MLK and the Myth of Time

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., London, Dec. 7, 1964:

Now I would like to mention one or two ideas that circulate in our society—and they probably circulate in your society and all over the world—that keep us from developing the kind of action programs necessary to get rid of discrimination and segregation. One is what I refer to as the myth of time. There are those individuals who argue that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice in the United States, in South Africa or anywhere else; you’ve got to wait on time. And I know they’ve said to us so often in the States and to our allies in the white community, “Just be nice and be patient and continue to pray, and in 100 or 200 years the problem will work itself out.” We have heard and we have lived with the myth of time. The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, “Wait on time.”

And somewhere along the way it is necessary to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right. This is so vital, and this is so necessary.

Now, the other myth that gets around a great deal in our nation and, I’m sure, in other nations of the world is the idea that you can’t solve the problems in the realm of human relations through legislation; you can’t solve the housing problem and the job problem and all of these other problems through legislation; you’ve got to change the heart. We had a presidential candidate just recently who spoke about this a great deal. And I think Mr. Goldwater sincerely believed that you couldn’t anything through legislation, because he voted against everything in the Senate, including the civil rights bill. And he said all over the nation throughout the election that we don’t need legislation, that legislation can’t deal with this problem. But he was nice enough to say that you’ve got to change the heart.

Now I want to at least go halfway with Brother Goldwater at that point. I think he’s right. If we’re going to get this problem solved in America and all over the world, ultimately, people must change their hearts where they have prejudices. If we are going to solve the problems facing mankind, I would be the first to say that every white person must look down deep within and remove every prejudice that may be there, and come to see that the Negro, and the colored peoples, generally, must be treated right, not merely because the law says it, but because it is right and because it is natural. I agree with this 100 percent. And I’m sure that if the problem is to be solved, ultimately, men must be obedient not merely to that which can be enforced by the law, but they must rise to the majestic heights of being obedient to the unenforceable.

But after saying all of that, I must go on to the other side. This is where I must leave Mr. Goldwater and others who believe that legislation has no place. It may be true that you can’t legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law can’t change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also.

Thanks for reading,


Full speech:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: