photo by Dick DeMarsico, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Keep Moving from This Mountain
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
[a sermon delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood on 26 February 1965]

Rabbi Nussbaum, officers and members of this great congregation,
ladies and gentlemen: I need not pause to say how very delighted and
honored I am to have the privilege of being here this evening and of
being a part of this very meaningful and significant worship service. I
want to express my profound and sincere gratitude to your distinguished
rabbi for extending the invitation and giving me the opportunity to
share these moments of fellowship with you. It is always a rich and
rewarding experience when I can take a brief break from the day-to-day
demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity in the South and
discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned people of
goodwill all over this nation. And so I can assure you that I’m happy
to be with you and I consider you real friends of our struggle. And I
want to thank you for your support; our struggle is often difficult and
frustrating. It has its dark and desolate moments. But we are often
given new courage and vigor to carry on when we know that there are
friends of goodwill in the background who are supporting us and we feel
this day in and day out. And so I want to thank you in advance for your
prayers, for your concern, for your moral support, and also for your
financial support. I can assure you that this financial support will go
a long, long way in helping us to continue in our humble efforts to
make the American dream a reality.

Tonight I would like to have you think with me from the subject,
Keep Moving from this Mountain. I would like to take your minds back
many, many centuries into a familiar experience so significantly
recorded in the sacred Scriptures. The Children of Israel had been
reduced into the bondage of physical slavery. Throughout slavery they
were things to be used, not persons to be respected. Throughout
slavery, they were trampled over by the iron feet of oppression; they
were exploited economically, dominated politically, and humiliated on
every hand. But then God sent Moses to lead the Children of Israel from
the dark and difficult period of Egypt’s slavery into a bright and
better day. Moses stood up over and over again in Pharaoh’s court and
cried out, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh with a hardened heart refused
over and over again. But then came that glad day when the Red Sea
opened and God’s children were able to leave the darkness of Egypt and
move on to the other side. But as soon as they got out of Egypt they
discovered that before they could get to the Promised Land there was a
difficult, trying wilderness ahead. They had to realize that before
they could get to the Promised Land, they had to face gigantic
mountains and prodigious hilltops. And so, as a result of this
realization, three groups of people emerged. One group said in
substance that “We would rather go back to Egypt.” They preferred the
flush parts of Egypt to the challenges of the Promised Land. A second
group that abhorred the idea of going back to Egypt, and yet they
abhorred the idea of facing the difficulties of moving ahead to the
Promised Land and they somehow wanted to remain stationary and choose
the line of least resistance. There was a third group, probably
influenced by Caleb and Joshua who had gone over to spy a bit and who
admitted that there were giants in the land but who said, “We can
possess the land.” This group said in substance that “We will go on in
spite of…,” that “We will not allow anything to stop us,” that “We
will move on amid the difficulties, amid the trials, amid the
tribulations.”

Now certainly, one could almost preach a sermon from either of these
groups. This evening I want to deal mainly with the second group: those
individuals that chose the line of least resistance, those individuals
who didn’t want to go back to Egypt but who did not quite have the
strength to move on to the Promised Land. These are probably the people
who wanted to remain stationary. These are the people who probably
wanted to stop at a particular point and remain right there in the
wilderness. God speaks through Moses to these people. The first chapter
of the book of Deuteronomy said, “Ye have been in this mountain long
enough. Turn you and take your journey and go to the mount of the
Amorites.” In other words, God was saying through Moses that you must
not allow yourself to get bogged down with unattained goals. You must
not allow yourself to get caught up in impeding mountains. Whenever God
speaks, he says, “Go forward.” Whenever God speaks, he says, “Move on
from mountains of stagnant complacency and deadening pacifity.” So this
is the great challenge that always stands before men. In some real
sense, we are all moving toward some “promised land” of personal and
collective fulfillment. In every age and every generation, men have
envisioned a promised land. Some may have envisioned it with the wrong
ideology, with the wrong philosophical presupposition. But men in every
generation thought in terms of some promised land. Plato and his
Republic thought of it of a day — as a day when philosophers would
become kings and kings philosophers, and justice would reign throughout
society. Emanuel Kant thought of it as a day when men would recognize
the moral laws of the universe and the categorical imperative would
reign supreme. Karl Marx dreamed of it as a day when the proletariat
would conquer the reign of the bourgeoisie and so society would live by
the motto “from each according to his ability, to each according to his
needs.” Judaism and Christianity dreamed of it as a day when the
Kingdom of God would emerge; a day when justice, brotherhood, peace,
and the reign and will of God would dwell throughout society. Whenever
men have thought seriously of life, they have dreamed of a promised
land, and so in a sense we are all moving toward some promised land.

