On March 25, 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a crowd of 25,000 marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of voting rights for African-Americans. At the conclusion of the march, King delivered this speech, familiarly referred to as “How Long, Not Long.” The speech was defiant at times, referencing the violence that beset the movement at the time. In fact, a previous march on March 7 was met with a violent response from state troopers who beat and gassed marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. King’s speech makes it clear that the movement cannot be dissuaded after coming so far, encouraging the people to keep up the struggle.
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.
A call-and-response section toward the end gave the speech its informal title:
How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow.
How long? Not long …
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Read the full transcript here