Famous Speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Most Americans can likely name the author of the 'I Have a Dream' speech: Martin Luther King, Jr. In this lesson, however, we'll learn about three of King's many other speeches that also played an important part in the path to Civil Rights.

Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher from Atlanta who became a central figure in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was born in 1929, so he was about 34 when he gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington, D.C. While that speech stands out as his most popular, and perhaps one of the most important, the preacher and activist gave many other speeches that influenced the Civil Rights movement.

'A Time to Break the Silence'

Four years after his 'I Have a Dream' speech, King was still regularly preaching. On April 4, 1967, he delivered a sermon that actually hurt his strong relationships with President Lyndon Johnson and other important leaders. By this time, many prominent leaders had realized supporting King put them on the right side of history. Still, they were bothered when he started speaking out against issues beyond discrimination and racism. One such example was King's sermon 'Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,' given at Riverside Church in New York.

In this sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against the Vietnam War. You may be thinking, 'Sure, but a lot of people were against the Vietnam War.' That's easy for us to see in retrospect. But although some protests had begun by 1967, many Americans still saw the war as important to stopping the spread of communism. King's sermon questioned the morality of the war, asking why the government was sending young black men 8,000 miles away to help countries secure rights they didn't even have at home.

The speech was important because it highlighted some of the hypocrisy of the United States' defense strategy, but it was also one of King's most controversial. While not believed to be associated with the speech in particular, King was assassinated exactly one year later.

'Our God is Marching On'

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, a number of black, registered voters wanted to march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama - the capital - to cast their votes. They had actually tried this march twice before and were stopped by state troopers. This time, President Johnson ordered 2,000 national guardsman, FBI agents, and state troopers under federal control to protect the 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. Around 25,000 citizens participated in this march, which was led in part by Martin Luther King, Jr.

When the last of the marchers - many of them white clergy and laypeople - arrived in Montgomery, they were addressed by King. He said, 'They told us we wouldn't get here. And there were those who said we would only get here over their dead bodies, but all the world today knows that we are here, and that we are standing before the forces of Alabama saying, We ain't going to let nobody turn us around.'

This speech was given on the steps of the statehouse, where George Wallace's office waited with blinds drawn. The governor of Alabama at the time, Wallace was fiercely against desegregation. During this time, Wallace himself actually blocked the door to part of the University of Alabama so black students couldn't register for classes. He repeatedly stated 'segregation forever,' and was very much against the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. After the speech, the crowd started singing 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,' and the sermon took its name from lyrics to this song.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivering a Sermon
Martin Luther King, Jr. Giving Speech

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