Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

[ Posted Monday, January 21st, 2019 – 18:28 UTC ]

[I ran this speech last year, and when considering what to run this year in celebration of Martin Luther King Junior Day, I thought it was worth another read. Just yesterday morning, Vice President Mike Pence tried (but largely failed) to appropriate King's words into the twisted notion that King would have supported a giant fence at our southern border. Because as we all know, King was never on the side of the oppressed in any way [pause for snarky eye-roll]. Pence's idiocy was (thankfully) shot down almost immediately by others who revealed the full context of the King speech Pence quoted, which was nowhere near the meaning Pence was trying to attach to it. So when I got to the end of the speech below, I was struck by King's references to thinking, whenever he flew, about not just the pilots but also the mostly-unnoticed ground crew. I feel this is pertinent now because it may just turn out to be airports where the final battle to end the current government shutdown is fought -- yesterday, sick-outs at the T.S.A. rose to over 10 percent of the workforce for the first time. Of course, T.S.A. agents didn't even exist in King's time (you could walk on an airplane without being searched or X-rayed, back then), but they may indeed now become the public face of the 800,000 government workers who have now been working for a month without being paid. And King would certainly have understood the collective power of a group of workers walking off the job in protest. Indeed, that's what he was in Memphis to support when he was assassinated. People like Mike Pence never think about this fact, because they're content to just remember a cherry-picked King quote here and there. Which is why, as usual, we're going to provide the entire transcript of a King speech to honor him today.]

-- Chris Weigant


December 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when twenty-two million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award in behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeing to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation.

I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama, to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are traveling to find a new sense of dignity.

This same road has opened for all Americans a new ear of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a superhighway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.

"And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that we shall overcome.

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight I am always mindful of the man people who make a successful journey possible -- the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Luthuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man.

You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth.

Most of these people will never make the headlines and their names will not appear in Who's Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live -- men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization -- because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners -- all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty -- and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

-- Martin Luther King Jr.


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


22 Comments on “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:


  2. [2] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Not to diminish MLK's honor, but if you Google "Nobel Peace Prize" and read the few short words quoted from Alfred Nobel's will, spelling out his criteria for awarding the prize, you'll come away wondering how he OR Obama ever qualified!!

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CRS, what is it about this site that compels you to post here?

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I would suggest that you may wish to enter into some serious thinking about what is motivating your comments here, generally speaking.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It seems to me that a healthy minority of Americans and their misguided thinking - if not a worrisome majority - is what helps to explain why the promise of America remains so illusive despite best efforts by Americans like MLK.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Liz M [3] [4]

    Re my motivation, Okay, I suppose to inject a modicum of reality into the lives of people who mostly live in a dream world, would be near the top.

    Your turn, what compels you?

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    That was a serious question, CRS.

    These days, very little compels me to comment here.

    By way of your first comment in this thread, I believe you did indeed mean to diminish MLK's honour.

    I have little time to read and respond on a regular basis to that sort of comment. I miss the old days around here when there was more of chance to take part in a robust discussion and debate of the issues. And much less of a change for comments meant solely to ridicule or insult or diminish.

  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Liz M

    Like all Dems/Libs/Lefties, you're far too sensitive.

    Actually, my comment on the Nobel peace prize was intended to "dishonor" the freaking idiots in Norway who award the thing, not to "dishonor" the rcipients. Please Google it, and tell me if you think the Norwegians are "honoring" the three specific criteria of Nobel's will? Did MLK "reduce the level of the worlds armies", "promote international peace congresses", or whatever the 3rd one was?

    Also, you'll possibly note that one of his criteria was NOT "to assassinate people by drone strikes on a daily basis", like unowho did.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Not sensitive, CRS, just sick and tired of the endless drivel around here and the constant personal attacks and insults that get thrown around here so shamelessly.

    Obviously, the qualifications for being awarded the Nobel peace prize have - how shall we put it - evolved, somewhat. :)

    I think there is a much better argument to be made for honouring MLK in this way than there was with regard to president Obama.