Tonight I would like to suggest some of the symbolic mountains that
we have occupied long enough and that we must leave if we are to move
on to the promised land of justice, peace, and brotherhood. Yea, the
promised land of the kingdom of God. First, we’ve been in the mountain
of practical materialism long enough. And when I speak of materialism
at this point, I’m not talking about metaphysical materialism — that
strange doctrine that speaks of all of reality is little more than
matter in motion, that strange doctrine that says in substance that all
life is merely a physiological process with a physiological meaning.
I’m not talking about that kind of materialism because I think
ultimately it is blown away by the wind of essential thinking. I’m
talking about practical materialism — the notion that causes
individuals to live as if material values are the only values and
concerns in life. Each of us lives in two realms, the “within” and the
“without.” The within of our lives is somehow found in the realm of
ends, the without in the realm of means. The within of our [lives], the
bottom — that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature,
morals, and religion for which at best we live. The without of our
lives is that realm of instrumentalities, techniques, mechanisms by
which we live. Now the great temptation of life and the great tragedy
of life is that so often we allow the without of our lives to absorb
the within of our lives. 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 the great challenge is to move
out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and
higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and
toward the basic ends of life. We must move on to that mountain which
says in substance, “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world
of means — airplanes, televisions, electric lights — and lose the
end: the soul?”

Now the other mountain that we’ve occupied long enough, and
certainly it is quite relevant to discuss this at this time when we
think of brotherhood — we’ve been in the mountain of racial injustice
long enough. And now it is time for us to move on to that great and
noble realm of justice and brotherhood. That is the great struggle
taking place in our nation today. It isn’t a struggle just based on a
lot of noise; it is a struggle to save the soul of our nation for no
nation can rise to its full moral maturity so long as it subjects a
segment of its citizenry on the basis of race or color. And somehow we
must come to see more than ever before that racial injustice is a
cancer in the body politic which must be removed before our moral
health can be realized. Racial segregation must be seen for what it is
— and that is an evil system, a new form of slavery covered up with
certain niceties of complexity. Segregation is wrong, whether it is in
public schools, whether it is in housing, whether it is in recreational
facilities, whether it is in any area of life. It is an evil which we
must work to get rid of with all of the determination and all of the
zeal that we can muster. Segregation is evil because it relegates
persons to the status of things. Somewhere the theologian Paul Tillich
had said that “sin is separation.” What is segregation but an
existential expression of man’s tragic estrangement, his awful
separation, his terrible sinfulness? Somehow we must work, labor, and
struggle until every vestige of segregation is removed from our society.

I remember some time ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great
country known as India and we had some marvelous experiences. They will
remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen. I
remember one afternoon that we journeyed down to the southern most
point of India in the state of Kerala. And I was to address that
afternoon some high school students who were the children mainly of
parents who had been “untouchables.” And I remember that afternoon that
the principal went through his introduction and when he came to the end
he said, “I’m happy to present to you, students, a fellow untouchable
from the United States of America,” and for the moment I was peeved and
shocked that he would introduce me as an untouchable, but pretty soon
my mind leaped the Atlantic and I started thinking about conditions
back home. And I started thinking about the fact that I could not go in
to most places of public accommodation all across the South. I started
thinking about the fact that 20 million of my black brothers and
sisters were still at the bottom of the economic ladder. I started
thinking about the fact that Negroes all over America, even if they
have the money can not buy homes and rent homes of their choices
because so many of their white brothers don’t want to live near them. I
started thinking about the fact that my little children were still
judged in terms of the color of their skin rather than the content of
their character. And I said to myself, “I am an untouchable and every
Negro in the United States is an untouchable.” And segregation is evil
because it stigmatizes the segregated as an untouchable in a caste
system. We’ve been in the mountain of segregation long enough and it is
time for all men of goodwill to say now, “We are through with
segregation now, henceforth, and forever more.”

We’ve been in the mountain of indifference concerning poverty long
enough. Whether we realize it or not, most of the peoples of the world
still go to bed hungry at night. Millions of them are in Asia, millions
in Africa, millions in South America. On that same trip to India I will
never forget the depressing moments that came to me. How can one avoid
being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of
people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed
when he sees with his own eyes millions of people sleeping on the
sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the
sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than 600,000 sleep on the
sidewalks every night. They have no beds to go in; they have no houses
to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out
of India’s population of more than 400 million people, some 380 million
make an annual income of less than 70 dollars a year? Most of these
people have never seen a doctor or a dentist. The world must do
something about this. The affluent nations, the “have” nations must
join in the grand alliance to do something about this. And not only
must we look abroad, we can look in our own nation. We will discover
that there are some 10 million families that are considered poverty
stricken families. These families have an average of four or five
members, which means there are some 40 — between 40 and 50 million of
our brothers and sisters in this country who are poverty stricken.
There they find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in
the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. And certainly if we
are to be a great nation, we must solve this problem. Now there is
nothing new about poverty. What is new that we now have the techniques
and the resources to get rid of it.

