I See The Promised Land

"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful
tomorrows." These words by
Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.
are the inspiration
from which Peaceful Tomorrows has taken its name. It is on this
day that we honor
Dr. King’s memory and thank him for his sacrifice. May the following words by Dr. King challenge you to undertake his commitment to nonviolent action and the pursuit of justice.


 April 3, 1968

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I
listened to Ralph Abernathy in his eloquent and generous introduction
and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.
It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate say
something good about you. And Ralph is the best friend that I have in
the world.

I’m
delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning.
You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow. Something is
happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world.

As
you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the
possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up
to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age
would you like to live in?"– I would take my mental flight by Egypt
through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward
the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop
there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus.
And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes
assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal
issues of reality.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I would go on,
even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see
developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I
wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the day of the
Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did
for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I
would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his
habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five
theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

But I wouldn’t
stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating
president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion
that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop
there. I would even come up the early thirties, and see a man grappling
with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an
eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But I
wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty,
and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half
of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that’s a strange
statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is
sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange
statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can
you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the
twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are
responding–something is happening in our world. The masses of people
are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are
in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York
City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis,
Tennessee–the cry is always the same–"We want to be free."

And
another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have
been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the
problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but
the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we
grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and
peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer
a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s
nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And
also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a
hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long
years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world
is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this
period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to
be in Memphis.

I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were
just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they
didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is
all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our
rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing
is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative
arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men.
We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s
children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now,
what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means
that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and
maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period
of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it.
What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But
whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court,
and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together,
that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain
unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The
issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and
honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be
sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s
always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the
other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read
the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that
one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that
Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need
of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Now we’re going to
march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue
where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are
thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going
hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing
is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the
nation: we know it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with
that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is
no stopping point short of victory.

We aren’t going to let any
mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming
police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I
remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle
there we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after
day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them
to send the dogs forth and they did come; but we just went before the
dogs singing, "Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round." Bull Connor next
would say, "Turn the fire hoses on." And as I said to you the other
night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that
somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that
was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could
put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we
were Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed. If we
were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew
water.

That couldn’t stop us. And we just went on before the
dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses
and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing. "Over my head I
see freedom in the air." And then we would be thrown in the paddy
wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can.
And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, "Take them off,"
and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, "We
Shall Overcome." And every now and then we’d get in the jail, and we’d
see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers,
and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there
which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming
Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.

Now
we’ve got to go on to Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be
with us Monday. Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re
going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal,
unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, "Be true to what
you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any
totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain
basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed
themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of
assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read
of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of
America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we
aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

We
need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me, is to see all of
these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that
is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people
more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say,
"Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty
stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the
Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems
of the poor."

And I want to commend the preachers, under the
leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this
struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; but he’s
still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Rev. Ralph
Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time
will not permit. But I want to thank them all. And I want you to thank
them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but
themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It’s
alright to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its
symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes
to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about "streets flowing with
milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the
slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a
day. It’s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s
preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new
Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is
what we have to do.

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is
this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of
economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor
when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never
stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together,
collectively we are richer than all the nation in the world, with the
exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the
United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and
I could name the others, the Negro collectively is richer than most
nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty
billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the
United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you
know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

We
don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around
acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we
don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these
stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God
sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children
right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your
agenda–fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you
are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow.
And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

And
so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell
your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not
to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy–what is the other
bread?–Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell
them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now,
only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of
redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they
haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them
because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support
the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they
can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

But
not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon
you to take you money out of the banks downtown and deposit you money
in Tri-State Bank–we want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. So go by
the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we
don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that
we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We’re just telling you to
follow what we’re doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven
black insurance companies in Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We
want to have an "insurance-in."

Now there are some practical
things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic
base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really
hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

Now, let me say as I
move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle
until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point,
in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march,
you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be
on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let
us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to
Jesus; and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters
in life. At points, he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew
a little more than Jesus knew, and through this, throw him off base.
Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and
theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from
mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and
Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You
remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They
didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He
got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But
with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus
ended up saying, this was the good man, because he had the capacity to
project the "I" into the "thou," and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine
why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were
busy going to church meetings–an ecclesiastical gathering–and they
had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their
meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious
law that "One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch
a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony." And every now and
then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to
Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather to organize a "Jericho Road
Improvement Association." That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it
was better to deal with the problem from the casual root, rather than
to get bogged down with an individual effort.

But I’m going to
tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that these men
were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember
when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove
from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I
said to my wife, "I can see why Jesus used this as a setting for his
parable." It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for
ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles, or
rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to
Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below
sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the day of Jesus it came to be
known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it’s possible that the priest
and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the
robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man
on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been
robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for
quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked
was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the
Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop
to help this man, what will happen to him?".

That’s the question
before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers,
what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office
every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop
to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do no stop to
help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That’s the
question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let
us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these
powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to
be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want
to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You
know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first
book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a
demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was,
"Are you Martin Luther King?"

And I was looking down writing,
and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my
chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I
was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And
that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of
the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s
punctured, you drown in your own blood–that’s the end of you.

It
came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed,
I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after
the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been
taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They
allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the
states, and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of
them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the
Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received
a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten
what the letter said. But there was another letter that came from a
little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High
School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said
simply, "Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the Whites Plains
High School." She said, "While it should not matter, I would like to
mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune,
and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would
have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you
didn’t sneeze."

And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I
am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t
have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started
sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in,
they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And
taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which
were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have
been around in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to
straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their
backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back
unless it is bent. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963,
when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of
this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had
sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to
try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I
wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great movement
there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a
community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me, now
it doesn’t matter now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I
left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there
were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, "We are
sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane.
And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that
nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything
carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And
then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that threats, or talk
about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of
our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen
now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me
now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like
anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But
I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And
He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And
I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want
you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised
land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not
fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
Lord.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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