Read MLK’s Moving Words Upon Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

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When the Nobel Prize Committee announced 50 years ago next Tuesday that Martin Luther King Jr. would receive the Peace Prize, reactions were — unsurprisingly — mixed.

As TIME noted in its Oct. 23, 1964, issue, those who opposed the Civil Rights cause were outraged: the news, said one Louisiana segregationist, was evidence of Communist influence on the Committee. But beyond the bigoted strongholds of Jim Crow, support for the decision was widespread. King, at the time the youngest person ever to get that particular honor, said that he would dedicate all of the $54,000 that accompanied to award to toward the cause of equal rights.

The Civil Rights leader was, TIME reported, getting a routine physical on the day the news broke. But when he appeared in Oslo that December to collect the award, he got the chance to speak eloquently about about why that funding was still desperately needed — and why he felt a Peace Prize was appropriate for a movement that had a lot of fighting left to do.

Here’s the excerpt of his speech that TIME published in the Dec. 18 issue:

“I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered.

“Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.”

… “After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that non violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

“I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

“Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired, and with renewed dedication to humanity. I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owner—all those to whom beauty is truth and truth, beauty—and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”

Read TIME’s full report on Martin Luther King Jr’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, here in the archives: Race: Two Perspectives

The full speech can be found here, at the official website of the Nobel Prize: Nobel Peace Prize 1964, Acceptance Speech

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