Speech in Memphis
November 13, 1993
If Martin Luther King
were to reappear by my side today and give us a report
card on the last 25 years, what would he say? "You did a good job," he would say, "voting
for and electing people who formerly were not electable
because of the color of their skin. " He would say, "You
have more political power and that is good."
"You did a good job," he would say, "letting
people who have the ability to do so live wherever they
want to live, go wherever they want to go in this great
He would say, "You
did a good job elevating people of color up the ranks
of the U.S. armed forces to the very top and into top
levels of the U.S. government."
"You did a good job," he would say, "creating
a black middle-class of people who are really doing well.
You did a good job opening up opportunity. "
"But," he would say, "I
did not live and die to see the American family destroyed.
I did not live and die to see 13-year-old boys get automatic
weapons and gun down 9-year-olds just for the kick of
it. I did not live and die to see people destroy their
own lives with drugs and build drug fortunes destroying
the lives of others. That is not what I came here to
"I fought for freedom," he would say, "but
not for the freedom of people to kill each other with reckless
abandon, not for the freedom of children to impregnate
each other with babies and then abandon them, nor for the
freedom of adult fathers of children to walk away from
the children they created and abandon them, as if they
didn't amount to anything."
He would say, "This
is not what I lived and died for. I fought to stop white
people from being so filled with hate that they would
wreak violence on black people. I did not fight for the
right of black people to murder other black people on
a daily basis. "
The other day, the mayor of Baltimore, a dear friend of
mine, told me a story of visiting the family of an 18-year-old
young man who had been killed on Halloween. He had a bunch
of little kids along with him. He always went out with
the little-bitty ones so they could trick-or-treat safely.
And across the street from where they were walking on Halloween,
a 14-year-old boy gave a 13-year-old boy a gun and dared
him to shoot the 18-year-old friend he was walking with--and
he shot him dead.
Elsewhere, right here
in Washington DC--the symbol of freedom throughout the
world--look at how that freedom is being exercised. The
Washington Post had a story about an 11-year-old child
planning her own funeral: "These
are the hymns I want sung. This is the dress I want to
wear in my coffin. I know I'm not going to live very long."
That is not freedom--the freedom to die before you're
a teenager-- is not what Martin Luther King lived and died
for. If you had told anybody who was here in this church--where
Martin Luther King gave his last speech before he was assassinated--that
we would have abused our freedom this way, they would have
found it hard to believe.
And I tell you it is our moral duty to turn this around.
There are changes we can make from the outside-in--those
are the job of the President of the United States and the
Congress and the governors and state legislators and mayors--
raising standards, community policing. And there is something
each of us here can do--from the inside-out--and in the
spirit of my faith, I count myself as one of you to turn
this thing around from the inside-out as well as the outside-in.
Otherwise the outside changes won't matter.
Sometimes, there are no answers from the outside in. Sometimes,
the answers have to come from the values and the love and
the stirrings and the voices that speak to us from within.
Here, you as the respected leaders and ministers of your
faith, play a crucial role.
From the outside, we're doing our best, but I do not believe
we can repair the basic fabric of society until people
who are willing to work have work. Work organizes life.
It gives structure and discipline to life. It gives meaning
and self-esteem to people who are parents. It gives a role
model to children... We cannot repair the American community
and restore the American family until we have the structure,
the values, the discipline, and the reward that work gives
We have to make a partnership--all the government agencies,
all the business folks. But where there are no families,
where there is no order, where we have lost jobs because
we had to reduce the size of the armed forces after the
end of the Cold War, who will be there to give structure,
role-modeling, discipline, love, and hope to these children?
You must do that, and we will help you.
Scripture says, "You are the salt of the earth and
the light of the world," that "if your light
shines before men, they will give glory to the Father in
Heaven. " That is what we must do. That is what we
must do. And I will work with you.