Editor’s note: This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the five-day, 54-mile Selma to Montgomery March for Voting Rights. This is an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the conclusion of the march. We reprint it in observance of Dr. King’s birthday.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity, but without the vote it was dignity without strength.
Once more the method of nonviolent resistance was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. ... There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of its embattled Negroes. ...
Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now.
Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us.
We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us.
We are on the move now. The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us.
We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.
Let us therefore continue our triumphant march to the realization of the American dream.
Let us march on segregated housing until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, sanitary housing.
Let us march on segregated schools until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side by side in the socially healing context of the classroom.
Let us march on poverty until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. March on poverty until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns in search of jobs that do not exist.
Let us march on poverty until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.
Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.
Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Let us march on ballot boxes until the (Gov. George) Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.
Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.
Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.
Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.
... And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: Remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” How long? Not long, because “no lie can live forever.”