The “We Shall Overcome” Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Because all men are brothers…” — Tom Glazer

There are all kinds of collectors in the world. Some people collect art. Others collect pedal cars. Still others collect baseball cards.

In 2016 I learned that a graduate of one of our Duluth high schools, who made a small fortune in California real estate 50 or so years ago, collects manuscripts, which I wrote about here in a piece titled Treasures of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.

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Page from Dr. King’s “We Shall Overcome” speech.*

This weekend I visited Karpeles in Duluth (there are a dozen such Karpeles museums in this country) and saw on display the original handwritten “We Shall Overcome” speech by Dr. King. It led me to go find and read it again in honor of the day, the man and the fight. Here are a few excerpts followed by a link to the complete speech, which he delivered in March of 1966 at Southern Methodist University.

‘We have come a long, long way but we still have a long, long way to go.’ — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are a few excerpts from this speech, which is essentially a summary of what seem to be self-evident truths.

And I believe also that it is true that if we are to solve the problem ultimately, the white person must see the Negro as his brother. And he must treat him right because it is natural and because the Negro is his brother and not merely because the law says it. If we are to solve the problem ultimately, every person must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable.

But after saying this I think we must see the other side and see the wrongness of the notion that legislation can’t help. It may be true that you can’t legislate integration but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality can’t be legislated but behavior can be regulated. It may be that the law cannot make a man love me but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.

My contention is that as we bring these things to the surface and deal with them, we must deal with them non-violently. And we need the support of all people of goodwill as we develop a non-violent assault on the evils of segregation and discrimination.

And so if one is working for a just society, he should use just methods in bringing about that society.

And so the plea facing us today is to move on that additional distance that we have to go with understanding, with a concern for brotherhood, with the removal of all prejudices, with an understanding that all of God’s children are significant.

Read the full transcript of this speech:

Key civil rights legislation of the 1960s

The Civil Rights Act of 1960 (Pub.L. 86–449, 74 Stat. 89, enacted May 6, 1960) is a United States federal law that established federal inspection of local voter registration polls and introduced penalties for anyone who obstructed someone’s attempt to register to vote. Signed into law by President Eisenhower.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 defines housing discrimination as the “refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion, or national origin”. Title VIII of this Act is commonly referred to as the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Signed into law by President Johnson.

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For further reading:
Read Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech which he delivered in August 1963. It opens with “Five score years ago” so as to echo the opening of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address while drawing attention to that most significant event of 1863, The Emancipation Proclamation. Here is the link:

Let’s not forget the dream.

Originally published at on January 21, 2019.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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