Martian Luther King Jr: A Riot is the Language of the Unheard – The Other America

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“Let me say as I’ve always said and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people and their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impractical for the negro to even think about mounting a violent revolution in the United States, so I will continue to condemn riots and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way, and continue to affirm that there is another way. But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is to me to condemn riots. I think that America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that American has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last few years, it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

On April 14, 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his speech entitled “The Other America” at Stanford where he explained the vast gap that separated white America and Black America — in housing, in education, in healthcare, in employment, etc. He criticized the late 1960 riots that were breaking out all over the country and he clearly talked about the need to understand and not just condemn those who were rioting. He also called for an end to the conditions of injustice and impoverishment that created the situation to begin with.

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