The last half century has seen crucial changes in the life of the American Negro. The social upheavals of the
two world wars, the great depression, and the spread of the automobile have made it both possible and
necessary for the Negro to move away from bis former isolation on the rural plantation. The decline of
agriculture and the parallel growth of industry have drawn large numbers of Negroes to urban centers
and brought about a gradual improvement in their economic status. New contacts have led to a broadened
outlook and new possibilities for educational advance. All of these factors have conjoined to cause the
Negro to take a fresh look at himself. His expanding life experiences have created within him a
consciousness that he is an equal element in a larger social compound and accordingly should be given
rights and privileges commensurate with his new responsibilities. Once plagued with a tragic sense of
inferiority resulting from the crippling effects of slavery and segregation, the Negro has now been
driven to reevaluate himself. He has come to feel that he is somebody. His religion reveals to him
that God loves all His children and that the important thing about a man is not "his specificity
but his fundamentum" - not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin but bis eternal worth to God.
This growing self-respect has inspired the Negro with a new determination to struggle and sacrifice until
first-class citizenship becomes a reality.
Along with the Negro's changing image of himself has come an awakening moral 20 consciousness on the part
of millions of white Americans concerning segregation. Ever since the signing of the Declaration of
Independence, America has manifested a schizophrenic personality on the question of race. She has been
torn between selves -- a self in which she has proudly professed democracy and a self in which she has
sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. The reality of segregation, like slavery, has always had
to confront the ideals of democracy and Christianity. Indeed, segregation and discrimination are strange
paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. This contradiction has
disturbed the consciences of whites both North and South, and has caused many of them to see that segregation
is basically evil.
Climaxing this process was the Supreme Court's decision outlawing segregation in the public schools. For all
men of good will May 17, 1954, marked a joyous end to the long night of enforced segregation. In unequivocal
language the Court affirmed that "separate but equal" facilities are inherently unequal, and that to segregate
a child on the basis of his race is to deny that child equal protection of the law. This decision brought hope
to millions of disinherited Negroes who had formerly dared only to dream of freedom. It further enhanced the
Negro's sense of dignity and gave him even greater determination to achieve justice.
But it is still not too late to act. Every crisis has both its dangers and opportunities. It can spell
either salvation or doom. In the present crisis America can achieve either racial justice or the ultimate
social psychosis that can only lead to domestic suicide.
The democratic ideal of freedom and equality will be fulfilled for all - or all human beings will share
in the resulting social and spiritual doom. In short, this crisis has the potential for democracy's
fulfillment or fascism's triumph, for social progress or retrogression. We can choose either to walk
the high road of human brotherhood or to tread the low road of man's inhumanity to man.
History has thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny - to complete a process of
democratization which our nation has too long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful
weapon for world respect and emulation. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our
moral health as individuals, our cultural health as a region, our political health as a nation, and
our prestige as a leader of the free world. The future of America is bound up with the solution of
the present crisis. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of a faltering democracy.
The United States cannot hope to attain the respect of the vital and growing colored nations of the world
unless it remedies its racial problems at home. If America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot
have a second-class citizenship.
A solution of the present crisis will not take place unless men and women work for it. Human progress
is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance
rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice,
suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of
irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This
is a time for vigorous and positive action.
Source: Stride Toward Freedom" by M. L. King, 1958
1. Why have the blacks been able to refrain from 'isolation on the rural plantation'?
2. What view of man does M.L. King have?
3. Why do segregation and democracy not comply with each other?
4. What was the 1954 Supreme Court's decision on segregation and what consequences did it have for Americans?
5. Why are equal rights and democratization so closely connected and why are the two vital for the existence
of the United States?