Some quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. are remembered widely, often evoking the tenets of love, peace and unity in the quest for justice.
But amid nationwide protests spurred by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a 1967 speech by King at Stanford University has become increasingly resonant.
The “Other America”‘ speech was recently shared on Twitter by the King Center, the organization set up by Coretta Scott King to honor her late husband.
In the speech, King emphasized his support for nonviolent tactics in the “struggle for freedom and justice” and expressed his disapproval for riots, referring to them as “socially destructive.”
King, however, argues that worsening economic and social conditions that black Americans experience must be condemned as equally as riots. It is here he invokes the line: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Here’s part of the speech:
Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention
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