King Speech Found After Half Century: Proud to be Maladjusted

Randall Stephens

This morning NPR reported on a fascinating find in Kansas. On a January day in 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the small Kansas Mennonite school, Bethel College. In a recent search for a recording, school officials turned up nothing. So, like all diligent researchers they sent out an email to alumni and interested parties, hoping a tape would surface. It did.

Officials at Bethel College in Newton, Kan., on Monday will play a recording of a speech by Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. that hasn't been heard in half a century.

It's the only recording of the speech that exists, and until recently, school officials thought it was lost for good. . . .

"He kept repeating that we need to be maladjusted to our society; we can't accept the status quo," Friesen says. "And he repeated that over and over again. I said I remember that, being a nonconformist. He had vigor about him, energy. He carried himself with a dignity, a sense of composure."

In the speech, King tells the audience: "I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry."

(See the 1967 Youtube clip here of King sounding a similar theme.)

King was back in Kansas almost exactly eight years later to deliver a speech to 7,000 at K-State. The K-State library recounts the event:

On January 19, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of over 7,000 in Ahearn Field House on the campus of Kansas State University; the title of his speech was "The Future of Integration." He was invited to present an "all University Convocation . . ."

King's address concerned the issue of whether any real progress had been made in the area of race relations. He summarized the history of slavery and segregation in the U.S. pointing out how far integration had come; however, in truth, he told the audience that there was still so much that needed to be done in terms of racial equality. He said to ignore this truth would leave those in attendance "...the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality, and we would all go away the victims of a dangerous optimism." He went on the summarize the discriminatory conditions the "Negro" faced around the country in a multitude of areas: violence (shootings, lynchings, and arson), housing, employment, education, and "psychological murder," to name a few >>> read on


Phil said…
Thanks, Randall. Excellent post, as usual.
Nathan Rein said…
This reminds me of an essay by Thomas Merton, published in Raids on the Unspeakable (New Directions, 1966), p. 45ff., on the finding that Eichmann was "perfectly sane." I'm not sure when the essay was originally written. It's called "A Devout Memory of Adolf Eichmann." The famous quotation is, "It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can, without qualms and without nausea, aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.... perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally 'sane.'"
Randall said…
I had not seen this Merton quote before. Thanks for posting it.
Nathan Rein said…
Sure. I misremembered the essay's name -- it's "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann." You can see part of it at Google Books here. It's interesting how wary people were, already in the '60s, of the depoliticizing potential of therapeutic discourse.
Heather White said…
Do you know of anyone who has analyzed these and similar references to psychology by justice activists of the 1950s/60s? I'm working on gay rights movement challenges to disease theories of homosexuality, and the parallels are really intriguing.

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