Right Hooks

Martin Luther King Jr. on Riots

Aug. 18, 2014

In light of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, it may be helpful to reach into the past and review what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said about riots, especially with so many people evoking the words of MLK to back up their own agendas. (Al Sharpton, we’re talking about you.) During King’s speech titled “The Other America,” he said:

“I’m merely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that, without at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternatives than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … 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 and humanity. … I’ve been searching for a long time for an alternative to riots on one hand and timid supplication for justice on the other and I think that alternative is found in militant massive non-violence.”

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