Excerpts from Dr. King’s remarks delivered on May 14, 1963 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
The American dream reminds us that every man is the heir of the legacy of dignity. This is a great dream. But ever since the founding fathers of our nation dreamed that dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy, but on the other hand we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed slavery and racial segregation have been strange paradoxes, and the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal is now more than ever being challenged to realize this great dream. For the shape of the world today does not permit our nation the luxury of an anemic democracy, and the price that our nation must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. In a real sense, the hours is late, the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now before it is too late.
I must hasten to say that we must solve this problem not merely to meet the communist challenge, as important as it happens to be. We must solve this problem not merely to appeal to Asian and African people, as important as that happens to be. In the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from American society because it is morally wrong. We must get rid of racial segregation because racial segregation stands against all of the basic precepts of our Judeo-Christian heritage. We must solve this problem because segregation substitutes an I-It relationship for the I-Thou relationship. It relegates persons to the status of things. So it is that we must move on in Birmingham and all over the South, and all over the nation to solve this problem, not merely because it is diplomatically expedient but because it is morally compelling. And so wherever people are assembled today, wherever people are working today to get rid of racial and economic injustice, they are the real saviours of democracy: they are working to make the American dream a reality.
We all want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic personalities, but I must be honest with you by saying that there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted, and to which I call all men of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.
I must confess that I will never adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I will never become adjusted to religious bigotry. I will never adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many and give luxuries to the few.
It may well be the greatest need of the hour, the greatest need of our world, to have more maladjustment….there is a need for men and women to be maladjusted as the prophet Amos. In his day, in the midst of injustices, his proud words echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”…There is a need for men to be as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could stand amid the men and women of his day, amid the intricacies of the formidable military of the Roman Empire, to say, “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,” and cry out, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”
Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the darkened midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.