Tag Archives: 4th of July

“Freedom Is Never Voluntarily Given By The Oppressor” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the 4th of July

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963


When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he penned his response to a letter from some clergymen who objected to his demands.  He had led a peaceful march for freedom, but some objected, including some local church leaders.  Those clergymen wrote, in part:

We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

Dr. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to their call to be “patient.”  It is, in my opinion, must reading for any American who cares about our long quest for freedom for all people.  Here are some key excerpts from Dr. King’s response:

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms…
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.

If we should have learned anything about the centuries long quest for freedom, it should be this:  people (peoples) who don’t have freedom are seldom given it freely.  They have to take it.  Our very Declaration of Independence reminds us of this:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Whatever else we celebrate today, we celebrate this:  that people longing to be free have risen up, time and again, and asked for what is their “constitutional and God given rights.”  And any attempt to withhold such rights, such freedom, such freedoms, from any people (peoples) is downright un-American.

Enjoy your freedom.  Remember the long struggles that got us here.  And ask, who is deprived of this freedom today?  And, what can we do to speed up the process for them?  For, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Happy 4th of July.


An interesting note:  this is a rare photograph of Dr. King dressed not in a suit and tie.  Taylor Branch chronicled Dr. King’s decision to go to jail, and described the shocked look on the faces of his friends as he stepped out of his bedroom in “dungarees and a work shirt.”  Ir’s been years since I read this, but I’m pretty sure it was in Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch.  As his friends debated the wisdom of Dr. King himself participating in the demonstration and thus being arrested, Dr. King stepped out in attire that signaled “I’m ready to go to jail.”  The adds to the poignancy of this line from his “I Have A Dream “ speech, delivered some four months after this arrest:

“With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

On America’s Greatness — for the 4th of July, from Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World

Business books celebrate our freedom, and business leaders are full participants in the American experiment.   But one author in particular brings a unique perspective.  Fareed Zakaria arrived in this country at age 18.  He has written about freedom in his book The Future of Freedom:  Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.  But it is his closing passage from his best-selling book The Post-American World that is worthy of our attention on this 4th of July weekend.  It speaks of difficulty, yet of hope and promise.  Here it is in its entirety:

In the fall of 1982, I arrived here as an eighteen-year-old student from India, eight thousand miles away.  America was in rough shape.  That December, unemployment hit 10.8 percent, higher than at any point since World War II.  Interest rates hovered around 15 percent.  Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis, and the Iranian hostage crisis had all battered American confidence.  Images of helicopters on the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, of Nixon resigning, of long lines at gas stations, and of the hostages blindfolded were all fresh in people’s minds.  The Soviet Union was on a roll, expanding its influence far beyond its border, from Afghanistan to Angola to Central America.  That June, Israel invaded Lebanon, making a volatile situation in the Middle East even more tense.

Yet America was a strikingly open and expansive country.  Reagan embodied it.  Despite record-low approval ratings at the time, he exuded optimism from the center of the storm.  In the face of Moscow’s rising power, he confidently spoke of a mortal crisis in the Soviet system and predicted that it would end up on “the ash heap of history.”  Across the political aisle stood Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, the hearty Irish-American Speaker of the House, who personified the generosity and tolerance of old-school liberalism.  Everywhere I went, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming.   It was a feeling I had never felt before, a country wide open to the world, to the future, and to anyone who loved it.  To a young visitor, it seemed to offer unlimited generosity and promise.

For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago.

Happy 4th of July!

{I have read, but have not presented a synopsis of, The Future of Freedom.  To purchase my synopsis of The Post-American World, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.