you can answer this now. I want to come to scriptures, in a moment [and influence on you]. This matter of humor through adversity. I know a close friend of yours is Dr. Ralph Reverend Ralph Abernathy who I think is one of the funniest in the very wonderful way, speakers I've heard for years.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Well I think you've you've got to have the ability to engage in creative laughter in order to live amid difficulties and tension. If you can't laugh in life, you're a very miserable human being and I think a great deal of truth often comes through laughter and some people have developed the talent to get this truth over to many people. By laughing the truth into them and out of them so that I think humor is most important in getting at truth and getting people to understand. Then often, to rise above the despair which can surround them.

Studs Terkel So this, a laughter through adversity. The humor of adversity to survive.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Yes, that's exactly right. It, it is often necessary to laugh in order to survive. I think this is what has happened to the Negro. So often people misinterpret the laughter of the Negro. It's a deeper laughter. It's the kind of laughter that molds the creative optimism out of a very pessimistic situations and it is the laughter that kept the Negro slave going and made a very trying and difficult and bewildering situation.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking sometimes, I hear this laughter in the midst of a bitter phrase or a bitter memory. There is a laughter that comes through I suppose to enable to survive the particular agony of that memory or moment. There's a laugh. It's a bitter laugh at the same time a laugh that enables one to survive.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes. Yes. Well I think you're exactly right. And without it, it would be a very miserable situation and we would be a miserable people.

Mahalia Jackson [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel Dr. King, you know we hear the phrase extremism used so much and perhaps used in the wrong way sometimes, too. Sometimes they equate the Southern Christian Leadership Movement with the White Citizens Council. You use the phrase once while you were in jail. When some pastors spoke to you about moving too fast, used the phrase about calvary and creative extremism. Would you mind just expanding on that and just a bit telling us a bit about that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Well, yes. I, I think the question is not whether one is an extremist but what kind of extremist he happens to be. Certainly the great people of history, the great men and women of history have been extremists but they were creative extremists. They were extremists for love. They were extremists for justice. Amos was an extremist for justice. Jesus was an extremist for love and goodwill. The apostle Paul was an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, one, the question happens to be in the final analysis, it should be what kind of extremist is one happen to be and too often people are the negative extremists who commit themselves to negative ends and to improper goals and to things that are not morally right.

Studs Terkel That Friday on calvary you spoke about, that was Christ between the two extremists, the two thieves?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes.

Studs Terkel This perhaps is the symbol of our time.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, I certainly think so.

Studs Terkel Well Dr. King, I know you have to rush off on so many of your engagements. How you do it. I don't know. Thank you very much. As we pass through here stopping by Mahalia's, I hope this is chapter one. And congratulations on behalf of all of us as being the Nobel Prize winner for 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thank

Studs Terkel