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House on Mango Street

(What the media don’t quote from Martin Luther King on his birthday.)

On Nonviolent Direct Action

Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963:
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation…
…My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

On White “Moderates”

Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963:
(In this context, “moderates” were people who claimed to support the goals of the civil rights movement, but who disapproved of its actions. Moderates objected to putting “too much” pressure on whites to agree to end segregation “too quickly.” They criticized civil rights activists for demonstrating and using civil disobedience to demand their rights, and advised them to “be patient.”)
…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

A part of “I Have a Dream” that we don’t usually hear

Speech to the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, August 28, 1963:
…There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

On the limits of nonviolence (In other words, what happens when nonviolence doesn’t work?)

From I May Not Get There With You, by Michael Eric Dyson
“… riot is [at bottom] the language of the unheard. [T]he looting in Watts was a form of social protest very common through the ages as a dramatic and destructive gesture of the poor toward symbols of their needs.” In 1964 [King] had already pointed out the hypocrisy of white leaders’ lecturing Negroes about nonviolence when it was “Negroes [who] created the theory of. nonviolence as it applies to American conditions.” King rejected the distortion of nonviolence by duplicitous civic leaders who failed “to perceive that nonviolence can exist only in a context of justice.” If unjust conditions for Negroes prevail, the call for them to be nonviolent is a demand for them to submit to injustice. “Nothing in the theory of nonviolence,” King argued, “counsels this suicidal course.”

On economic justice and support for labor unions

Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965:
The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life.

2nd National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Chicago, March 25, 1966:
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.

Speech to Teamsters and Allied Trade Councils, New York City, May 2, 1967:
Today Negroes want above all else to abolish poverty in their lives, and in the lives of the white poor. This is the heart of their program. To end humiliation was a start, but to end poverty is a bigger task. It is natural for Negroes to turn to the Labor movement because it was the first and pioneer anti-poverty program…
... I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most revolutionary. The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed annual income. We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished…
Opposing the War in Vietnam – The Obligation to Speak Out
"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam. The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. …But we must move on.
…We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. ... If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over....

Opposing the War in Vietnam – Links Between War at Home and War Abroad

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

The War in Vietnam – More Links Between War at Home and War Abroad

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
A tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

… As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, "What about Vietnam?" They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

The War in Vietnam – Inflicting Suffering, Sowing Hatred

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
…we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy…
So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building?

The War in Vietnam – A Call to Resist

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.
As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. … These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Beyond Vietnam – Imperialist Policies Around the World

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
…In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.
It is with such activity [U.S. support for dictatorships in Latin America and Vietnam] in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments…

Beyond Vietnam - A Revolution of Values

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
… I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
…A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

Beyond Vietnam – The Threat to Humanity

"Beyond Vietnam," Address,” Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967:
…We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate…
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity…
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

On Black Power and Black Nationalism

1967, from I May Not Get There With You, by Michael Eric Dyson:
The Negro will only be free when he reaches down to the inner depths of his own being and signs with the pen and ink of assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation. And with a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the Negro must boldly throw off the manacles of self-abnegation and say to himself and to the world, “I am somebody I am a person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich and noble history. How painful and exploited that history has been... . Yes, we must stand up and say, “I’m black and I’m beautiful,” and this self-affirmation is the black man’s need, made compelling by the white man’s crimes against him.
…When we see integration in political terms, then we recognize that there are times when we must see segregation as a temporary way-station to a truly integrated society. There are many Negroes who feel this; they do not see segregation as the ultimate goal. They do not see separation as the ultimate goal. They see it as a temporary way-station to put them into a bargaining position to get to that ultimate goal, which is a truly integrated society where there is shared power. I must honestly say that there are points at which I share this view There are points at which I see the necessity for temporary segregation in order to get to the integrated society.... We don’t want to be integrated out of power; we want to be integrated into power.