    MLK was honoured for his devotion to non-violent protest as a means to overcome violence and oppression and to forge a path to peace. MLK qualifies for this honour.

  11. [11] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    C.R. [10]: "Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question."

    So the Nobel folks fuck things up once in awhile. It happens. By and large, they get it right. That also happens.

    Righties are pissed because it rarely falls to them. Kissinger was one of them, and offered it back after South Vietnam fell.

  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    As you likely know, the Swedes handle the science prizes, and they pretty much get it right on a regular basis. It's the nut jobs in Oslo that don't seem to understand Nobel's concept of the peace prize, and are damn near as bad on the economics prize.

  13. [13] 
    neilm wrote:

    CRS [13]

    There is no perceived political bias (yet) in the science awards. The Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences are often awarded to people the right wing does not like, thus the trolling abounds. It is as simple as sour grapes.

    Most of the trolling is by those who suffer from acute Dunning-Kruger effect. The cure is usually reading and humility. We don't hold out much hope for you obviously.

  14. [14] 
    chaszzzbrown wrote:

    The real bias of concern is: why is there no Nobel Prize in Mathematics?

    Some say it was because Alfred Nobel's mistress cheated on him with a prominent mathematician of the day; but I think the the truth is - Alfred Nobel was secretly 'Big Cake'; and thus he hated Pi.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    true, the tentacles of big cake reach far and wide. that also explains the real reason why obama got a nobel prize - for his clandestine cake work.

    now more than ever, we need to reject big cake candidates and promote pie.

  16. [16] 
    John M wrote:

    [10] C. R. Stucki

    "Like all Dems/Libs/Lefties, you're far too sensitive."

    Since when is asking for civil discourse being too "sensitive?"

    If you're not being mindful of others dignity, than you yourself are part of the problem.

    Like all "Righties" you read far too much of what is NOT there into things. You let wild theories based on rampant fear of totally unlikely extreme scenarios happening rule your comments.

    The sky didn't fall with allowing gays to participate openly in the military, Humanity did not come to an end with the adoption of gay marriage, Obama the communist Muslim did not take away your guns despite being in office for eight years, government health care really did improve people's lives instead of leading to the socialist downfall of America, global warming is not some vast worldwide scientific conspiracy to take all millionaires out and have then executed, etc etc etc.

  17. [17] 
    John M wrote:

    C. R. Stucki

    What you offer is not a "dose" of reality but too often simply comes across as throwing the most extremist right wing fear bombs at people's fondest hopes for a better future, out of some ideological knee jerk reaction to desperately discredit any perceived idea with a liberal taint to it, rather than out of any real concern for constructive dialogue.

  18. [18] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    John M. [18]

    I can only guess that you're reading something "between the lines" of my (infrequent) posts. I don't understand the "right-wing fear bombs" characterization. Would you be willing to cite a few of my specific "fear bombs"? Is my contention that the Nobel nut jobs in Oslo are all phuqued up one of my "fear bombs"?

  19. [19] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Or perhaps my previous (1-20) post about how surprisingly easy it appears to be to get along perfectly well with the gov't "shutdown"? Does that qualify in your mind as a "fear bomb"???

    Help me out here please?

  20. [20] 
    Kick wrote:


    Some say it was because Alfred Nobel's mistress cheated on him with a prominent mathematician of the day; but I think the the truth is - Alfred Nobel was secretly 'Big Cake'; and thus he hated Pi.


    A noble Nobel theory, Charles Brown, Esq., since any "mistress" of his would have been of the archaic sense since Alfred never married and thus never had a wife, but as for your "cake" and "pi" conjecture, there is simply no denying that Mr. Nobel's "taste" ran much more toward gelatin. ;)

    She's a killer queen
    Gunpowder, gelatin
    Dynamite with a laser beam
    Guaranteed to blow your mind
    ~ Freddie Mercury, Queen

  21. [21] 
    chaszzzbrown wrote:

    [21] Kick

    Caviar / and cigarettes! :)

  22. [22] 
    Kick wrote:



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