Martin Luther King Jr's Greatest Speeches

The Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr dedicated his life to the pursuit of racial equality and social justice in the U.S, and brought about a number of important legislative changes across the nation.

Through his commitment to nonviolent resistance King Jr amassed a strong following and support for the Civil Rights movement, and often drew large crowds when delivering compelling speeches, many of which still ring true today.

To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day, Newsweek has compiled excerpts from some of King Jr's most memorable and inspiring speeches.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence

"We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam.

"I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

"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. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world." — Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence, Riverside Church, New York City, 4 April, 1967.

The American Dream

"It is trite, but urgently true that if America is to remain a first class nation, she can no longer have second class citizens. I must rush on to say that we must not seek to solve this problem merely to meet the communist challenge. We must not seek to do it merely to appeal to Asian and African people.

In the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from our society because it is morally wrong. It must be done because segregation stands against all of the noble precepts of our Judeo-Christian heritage. It must be done because segregation substitutes an I-it relationship for the I-thou relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. And so, this problem must be solved, not merely because it is diplomatically expedient, but because it is morally compelling. And so, every person of goodwill in this nation is called upon to work passionately and unrelentingly to realize the American Dream. And the persons who are working to do this are not dangerous agitators. They are not dangerous rabble-rousers, but they are the persons working to save the soul of America.

"Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work, time itself becomes the ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social stagnation, so that we must somehow get rid of this idea that time alone will solve the problem. We must use time." — The American Dream, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, July 4, 1965.

MLK Speech at Sproul Plaza in Berkeley
Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. Michael Ochs/Getty Images

Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

"All that I have said boils down to the point of affirming that mankind's survival is dependent upon man's ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty, and war; the solution of these problems is in turn dependent upon man squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony. Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested story plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: "A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together." This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a big house, a great "world house" in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.

This means that more and more our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. We must now give an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response which is little more than emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality." — Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964

I Have Been To The Mountaintop

"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 20th 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.

We have been forced to a point where we are 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 the choice between violence and non-violence, in this world is non-violence or non-existence. That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done and done 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.

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. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike, but either we go up together, or we go down together.

I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. 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." I Have Been To The Mountaintop, Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968. This was his final speech before being fatally shot the next day.

I Have A Dream

"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

"But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood." I Have A Dream, March on Washington. Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963

MLK Speech at Washington DC
Back view of American civil rights leader and Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr, dressed in black robes and holding out his hands towards the thousands of people who have gathered to hear him speak near the Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC during the Prayer Pilgrimage on 17th May 1957. Hulton Archive/Getty Images