Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
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 seeking 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
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 era 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 mortar 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 many people who make a successful journey
possible -- the known pilots and the unknown ground
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 Albert 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.