Tuesday History: The final segment of Martin Luther King’s historic Montreat speech

FINAL COMMENTS: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leaves Anderson Auditorium at Montreat Assembly after speaking to the Christian Action Conference Saturday, Aug. 21, 1965.
FINAL COMMENTS: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leaves Anderson Auditorium at Montreat Assembly after speaking to the Christian Action Conference Saturday, Aug. 21, 1965. Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Heritage Center, Montreat

We return this week with the final installment of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montreat speech, “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension.” In it, King addresses the importance of nonviolence. He also speaks to the power of the maladjusted.

To view last week’s segment, click here.

On Aug. 21, 1965 King said:

Thank God, we are beginning now to shake the messages from our souls, and we’re coming to see that if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ we’ve got to solve this problem [of segregation], and we must solve it because it will be one of the great tragedies of history if some future given or some future ponderer will be able to write for the history books that it was the Christian church in the South that was the last bastion of segregated power.

So this is our challenge that we in the Negro community, as we go on in the days ahead in the civil rights struggle, will have to move on with: discipline and dignity, never slowing up, never relenting, for that would be immoral — always moving on with a face and with a message under-guarded by … a philosophy of nonviolence, because I think it has power. It has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale and at the same time it works on his conscience and he just doesn’t know how to handle it.

If he doesn’t beat you, wonderful; if he beats you, you … develop the quiet courage of accepting blow without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful; nobody innocent loves to go to jail. But if he puts you in that jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the utter conviction that there [are] some things so dear, there are some things so precious, some things so attainably true that they’re worth dying for.

Our power will never lie in rioting, it will never lie in looting, it will never lie in destroying property, it will never lie in shooting anybody. Our power will lie in picking up the weapons of love and nonviolence and taking out [our] bodies and our souls and mobilizing them toward a powerful mass movement that will bring attention to the issue and that will so create the kind of creative tension, that no community can ignore it.

… Somehow, we must be able to say to our most violent opponent: We will not in any way hate you; we will not show capacity to inflict suffering. By our capacity to endure suffering, we will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And so, throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and we will still love you. Send your willing perpetrators of violence into our communities after midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and even kill us and, as hard as it is, we will still love you.

Send your propaganda agents around the country, make it appear that we are not fit morally or culturally for integration and we will still love you, but be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day, we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and to your conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory. This is it.

This is the love I like to talk about. I’m not talking about a weak love here. I’m not talking about emotional gush. I’m not talking about some affectionate emotion even. It is something much deeper than that. … Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When one rises to love on this level, he loves every man. Not because he likes him. Not because his ways appeal to him. But because God loves him. He rises to the position of being able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does.

If this problem is to be solved in our country today, there must be a sort of divine discontent. It isn’t going to work itself out. Enough people must rise up and be a part of that creative minority and say I’m going to take a stand in spite of.

There are certain words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotyped and cliched. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. I’m certain we all want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must honestly say to you, and I hope that you will understand, there are some things in our nation and in our society [for] which I’m proud to be maladjusted. Which I hope all men of goodwill will be maladjusted until the good societies realize.

I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I must say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

It may well be our world today is in desperate need of a new organization, The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day will cry out in words that echo across the centuries: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty spring.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Hear the first segment of Martin Luther King’s Montreat speech, below.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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