The lost speech and other words of Martin Luther King, Jr.


On September 12, 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at the Park-Sheraton Hotel in New York City to commemorate the centennial of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It was thought that the only record of the speech was a typewritten script annotated by an audio engineer, but 41 years later — in November 2013 —¬†an intern at the New York State Museum in Albany uncovered the only known recording, which can be heard here.

Some other words of the great civil rights leader whose birth we commemorate today follow below.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

“A right delayed is a right denied.”

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

First published on Glosso last year, on Martin Luther King Day 2016

6 thoughts on “The lost speech and other words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

  1. Bronwyn Glenn

    Can you confirm that Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase” ? My high school used this quote as a theme for our graduation. My principal was concerned because she couldn’t find a source that confirmed that King said this. I hope you can get back to me.

    1. Louise Post author

      Hi Bronwyn,
      You’ve raised a very interesting question: I can’t seem to find any reference online to this sentence or phrase in any of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches or documents. I’ve searched all the papers published on the King Institute’s web site ( for the word “staircase” – and even just for the word “stair” – and nothing relevant comes up. So I suspect this quote might be something of an urban legend. I’ll keep hunting, but I have a feeling your principal’s concerns were well-founded.
      Thanks again for raising this.
      Louise / Glossophilia

    2. Len Cariou

      It is an urban legend that this particular quotation was used by Dr. King – it is not in any printed or broadcast source, or letter, by King. I think your principal was right to be wary of internet sources in this case! As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You shouldn’t trust everything you read on the internet…”

      1. John

        This is a several years later… but I was searching for the context of this quote and found this research:

        Seems like there’s no written evidence of him saying this exact quote, but at least in private conversations he spoke using the general idea. Ultimately, it derives from his Christian faith; 2 Corinthians 5:7 in the Bible says: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

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