Full text [Edited Transcript] of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture titled “The Quest for Peace and Justice” which was delivered in the Auditorium of the University of Oslo on December 11, 1964.
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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – American Baptist minister and activist
Mr. [Gunnar] Jahn, Mr. [August] Schou and to all of the members of the Nobel Committee, ladies and gentlemen. It is impossible to begin this lecture without again expressing my deep appreciation to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament for bestowing upon me and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States such a great honor.
Occasionally in life, there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot completely be explained by those symbols called words. Their meaning can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart. Such is the moment I am presently experiencing.
I experience this high and joyous moment, not for myself alone, but for those devotees of non-violence who have moved so courageously against the ramparts of racial injustice, and who in the process have acquired a new estimate of their own human worth. Many of them are young and cultured. Others are middle-aged and middle-class.
The majority are poor and untutored. But they are all united in the quiet conviction that it is better to suffer in dignity than accept segregation in humiliation. They are the real heroes of the freedom struggle; they are the noble people for whom I accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
I would like to say also that it is a habit experience to know that so many friends who have worked closely with me over the last few years in this struggle were willing to go into their pocketbooks and their means and their humble financial situations, and to come to Oslo to be a part of this experience.
And naturally it is a great pleasure and privilege to have my devoted wife, my mother and father, my sister, and brother, and among the many other friend, my close associate, the one who has been the dearest friend to me in this struggle, Ralph David Abernathy.
I would also like to say just a word about the many courtesies extended by the Norwegian people. I have traveled in many lands and many places over the world, but very seldom if ever, have I found people more friendly than the people of Norway. And we will long remember all of the courtesies extended and your great friendliness.
And I particularly want to thank the committee, especially Mr. Jahn for the eloquent words that he uttered yesterday at the ceremony, and yesterday evening at the banquet. And I can assure you that all of these expressions of support are of inestimable value for the continuance of my humble efforts to make Brotherhood freedom and justice realities in the United States of America.
This evening, I would like to use this lofty and historic platform to discuss what appears to me to be the most pressing problem confronting mankind today. Modern man has brought the whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think, and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies. His airplanes and spaceships have dwarfed distance, placed time in chains, and carved highways through the stratosphere. This is a dazzling picture of modern man’s scientific and technological progress.
Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.
Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external. We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. So much of modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau: “Improved means to an unimproved end”.
This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the “without” of man’s nature subjugates the “within”, dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.
This problem of spiritual and moral lag, which constitutes modern man’s chief dilemma, expresses itself in three larger problems which grow out of man’s ethical infantilism. Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war.
The first problem that I would like to mention is racial injustice. The struggle to eliminate the evil of racial injustice constitutes one of the major struggles of our time. The present upsurge of the Negro people of the United States grows out of a deep and passionate determination to make freedom and equality a reality “here” and “now”.
In one sense the civil rights movement in the United States is a special American phenomenon which must be understood in the light of American history and dealt with in terms of the American situation. But on another and more important level, what is happening in the United States today is a relatively small part of a world development.
“We live in a day”, says the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “when civilization is shifting its basic outlook: a major turning point in history where the presuppositions on which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply challenged, and profoundly changed.”
What we are seeing now is a freedom explosion, the realization of “an idea whose time has come”, to use Victor Hugo’s phrase. The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to the bright hills of freedom, in one majestic chorus the rising masses are singing, in the words of our freedom song, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.”
All over the world, like a fever, the freedom movement is spreading in the widest liberation in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands. They are awake and moving toward their goal like a tidal wave. You can hear them rumbling in every village street, on the docks, in the houses, among the students, in the churches, and at political meetings. Historic movement was for several centuries that of the nations and societies of Western Europe out into the rest of the world in “conquest” of various sorts.
That period, the era of colonialism, is at an end. East is meeting West. The earth is being redistributed. Yes, we are “shifting our basic outlooks”.
Now these developments should not surprise any student of history. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, “Let my people go.”
This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story. The present struggle in the United States is a later chapter in the same unfolding story. Something within has reminded the Negro of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.