* excerpts from Citizen King, 1963 “The Negro and the American Promise.”
Now, we all knew. I know you knew, and I knew too, that a moment was coming when we couldn’t guarantee, that no one can guarantee, that he won’t reach the breaking point, you know? You can only survive so many beatings, so much humiliation, so much despair, so many broken promises, before something gives. Human beings are not by nature non-violent. Those children had to pay a terrible price in discipline, in moral discipline — an interior effort of courage which the country cannot imagine,
when Malcolm talks or one of the Muslims talks, they articulate for all the Negro people who hear them, who listen to them. They articulate their suffering, the suffering which has been in this country so long denied. That’s Malcolm’s great authority over any of his audiences. He corroborates their reality; he tells them that they really exist … it is much more sinister because it is much more effective. It is much more effective, because it is, after all, comparatively easy to invest a population with a false morale by giving them a false sense of superiority, and it will always break down in a crisis. It’s the history of Europe … But my point here is, that the country is for the first time worried about the Muslim movement. It shouldn’t be worried about the Muslim movement. That’s not the problem. The problem is to eliminate the conditions which breed the Muslim movement.
Poor Martin has gone through God knows what kind of hell to awaken the American conscience, but Martin has reached the end of his rope. There are some things Martin can’t do — Martin’s only one man. Martin can’t solve the nation’s central problem by himself. There are lots of people, lots of black people I mean, now, who don’t go to church no more, and don’t listen to Martin, you know, and anyway are themselves produced by a civilization which has always glorified violence — unless the Negro had the gun. So that Martin is undercut by the performance of the country. The country is only concerned about non-violence if it seems that I’m going to get violent. It’s not worried about non-violence if it’s some Alabama sheriff.
But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives — it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long… What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it… The question you have got to ask yourself — the white population of this country has got to ask itself — North and South… if I’m not a nigger here and you invented him, you, the white people, invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question… Simply to face that question. Face that question.