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King Day: Democracy gained

Nowadays, it's difficult to remember the Jim Crow segregation era, when blacks were outcasts who couldn't enter white schools, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, pools -- and couldn't live in "white neighborhoods" -- and couldn't get jobs except menial work -- and couldn't vote, drink from a "white" water fountain, use a "white" restroom, swim at a "white" beach, or ride in the front of a bus in some parts of America. In the Deep South, assertive blacks often were lynched.

America's cruel apartheid was defeated by the historic civil rights movement. Foremost among leaders was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who taught peaceful resistance -- until he was murdered by white bigots. This holiday weekend honors the martyr who forced America to obey its maxim that "all men are created equal." As usual, we reprint some of King's eloquent statements during his struggle:

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"A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan." -- quoted by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., in his newsletter

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"If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, 'There lived a great people -- a black people -- who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.'" -- address at Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 31, 1955

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"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important." -- The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, 1962

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"The hope of the world is still in dedicated minorities. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific and religious freedom have always been in the minority." -- quoted by the Council for Secular Humanism

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"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." -- letter from Birmingham jail, Jan. 16, 1963

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"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." -- address at Lincoln Memorial during a march on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963

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"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool." -- 1963

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"Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched across the pages of history the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, we were here. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail." -- address at Birmingham, Dec. 31, 1963

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"A riot is the language of the unheard." -- ibid

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"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to rouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the higher respect for the law." -- Why We Can't Wait, 1964

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"Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon... which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." -- ibid.

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"If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive." -- after learning of death threats, St. Augustine, Fla., June 5, 1964

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"...a sound and good decision reaffirming something that is basic in our constitution: namely, separation of church and state." -- commenting on the historic 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned government-enforced prayer in schools

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"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant." -- Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dec. 10, 1964

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"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.... Violence merely increases hate." -- Where Do We Go From Here?, 1967

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"Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them." -- address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Aug. 16, 1967

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"It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of white society." -- ibid.

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"I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.... So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." -- address in Memphis, April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination

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"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that, what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up."

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"Too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America. In doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question... How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellows? To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it."

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"Somehow this madness must cease. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours." -- April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City

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"The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only Southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South."

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"Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is seldom gained without sacrifice and self-denial."

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"There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth." -- The Measure of the Man, 1958

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"A man who won't die for something is not fit to live."

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"The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself. It, too, is based on a lack of faith. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition."

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"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

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"Through education we seek to change attitudes; through legislation and court orders we seek to regulate behavior. Through education we seek to change internal feelings; through legislation and court orders we seek to control the external effects of those feelings. Through education we seek to break down the spiritual barriers to integration; through legislation and court orders we seek to break down the physical barriers to integration. One method is not a substitute for the other, but a meaningful and necessary supplement."


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