One of Martin Luther King’s Three Most Important Speeches- I’ve Been To The Mountaintop

Time to Break Silence
I’ve Been To The Mountaintop
I Have A Dream

The Speech

As one of King’s close advisers and friend, Andrew Young, writes, “No speech has provoked as much discussion and debate as the message” he delivered in his last address, I’ve Been To The Mountaintop. Speaking without notes, he delivered a spell-bounding message. The response of the audience produced a “powerful spiritual transformation of an earthly situation into a transcendent religious moment.” As what was say of that moment and situation, “God was in this place.”  In this speech, his last one, he weaves together a number of themes which demonstrated his evolving social and political thought. Thus, in the speech, I’ve Been To The Mountaintop, King:

Links struggle of black sanitation workers in Memphis with the liberation struggle in Africa- “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.’

Argues that Nonviolent struggle as the only viable option in the world today- “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 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’s where we are today.”

Suggest that the continued forward flow of human history is dependant on the struggle of people of color to free and live with dignity and a decent standard of living- “If something isn’t done in a hurry, to bring the colored people of the world our of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.”

Highlights the dawning of a new black consciousness- “I can remember when Negroes were just going around…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. We are saying we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.”

Demands that the preacher work for justice on behalf of the poor- “Who is it that is suppose to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more that the preacher? Somehow the preacher must 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.”

Advances black liberation theology theme- “It’s all right 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 all right 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 all right 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.”

Urges African Americans to adopt a cooperative economics approach- “We are a poor people, individually, we are poor. Never stop to forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine… The Negro is richer than most nations of the world. That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it… I call upon you to take your money our of banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank… You have six or seven black insurance companies in Memphis. Take your insurance there.”

Urges collective concern and responsibility- “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness… Be concern about your brother… You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together… The question is not, ‘if I stop to help this man in need what will happen to me? If I do not stop to help the sanitation worker what will happen to them? That’s the question.”

Suggest that the struggle by blacks to free themselves from racism and poverty will make America a better nation- “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.”

Tells African American that they will be victorious in their struggle and that they will reach the “promise land”- “I don’t kwon 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…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 promise land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promise land… Mine eyes have seen the coming and the glory of the Lord.”



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