* excerpts from Citizen King, 1963 “The Negro and the American Promise.”
That’s part of the dilemma of being an American Negro; that one is a little bit colored and a little bit white, and not only in physical terms but in the head and in the heart, and there are days — this is one of them — when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel, white majority, that you are here? And to be here means that you can’t be anywhere else… It doesn’t matter any longer what you do to me; you can put me in jail, you can kill me. By the time I was 17, you’d done everything that you could do to me.
A boy last week, he was sixteen, in San Francisco, told me on television… “I’ve got no country. I’ve got no flag.” Now, he’s only 16 years old, and I couldn’t say, “you do.” I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does. They were tearing down his house, because San Francisco is engaging — as most Northern cities now are engaged — in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out. It means Negro removal, that is what it means. The federal government is an accomplice to this fact.
Now, we are talking about human beings, there’s not such a thing as a monlithic wall or some abstraction called the Negro problem, these are Negro boys and girls, who at 16 and 17 don’t believe the country means anything that it says and don’t feel they have any place here, on the basis of the performance of the entire country […] in the first place, the Negro has never been as docile as white Americans wanted to believe. That was a myth. We were not singing and dancing down on the levee — we were trying to keep alive; we were trying to survive. It was a very brutal system.
The Negro has never been happy in this place. What those kids first of all proved — first of all, they proved that. They come from a long line of fighters and what they also prove … is not that the Negro has changed, but that the country has arrived at a place where he can no longer contain the revolt, he can no longer, as he could do once — When the boy said this afternoon — we were talking to a Negro student this afternoon who has been through it all, who’s half dead and only about 25, Jerome Smith. That’s an awful lot to ask a person to bear. The country sat back in admiration of all those kids for three or four or five years, and has not lifted a finger to help them.