Special Report

Greatest Speeches of the Civil Rights Movement

Source: C-SPAN

Robert P. Moses: ‘Speech on Freedom Summer at Stanford University’
> Occupation: Civil rights organizer
> Place: Palo Alto, California
> Date: April 24, 1964

Robert P. Moses, a low-key civil rights organizer, gave a speech in which he was looking ahead to the summer and a voter registration drive in Mississippi.

“Camus poses it on a historical scale, in terms of whether people shall be victims or executioners. Whether those people who are enslaved, in order to get their freedom, have to become executioners and participate in acts of terror and death, and in what sense they do participate in it. And it takes place on a very small scale down South, in terms of that kind of activity which we carry on. And perhaps one justification is that you are no less exposed than they are. So that at least you share that kind of exposure with them.”

Source: Library of Congress

Lorraine Hansberry: ‘The black revolution and the white backlash’
> Occupation: Civil rights activist/playwright
> Place: New York City
> Date: June 15, 1964

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the first African-American woman to have a show, “A Raisin in the Sun,” produced on Broadway, took a more assertive approach to the civil rights movement at a speech she gave in New York City in 1964. Her father had tried to fight segregation through legal means and was not successful, influencing her call for action.

“It isn’t a question of patriotism and loyalty. My brother fought for this country, my grandfather before that and so on and that’s all a lot of nonsense when we criticize. The point is that we have a different viewpoint because, you know, we’ve been kicked in the face so often and the vantage point of Negroes is entirely different and these are some of the things we’re trying to say.”

Source: United States Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Fannie Lou Hamer: Credentials committee testimony
> Occupation: Civil rights activist/philanthropist
> Place: Atlantic City, New Jersey
> Date: Aug. 22, 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer was a determined fighter for voting rights. In 1964, she was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to be seated at the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City. She appeared before the convention’s credentials committee and told her harrowing story about trying to register to vote in Mississippi. Her story was eventually broadcast over the major television networks.

“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

Source: Public Domain

Joseph Jackson: ‘The vote is the only effective weapon in civil rights struggle’
> Occupation: Minister
> Place: Detroit, Michigan
> Date: Sept. 19, 1964

Baptist pastor Rev. Joseph Jackson told a gathering at the National Baptist Convention in Detroit in 1964 that getting and using the vote were necessary to bring about racial equality in America.

“Negroes must become registered voters and fight their battles in the polling booth. In the coming campaign we must not allow our prejudices, our hatred for individuals, to lead us into emotional outbursts and disrespect. […] The progress of the race lies not in continued street demonstrations, and the liberation of an oppressed people shall not come by acts of revenge and retaliation but by the constructive use of all available opportunities and a creative expansion of the circumstances of the past into stepping stones to higher things.”

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr.: Speech on receiving Nobel Peace Prize
> Occupation: Civil rights leader
> Place: Oslo, Norway
> Date: Dec. 10, 1964

Martin Luther King Jr., in 1964, became the second African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Receiving the prestigious honor gave him pause.

“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 a 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.”

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