This book is a compilation of lectures given to a Canadian radio audience in 1967. These speeches focus on the future of the Civil Rights movement as it becomes part of the more expansive humanitarian movement.
Impasse in Race Relations
He starts the lecture by explaining the role Canada played in the liberation struggle. Canada was the last stop on the Underground Railroad. In the fugitives, slaves coded songs; it was symbolized by the word “heaven or north star.”
He then moved on to a discussion of the Civil Rights Movement and broke the movement down into two phases. The first was the unified resistance against the legal institution of Jim Crow. Once Jim Crow ended, many whites felt the struggle was over. The relative place of black people improved. The whites that were satisfied saw no need for equality between the races.
The second phase of the Civil Rights Movement is now underway. The focus now is not on law, but building a moral revolution. Also, many repressed feelings are surfacing. The first is the prejudice of whites; now that there are more interactions with other races. The second is the repressed rage of many blacks.
The repressed rage manifested itself in riots in the North. Many whites saw these riots as evidence that black people were fundamentally not able to handle freedom. Many blacks saw the riots as the first stages of an armed rebellion to take over the government.
King holistically analyzed the riots. The rage black people exhibited in the riots was caused by years of failed policy. Poor policy decisions caused discrimination, slums, unemployment, and poverty. The crimes on Blacks are derivative. Even when Blacks serve in the military, they return home to be treated as second class citizens. To build a more egalitarian society, there needs to be a government focused initiative to end poverty. King explicitly asks for a jobs program and Universal Basic Income.
The riots were also caused by frustration in the inability of the Civil Rights Movement to affect change in the Northern cities. Marches have little effectiveness in bustling cities that are used to large gatherings of people. King admitted the movement must devise new methods that are also non-violent.
When King used the term “The White Man,” he explains he does not mean all white people. Many whites had aided him in the Civil Rights Movement. The term “The White Man” is a shorthand to represent the black man’s adversary. Not only people but policy and value systems.
Conscience and the Vietnam War
This lecture was given after the famed Riverside Church speech in which he first denounced the Vietnam War. He addressed his critics asking why a civil rights activist would get involved in the peace movement. In the speech, King not only explains how the two issues are related, but how one that fights for equality in America can not turn his back on the freedom struggles of people across the globe.
There was three main criticism given by King for the Vietnam War. The first was spending for the war diverts funds away from social programs to aid the poor. The second was the poor do most of the fighting when they don’t even have full democracy at home. Finally, one can not advocate for non-violence in their movement and condone state-sponsored violence.
Ultimately, the USA was on the wrong side of history. King admits the National Liberation Front were no paragons of virtue, but only 25% of their soldiers were communist. Their opposition, the Ngo Dinh Diem government, brutally suppressed dissent. The United Buddhist Church, the largest non-communist political organization, was included in this suppression. The USA is motivated to support moneyed interest and the former colonial powers. The Vietnamese can not trust America while they destroy their country and rip apart families.
No American can sit on the sideline on the issue of Vietnam. We are required as Humanists to protest. The only question is what type of protest. This opposition will be under-girded by a revolution of American values centered around wisdom, justice, and love. Communism is ultimately a judgment on the failure of capitalism to meet people’s needs.
Youth and Social Action
The current generation is the first to live under the threat of nuclear war. This threat made ventures such as the Vietnam War risky with no apparent reward insight. America had lost its purpose, and the youth felt this disillusionment.
There were three groups of young people in Dr. King’s estimation. The first is the conformists. They understand the current system is untenable, but they have not entirely given up on it. The second group is the radicals. They understand the urgency for action to induce systematic change. However, they don’t have an ideology, and they are also not committed to non-violence. The last group is the Hippies. They seek to escape and disengage in society. When they participate in protests, it is a form of escape, not a catalyst for change. King correctly predicted the group would not last long, and many will move into communes away from the larger society.
Without a larger purpose to society, material growth has become a means to its end. The marriage of Big Business and the government has left many feeling alienated. Alienation is walking death, and it is especially damaging for the young.
Social cohesion will be regained when a new moral mission is undertaken. The hippies can provide their commitment to non-violence. The radicals will bring their urgency for action. Practical problem solving will be provided by the conformists. The new commitment to purpose is desperately needed because we are running out of time.
Non-Violence and Social Change
King begins with an ethical defense of civil disobedience. Most of his critics disagreed with his tactics because he was, ultimately, breaking the law. He uses the metaphor of a fire truck going through red lights. The urgency to put out a fire matters more than obeying traffic law. In the same way, ending segregation was an urgent need and law had to be broken for the greater good.
In the same way, people were attempting to understand Civil Disobedience. They wanted to understand the race riots happening in the North. Many whites saw the riots as proof that Blacks could not assimilate into society, and they were naturally bloodthirsty. Dr. King rebuts this idea with facts.
The riots did cause millions of dollars in property damage, but no white people were killed. Most of the deaths during the riots were blacks shot by the military. The looting and theft were motivated by a need to rebel against a system of oppression and not personal greed. Many of the loiter returned the merchandise after the riot, which proves they only wanted the thrill of taking something they couldn’t otherwise buy.
The rioters were rebelling against a system and not motivated by a blood lust to kill whites. If they wanted to kill whites, they would have killed them. They didn’t fear death or retaliation because they could be killed for looting. The riots were ultimately a warning. If nothing changes systematically, violence could be worse next time.
King also addressed critics that said non-violent direct action would not work in the North because Blacks in the North were more violent and too sophisticated. This idea results from a common stereotype that Blacks in the South are docile and slow. In reality, violent personalities often channel their anger constructively through Civil Disobedience. In fact, during the Chicago campaign members of the street gang Black Stone Rangers march with King and stayed non-violent. The same was true of people that had violent personalities in the South. However, new tactics need to be devised to address social injustice holistically.
The next phase of the Civil Rights Movement will be international. The first stage would require 3000 volunteers into a non-violent army of the poor. They would receive months of training in non-violent direct action to prepare for an occupation of the mall in Washington, DC. Their focus would be to advocate for policies to lower unemployment and increase wages.
As for the international front, King worked toward reducing military intervention and increasing foreign aid to developing countries. He goes as far as saying 3% of Gross National Product should be going to international aid. Developing countries are poor because of exploitation from the West, not an inability to manage their countries.
He also calls for economic sanctions on countries that aren’t practicing humanitarian values. South Africa was explicitly needed sanction until Apartheid ended. Only a united effort to apply pressure to Capital will lead to conditions of change.
Christmas Sermon on Peace
In this sermon, King explores what it means to have “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” To him, this phrase was an affirmation of the sacredness of all life. It also is a commitment to love over hate.
To better define love, he goes through the ancient greek classifications of the word. The first definition is “eros,” which is the ascetic romantic love for the divine. The next definition is “philo” which is an intimate love between friends. King wants the audience to practice and understanding of goodwill for all man mimicking the love of G-d, “agape.”
There is also a difference in agape love and liking someone. Liking is superficial and spawned from positive interaction. One can’t love someone that slanders, attacks, and dismisses him. Love understands redemptive goodwill. Not retaliating with physical force, but Gandhi’s “soul force.” The King movement will wear down their enemy with their ability to endure hardships.
In this speech, King says one of his most often misconstrued quotes:
“Toward the end of that afternoon (March on Washington), I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.”
He then explained how he was frustrated at the continued violence against black people when fighting for freedom, black systemic poverty, and escalation of US interventionism. He ends by doubling down on the original “I Have a Dream Speech” saying he will not lose hope. King never gave up on integrating America. Instead, he expanded his mission to help the poor all over the world.