Toward the end of his life, King said, “Most whites are unconscious racists,” and that despite the work of a relatively small number of white allies, “There has never been any single, solid, determined commitment on the part of the vast majority of white Americans--to genuine equality for Negroes.”

Questioning Capitalism, Contemplating Socialism

From King’s presidential address to the SCLC convention, 1967:
A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will “thingify” them, make them things. Therefore they will exploit them, and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.

From King’s Where Do We Go From Here? 1967:
There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.

Questioning Capitalism, Contemplating Socialism (continued)

From King’s Where Do We Go From Here? 1967:
…And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” These are words that must be said.

Statement to his staff, 1966 quoted in I May Not Get There With You, Michael Eric Dyson:
We are now making demands that will cost the nation something. You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with the captains of industry... Now this means that we are treading in difficult waters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong.., with capitalism.... There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.
(After this quote, Michael Eric Dyson adds, “This statement is remarkable since King rarely allowed his positive response to democratic socialism to be recorded. His usual practice, according to one of his aides, was to demand that they “turn off the tape recorder” while he expounded on the virtues of “what he called democratic socialism, and he said, ‘I can’t say this publicly, and if you say I said it I’m not gonna admit to it.”)

The Next Stage of Nonviolent Direct Action: Mass Civil Disobedience

Dec. 1967, Published posthumously in King’s The Trumpet of Conscience 1968:
The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both white and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of … their fellow citizens, but against the structures which the society is refusing to take means … to lift the load of poverty…
… Nonviolent protest must now mature to a new level to correspond to heightened black impatience and stiffened white resistance. This higher level is mass civil disobedience. There must be more than a statement to the larger society, there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point. That interruption must not, however be clandestine or surreptitious. It must be open and, above all, conducted by large masses without violence. If the jails are filled to thwart it, its meaning will become even clearer…

…The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth, from which there is no shelter in isolation or armament. The storm will not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of the earth enables men everywhere to live in dignity and human decency. The American Negro … may be the vanguard of a prolonged struggle that may change the shape of the world, as billions of deprived shake and transform the earth in the quest for life, freedom and justice.

The Next Stage of Nonviolent Direct Action: Mass Civil Disobedience (continued)

From I May Not Get There With You, by Michael Eric Dyson:
The version of nonviolence that King promoted was more forceful than the outlook that spirited his previous social campaigns. His language reflected his shifting mood. In response, it seems, to the stepped-up attacks on both the social effectiveness of nonviolence and poor communities, King announced a bolder initiative, calling it, alternatively, “massive nonviolence,” “aggressive nonviolence,” and even “nonviolent sabotage.” King signaled his attempt to escalate his campaign to match the national escalation of racial violence. He also meant to counter the political opposition to his new direction by insisting that nonviolence would now contain “disruptive dimensions.”…
Protesters would engage in massive civil disobedience, tying up traffic, staging sit-ins in Congress and in government buildings, and shutting down business in the capital. The purpose of this massive, aggressive, disruptive, dislocating, sabotaging nonviolence was a protest “powerful enough, dramatic enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches, labor, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put pressure on congressmen to the point that they can no longer elude our demands.” In 1967, King described how massive nonviolence flowed from linking civil disobedience to the new urban contexts into which he attempted to extend its influence:

“Nonviolence must be adapted to urban conditions and urban moods. Non-violent protest must now mature to a new level, to correspond to heightened black impatience and stiffened white resistance. This high level is mass civil disobedience. There must be more than a statement to the larger society, there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.... To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer lasting, costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. It is a device of social action that is more difficult for a government to quell by superior force. ... It is militant and defiant, not destructive.”

On the Poor People’s March on Washington, planned for Spring 1968

From Inconvenient Hero (1997), by Vincent Harding:
[King’s] plan was to mobilize and train thousands of the poor and their allies to come to the nation’s capital and “just camp here and stay” until the country’s elected leaders acted on the urgent needs of the poor… “the city will not function” until Congress created and approved “a massive program on the part of the federal government that will make jobs or income a reality for every American citizen…”
In the fall, King was envisioning more than Washington as a target. “We’ve got to find a method that will disrupt our cities if necessary, create the crisis that will force the nation to look at the situation, dramatize it, and yet at the same time not destroy life or property.”

