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Dr. King’s Lost Speech

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On February 26 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we honor today, spoke to the congregation of Temple Israel in Los Angeles. The only recording of that speech was quickly lost and forgotten in the synagogue’s archives until finally being made public just last year. King addresses racism, of course, but his real message is a call to end poverty and war. Four decades later, he speaks presciently to our own times and circumstances.

The great tragedy of life is that too often we allow the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. And how much of our modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau, “Improved means to an unimproved end?” We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture; we have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology and for this reason we find ourselves caught up with many problems. Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men.

And what awaits these misguided men? King doesn’t mince words.

I’m more convinced than ever before that violence can not solve the problems of the world. Violence is both impractical and immoral….Violence is not the way. There is still a voice crying through the vista of time, saying, “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations. History is filled with the bleached bones of communities that failed to follow this command. And the same thing applies to love. This is no longer an idea that we can afford to ignore over the world. Love is basic for the very survival of mankind. I’m convinced that love is the only absolute ultimately; love is the highest good. He who loves has somehow discovered the meaning of ultimate reality. He who hates does not know God; he who hates has no knowledge of God.

Full text of the speech can be found here. Audio files are here.

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