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MLK: The Birth of a New Nation

Getty Images / LIFE / Robert W. Kelley

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this sermon after upon returning from a trip to the new African nation of Ghana.

On April 7, 1957, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon to his congregation at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King had returned recently from a trip to the new African nation of Ghana, formerly the British colony known as the Gold Coast. The sermon explored the universal need for peoples to be free and self-governing, and how that freedom is never given but can only be achieved through constant work and struggle. King also drove home the importance of nonviolent, compassionate resistance in the struggle if the formerly oppressed can ever hope to live in peace with their former oppressors. The sermon is full of beautiful, moving language; below are some of the highlights.

On the universality of Ghana's struggle:

Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. ... Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.

There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.

Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.

On the realities of the struggle:

...there are always those people in every period of human history who don’t mind getting their necks cut off, who don’t mind being persecuted and discriminated and kicked about, because they know that freedom is never given out, but it comes through the persistent and the continual agitation and revolt on the part of those who are caught in the system. Ghana teaches us that.

On nonviolence:

It reminds us of the fact that a nation or a people can break aloose from oppression without violence.

The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence, however, are emptiness and bitterness. This is the thing I’m concerned about. Let us fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace, but let’s be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle.

See an edited paper copy of the speech from 1957 at The King Center

Read the complete text here