On the Poor People’s March on Washington, planned for Spring 1968 (continued)

From Inconvenient Hero (1997), by Vincent Harding:
He was planning to bring the poor of every color, to stand and sit with the poor where they could not be missed. He said, “We’ve got to camp in – put our tents in front of the White House… We’ve got to make it known that until our problem is solved, America may have many, many days, but they will be full of trouble. There will be no rest, there will be no tranquility in this country until the nation comes to terms with our problem.”
… Just a few weeks before the bullet struck (helping to explain to children, and to us, whose bullet it was and why it was fired), King took his own sense of the American dilemma and challenge even further. By then he had come to the conclusion that the black freedom struggle was actually, “exposing the evils that are deeply rooted in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society is the real issue to be faced.”

On Racial and Class Solidarity

April 3, 1968, Memphis, TN, King’s last speech, talking to striking sanitation workers:
… in this great period of history... 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.
[In this next paragraph, King refers to the on violence that broke out during a march the previous day. He criticizes the media for focusing only on the violence and not on the issue of injustice.]
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.
[Next King talks of organizing a boycott against companies opposing fair treatment of sanitation workers.]
…Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. …That's power right there, if we know how to pool it…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. …
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…

Reflecting on the Ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr.


Read the page(s) you were assigned, and write answers to the following questions (a-e):
a. What views does King express here that you already knew he held?
b. What did you learn about King's views here that you did NOT know about before?
c. Find a brief passage – it could be one or two sentences or just a part of a sentence – that strikes you as especially interesting, deep, poetic or moving to you. Underline it.
d. Are you surprised by anything King says on this page? If so, what is it that surprises you and why? (It may be some of what you already underlined in step “c” above.”)
e. Most media coverage about Martin Luther King these days does not include any of the views he expressed in these excerpts from his speeches and writings. Instead, we almost exclusively hear excerpts from his “I Have a Dream” speech and similar calls for an end to racial discrimination. Why do you imagine these other ideas are usually ignored?


1. Discuss with other students in your group what you found when you did the homework. (Anyone who wasn’t in class yesterday or didn’t do the homework, should still participate in the discussion.) As you discuss them, make notes on your page of King quotes of the observations you and others have made and underline important lines. Then have each person in your group read her or his choice aloud, with each reader following immediately after another.
2. Discuss the passage found by each member of the group. Mark on your page which lines each group member finds most interesting and make notes about their observations.
3. You will now be grouped with students who have read the other pages of King’s quotes. Share with them what your group discussed about the page you read, including the phrases and sentences that stood out most. Of course, you also will listen to what each other student found in his/her group. Take notes on their observations and mark and write on the pages they talk about.
4. We will now produce a “class poem” by reading aloud our chosen lines from King’s speeches and writings. Be prepared to read the lines you have chosen loudly and clearly to the class. Don’t worry if someone else also reads your line. In poetry, repetition commonly occurs.
5. After the class poem is completed, we will go back around the room once more so that each person can tell the rest of the class exactly where to find the quote they read and, if you can, why it stood out for you. The class may want to discuss what they’ve learned from this work.

Teacher's Guide
Essential Questions
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Additional Projects/Activities I
Additional Projects/Activities II
Additional Projects/Activities III
Additional Projects/Activities IV
Transcript of TV Reports
Michael Eric Dyson
  Materials for Other Activities
Instructions for Essay on King's Giant Triplets
Who Killed Martin Luther King?
St. Martin, The Militant
All Things Censored
Native American Resistance
Day Of Shame
Samples Of Student Work

Urban Dreams
OUSD Curriculum Unit
Hidden In Plain Sight -
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
Radical Vision
Subject: U.S. History
Grade Level: 11th

Lesson Plan Author:
Craig Gordon
Organization: OUSD