I was never fortunate enough to meet Dr. King, but I was a member of the vast crowd that stood on the Mall when he spoke to the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. I became a good friend of his close aide Bayard Rustin, who like Dr. King, was eloquent and passionate about justice.


Dr. King was frequently criticized by friends and foes. The foes thought he was a dangerous agitator who was encouraging rebellion against the social order, which he was. Moderates said he was pushing too hard, too fast, for too much, at the wrong time and the wrong place. Some who should have been his friends said he wasn’t sufficiently radical; they said he was too cerebral, too willing to compromise, out of touch with the masses that were ready to engage in violence. Dr. King believed in nonviolence as a principle, not as a strategy. He believed in justice and equality as principles, not as temporary goals. Some of his erstwhile allies turned to Malcolm X, who did not share Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence.


On this day set aside to remember Dr. King, read or watch one of his speeches. Think about the courage it required to stand up for the oppressed, to face death every day, and to do so in a spirit of love.


The March on Washington speech


His speech against the war in Vietnam, which caused some of his allies to turn against him.


I have been to the mountaintop speech, his last speech, delivered the day before he was assassinated. At the time, he was in Memphis, where he had come to help sanitation workers who were trying to form a union to advocate for better wages. This speech was prophetic. Whenever someone from the .001% claims that they are engaged in the struggle for civil rights and simultaneously attacking unions, I remember why Dr. King was in Memphis.


And here are more, from a CNN piece that asks whether you can identify any of Dr. King’s speeches other than “I have a dream,” or his “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail,” both of which are taught in school.