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Martin Luther King: If You Don’t Stand Up For Justice, You Die Even If You Live To Be 90

2012/01/16

Today in the United States it is Martin Luther King Day. Reverend King delivered this rousing sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in November, 1967, less than 5 months before he was murdered. Now, 45 years later, Reverend King continues to inspire people of conscience. In this day, at this time, we are being asked to stand up and speak out for our children’s future, and stand up against the forces of greed who would destroy it in their pursuit of the almighty dollar. That future, for me, is “something that’s so dear, so precious, that is so eternally worthful” that I will never give it up.

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Part of the transcript:

I want to say to you this morning, my friends, that somewhere along the way you should discover something that’s so dear, so precious to you, that is so eternally worthful, that you will never give it up. You ought to discover some principle, you ought to have some great faith that grips you so much that you will never give it up. Somehow you go on and say “I know that the God that I worship is able to deliver me, but if not, I’m going on anyhow, I’m going to stand up for it anyway. What does this mean? It means, in the final analysis, you do right not to avoid hell. If you’re doing right merely to keep from going to something that traditional theology has called hell then you aren’t doing right. If you do right merely to go to a condition that theologians have called heaven, you aren’t doing right. If you are doing right to avoid pain and to achieve happiness and pleasure then you aren’t doing right. Ultimately you must do right because it’s right to do right. And you got to say “But if not.” You must love ultimately because it’s lovely to love. You must be just because it’s right to be just. You must be honest because it’s right to be honest. This is what this text is saying more than anything else. And finally, you must do it because it has gripped you so much that you are willing to die for it if necessary. And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause–and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice.

To read the full transcript, click here.

Here is an earlier interview with Dr. King, in which he discusses the focus of the civil rights movement after the success of the movement in changing the laws. He was visionary in seeing the economic changes that needed to be made for true equality to be present, and was also vocal in opposing the Vietnam War.

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