Some years ago a thoughtful Englishman by the name of Malthus
frightened the world by discussing the problem — the joint problem of
production and population. He reached the conclusion in a book that the
world was moving toward universal famine because man’s population —
the population rather, was outrunning man’s capacity to produce. But it
didn’t take many years after that for many other people to reveal that
Malthus was wrong, that he grossly underestimated the resources of the
world and the resourcefulness of man. It was Dr. Kirtley Mather, a
Harvard geologist a few years ago who wrote a book entitled Enough and
to Spare. He said in substance throughout that book that there is
enough and to spare in this world for all men to have the basic
necessities of life. It boils down to the question of whether men and
women in this nation are willing to be concerned about the least of
these. A great nation is a compassionate nation. Who are the least of
these? The least of these are those who still find themselves
smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in an affluent society. Who
are the least of these? They are the thousands of individuals who see
life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. Who are the
least of these? They are the little boys and little girls who grow up
with clouds of inferiority floating in their little mental skies
because they know that they are caught in conditions of economic
depravation. Who are the least of these? They are the individuals who
are caught in the fatigue of despair. And somehow if we are to be a
great nation, we must be concerned about the least of these, our
brothers. And we’ve been in the mountain of indifference too long and
ultimately we must be concerned about the least of these; we must be
concerned about the poverty-stricken because our destinies are tied
together. And somehow in the final analysis, as long as there is
poverty in the world, nobody can be totally rich. We are all caught in
an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of
destiny. And what affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some
strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what
you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am
what I ought to be. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in
graphic terms, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a
piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the
end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in
mankind. And therefore never sin to know for whom the bell tolls, it
tolls for thee.” And when we see this, we will move out of the mountain
of indifference concerning poverty.

There is another mountain that we’ve been in long enough. It is a
mountain of violence and hatred. I’m more convinced than ever before
that violence can not solve the problems of the world. Violence is both
impractical and immoral. This is why I’ve tried in my little way to
teach it in our struggle for racial justice that I’ve come to see and I
believe with all my heart that we can not make the great moral
contribution to our nation that we should make, and we can not win the
battle for justice if we stoop to the point of using violence in our
struggle. And it is my basic feeling that if the Negro succumbs to the
temptation of using violence in his struggle for justice, unborn
generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of
bitterness and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign
of meaningless chaos. 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. Love is the
supreme unifying principle of life. Psychiatrists are telling us now
that many of the strange things that happen in the subconscience
[subconscious], many of the inner conflicts are rooted in hate, and
they are now saying “Love or perish.” Oh, how basic this is. It rings
down across the centuries: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
with all thy soul, with all thy strength, with all thy mind, and thy
neighbor as thyself. We’ve been in the mountain of violence and hatred
too long. And this not only applies in the struggle to achieve racial
justice. We’ve got to move on to the point of seeing that on the
international scale, war is obsolete — that it must somehow be cast
into unending limbo. But in a day when Sputniks and Explorers are
dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving
highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It
is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either
nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the
alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative
to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole
world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of
annihilation. And so we must rise up and beat our swords into
plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks and nations must not rise
up against nations, neither must they study war anymore. We’ve been in
the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been
in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now,
but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised
land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God. It all boils
down to the fact that we must never allow ourselves to become satisfied
with unattained goals. We must always maintain a kind of divine
discontent.

There are certain technical words within every academic discipline
which soon become stereotypes and clichés. Every academic discipline
has its technical nomenclature. Modern psychology has a word that is
probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word
“maladjusted.” Certainly we all want to live the well adjusted life in
order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must
honestly say to you tonight my friends that there are some things in
our world, there are some things in our nation to which I’m proud to be
maladjusted, to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted
until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I
never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I
never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to
adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from
the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself
to the madness of militarism and the self defeating effects of physical
violence. And I say to you that I am absolutely convinced that maybe
the world is in need for the formation of a new organization: “The
International Association for the Advancement of Creative
Maladjustment” — men and women who will be as maladjusted as the
prophet Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day would cry
out in words that echo across the centuries: “Let justice roll down
like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream;” as maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free; as maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson
who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would etch
across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We
hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights
and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;”
as maladjusted as Jesus
of Nazareth that said to the men and women of his day: “Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use
you.” And through such maladjustment we will be able to emerge from the
bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright
and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

And may I say in conclusion that I believe firmly that we will get
to the promised land of collective fulfillment. I still believe that
right here in America we will reach the promised land of brotherhood.
Oh, I know that there are still dark and difficult days ahead. Before
we get there some more of us will have to get scarred up a bit. Before
we reach that majestic land some more will be called bad names. Some
will be called reds and communists simply because they believe in the
brotherhood of man. Before we get there some more will have to be
thrown into crowded, frustrating, and depressing jail cells. Before we
get there maybe somebody else like a Medgar Evers and the three civil
rights workers in Mississippi this summer will have to face physical
death. If physical death is the price that some must pay to free their
children and their white brothers from a permanent death of the spirit,
then nothing can be more redemptive. Yes, we were singing about it just
a few minutes ago: “We shall overcome; we shall overcome, deep in my
heart I do believe we shall overcome.” And I believe it because somehow
the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We
shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell
is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.
Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth
God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” With this faith we
will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of
our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we
will be able to speed up the day. And in the words of prophecy, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This will be a great day. This will be a marvelous hour. And at that moment, figuratively speaking in biblical words: “the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”

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