Martin Luther King: “You Know Who to Vote For. I’m Just Asking You to Vote!” (1964)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At anoth­er turn­ing point in U.S. history–when LBJ ran against Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter in the 1964 pres­i­den­tial election–Martin Luther King, Jr. urged vot­ers to stand up and be count­ed. To set the scene, the UCLA Film & Tele­vi­sion Archive writes:

King, who had just been named the win­ner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his com­mit­ment to non­vi­o­lent resis­tance, embarked on a cross-coun­try get-out-the-vote cam­paign in sup­port of incum­bent Demo­c­rat Lyn­don B. John­son. Repub­li­can chal­lenger Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter opposed the Civ­il Rights Act of 1964 in favor of states’ rights and rep­re­sent­ed, for King, a set­back for the civ­il rights move­ment and “a great dark night of social destruc­tion” (Los Ange­les Times). King also advo­cat­ed for more African Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Con­gress and spoke against bal­lot mea­sures that would per­pet­u­ate dis­crim­i­na­tion. To vote was not only a civic duty, it was a moral imper­a­tive.

His words speak to our moment today as much, if not more, than they did to the events of 56 years ago. Speak­ing to a crowd in LA, King said:

“Suf­fice it to say that we stand in one of the most momen­tous peri­ods of human his­to­ry. And in these days of emo­tion­al ten­sion, when the prob­lems of the world are gigan­tic in extent and chaot­ic in detail, all men of good will must make the right deci­sions.”

“We must decide whether … we will allow our nation to be rel­e­gat­ed to a sec­ond-rate pow­er in the world with no moral voice.”

“We must decide next Tues­day whether Amer­i­ca will take the high road of jus­tice and peace, com­pas­sion for the poor and under­priv­i­leged, or whether this nation will tread the low road of man’s inhu­man­i­ty to man, of injus­tice, of short-sight­ed­ness.”

“Each of us has a moral respon­si­bil­i­ty, if we are of vot­ing age and if we are reg­is­tered, to par­tic­i­pate in that deci­sion. I come here to urge every per­son under the sound of my voice to go to the polls on the 3rd of Novem­ber and vote your con­vic­tions.”


Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Used Niet­zsche, Hegel & Kant to Over­turn Seg­re­ga­tion in Amer­i­ca

Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Explains the Impor­tance of Jazz: Hear the Speech He Gave at the First Berlin Jazz Fes­ti­val (1964)

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.’s Hand­writ­ten Syl­labus & Final Exam for the Phi­los­o­phy Course He Taught at More­house Col­lege (1962)

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