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Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech (December 10, 1964)

Every year, I start my MLK holiday by reading one of his speeches, letters, or sermons. Sometimes, it's one I'm already familiar with, like the "I Have a Dream" speech. This year, I decided to read something different. There's always some point at which I tear up, because of the rhythm, the rhetoric, and the crazy way in which he and his speech writer managed to say not just the right thing for then, but the right thing for now, whenever the now is. And then I pull myself together and get on with my day, celebrating the fact that a lot of people made a lot of sacrifices so that I could sleep in today.
If you haven't before, take a look at Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech over at the Nobel Prize website, which is what I chose to read this morning. The whole thing is worth reading (the whole thing usually is, but here's an excerpt - my highlights: 
I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder......I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him...This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up.
(From Les Prix Nobel en 1964, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1965)

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