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Struggle for Equality: Quotes From Martin Luther King Jr.

The civil rights movement leader on the problems, solutions, and future of race matters

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

This article was originally published in Scholastic Newstime.

The crowd was hushed as it listened to the man speak. "I have a dream," he cried from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. "One day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed...that all men are created equal."

The man — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — was speaking to a crowd of 250,000 black and white Americans. They shared his dream of equality. They had gone to Washington, D.C., to hear this message: It was time all Americans were treated equally. The year was 1963.

Many of the people in the crowd had, like Dr. King, not been treated as equals by other Americans. Some blacks had been forced to use separate all-black schools, restaurants, and stores. They entered hospitals at different entrances, and used separate water fountains. In some parts of the nation blacks were denied the right to vote.

In 1963, blacks were rapidly gaining more equality in their rights. In most places in the U.S., schools, restaurants and stores were integrated. But even in these places, many black Americans could not buy homes where they pleased, or get good jobs.

Laws were needed to change these conditions. People had to be made aware that such a need existed. So the civil rights movement had begun. There were many leaders in the movement. Dr. King was among them. They led marches. They held boycotts. They held sit-ins. They helped register black citizens to vote.

What were the problems the civil rights movement faced? How could they be solved? What will happen in the future? Here are comments made by Dr. King in the years before he was killed in 1968.

On the Problems

"Only 7.8 percent of the Negro students in the South are attending integrated schools this year, a hundred years after our emancipation from slavery. At this pace it will take 92 more years to integrate the public schools of the South."  –1960

"I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs, and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered."  –1964, on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

"We must have our freedom now. We must have the right to vote. We must have equal protection of the law."  –1965, after march on Alabama state capital

"I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect."  –1958

"Segregation...not only harms one physically but injures one spiritually...It scars the soul...It is a system which forever stares the segregated in the face, saying 'You are less than...''You are not equal to...'"

On the Solutions

"We believe in law and order. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. If I am stopped, our work will not stop, for what we are doing is right."  –1956, in Montgomery, Alabama

"Three simple words can describe the nature of the social revolution that is talking place and what Negroes really want. They are the words "all," "now," and "here."

"Green power — that's the kind of power we need."

"You can't win against a political structure where you don't have the votes. But you can win against an economic power structure when you have the...power to make the difference between a merchant's profit and loss."  –1962, after demonstrations in Albany, Georgia

"Equality means dignity. And dignity demands a job and a paycheck that lasts through the week."  –1963

On the Future

"We've broken loose from...slavery and we have moved through the wilderness of legal segregation. Now we stand on the border of the promised land of integration."

"Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love...Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding."  –1958

"...We must continue to resist the system of segregation...We must work constructively to improve the standards themselves...This is a great hour for the Negro. The challenge is here...".

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  • Subjects:
    African American History, Civil Rights, Civics and Government, Equality, Fairness, Justice, Civil Rights Movement, African American, Tolerance and Acceptance, Martin Luther King Day, Prejudice and Tolerance Experiences
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