Most of the world is quite familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, or “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” But a work that is virtually unknown is his “The World House” essay, which is the last chapter of his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? It is based on his Nobel Peace Prize lecture delivered at the University of Oslo on December 11, 1964.
Ten days before Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., in April 1968, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of the classic study The Prophets, introduced him to an assembly of rabbis: “Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America. His mission is sacred, his leadership of supreme importance to every one of us.”
While at seminary, King became acquainted with Mohandas Gandhi‘s philosophy of nonviolent social protest. On a trip to India in 1959, King met with followers of Gandhi. During these discussions, he became more convinced than ever that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
In “The World House” essay, Dr. King calls all people to transcend tribe, race, class, nation, and religion to embrace the vision of a World House; to eradicate at home and globally the Triple Evils of racism, poverty, and militarism. Dr. King also advocated a new Marshall Plan to eradicate global poverty around the world.
Dr. King insisted: “Save the soul of America with the ammunition of love. Nonviolence is the answer. Anti social behavior is not the way. Resolve problems without violence. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”
The following excerpts from Dr. King’s “The World House” are well worth reflecting on:
“We have inherited a great “world house” in which we have to live together — All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.
“In one sense, the civil rights movement in the United States is a special American phenomenon. But on another and more important level, what is happening in the United States today is a significant part of a world development.
“The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses determined to end the exploitation of their races and lands. One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers and sisters, or together we will be forced to perish as fools.
“Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. Our problem today is we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men. Without spiritual and moral reawakening, we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments.
“The wealthy nations of the world must promptly initiate a massive, sustained Marshall Plan for Asia, Africa and South America. A genuine program on the part of the wealthy nations to make prosperity a reality for the poor nations will in the final analysis enlarge the prosperity of all.
“Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war. In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”
On April 4, 1968, King was shot by James Earl Ray, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He was to lead a march of sanitation workers protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. He was only 39 at the time of his death. Dr. King was turning his attention to a nationwide campaign to help the poor at the time of his assassination. He had never wavered in his insistence that nonviolence must remain the central tactic of the civil-rights movement, or in his faith that everyone in America would some day attain equal justice.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience, but where
he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. sums up his philosophy of life in these words: “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.”
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Riverside Church, New YorkCity
April 4, 1967