• U.S.

Races: Two Perspectives

5 minute read

Rarely in a single week had two Americans spoken with greater authority and eloquence on the contemporary condition of man. In Oslo, where he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke with the insight of a Negro who has led his race’s monumental struggle without ever losing the faith and idealism that gave inspiration to his people. Half a world away in Washington, Lyndon Johnson talked from the broader perspective of the presidency, where pragmatism, no less than idealism, is a prime quality of leadership. Both men served their purposes well.

In moving, measured cadence, King told an audience that included King Olav V: “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.”

An Audacious Faith. “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 ac cept 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.”

“I Do Not Agree.” With equal determination and solemnity, his fists clenched, President Johnson leaned across a rostrum in Washington’s Sheraton-Park Hotel and addressed some 400 civil rights and Negro leaders at a Community Action Assembly called by the National Urban League. “One of the Presidents I admire most signed the Emancipation Proclamation 100 years ago,” he said. “But emancipation was a proclamation and was not a fact. It shall be my purpose, and it is my duty, to make it a fact.” With that, his audience rose and flooded the hall with a torrent of applause.

“Until every qualified person,” continued Johnson, “regardless of the house where he worships or the state where he resides or the way he spells his name or the color of his skin—until he has the right unquestioned and unrestrained to go in and cast his ballot in every precinct in this country, I am not going to be satisfied.*

“There are those who say: It has taken us a century to move this far, and it will take another hundred years to finish the job. Well, I am here to say to you tonight that I do not agree. Great social change tends to come rapidly in periods of intense activity and progress before the impulse slows. I believe we are in the midst of such a period of change.

“There are those who predict that the struggle for full equality in America will be marked by violence and hate; that it will tear at the fabric of our society. Well, for myself, I cannot claim to see so clearly into that future. I just do not agree. I know that racial feelings flow from many deep and resistant sources in our history, in the pattern of our lives and in the nature of man. But I believe there are other forces, that are stronger because they are armed with truth, which will bring us toward our goal in peace. There are our commitments to morality and to justice, which are written in our laws and, more importantly, nourished in the hearts of our people. These commitments, carried forward by men of good will in every part of this land, will lead this nation toward the great and necessary fulfillment of American freedom. In this way, our peoples will once again prove equal to the ideals and the values on which our beloved nation rests.”

*Toward that end, Johnson announced that he has appointed Vice President-elect Hu bert Humphrey to coordinate all federal activities in the civil rights field, including those of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Di vision, the Civil Rights Commission, the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing, the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, and the Community Relations Service.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com