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Telegram from King to President Johnson






1967 Jul 25 PM 2:17

WA456 PD
Fax Atlanta GA 25 1116A EDT

The President
The White House

I listened with great anticipation to your statement of last evening, for I too have labored with heavy heart through the tragic events of the past week. The chaos and destruction now spreads through our cities is a blind revolt against the revolting conditions which you so courageously set out to remedy as you entered office in 1964, the conditions have not changed.

And though the aimless violence and destruction may be contained through military means, only drastic changes in the life of the poor will provide the kind of order and stability you desire.

There is no question that the violence and destruction of property must be halted, but Congress has consistently refused to vote a halt the destruction of the lives of negroes in the ghetto. First the rent supplement bill was killed then the model cities proposal was drastically cut and finally even a bill with no political or financial implications but great humanitarian aspects was laughed out of the House and Congress rejected a simple bill to protect our cities against rats. The suicidal and irrational acts which plague our streets daily are being sowed and watered by the irrational, irrelevant and equally suicidal debate and delay in Congress.

This is an example of moral degradation. This hypocrisy and confusion seeping through the fabric of our society can ultimately destroy from within the very positive values of our nation which no enemy could destroy from without.

I do not think we are helpless; we are only acting helplessly. I should like to offer a single proposal that I am convinced will be as effective as it is just. Every single out-break without exception has substantially been ascribed to gross unemployment, particularly among young people. In most cities unemployment of negro youth is greater than the unemployment level of the depression '30's.

Let us do one simple direct thing -- let us end unemployment totally and immediately. In the depression days the nation was close to prostrate on the brink of bankruptcy, yet it created the WPA to make millions of jobs instantly available for all existing levels of skill. The jobs were tailored to the man, not the man to the job in recognition of the emergency. Training followed employment, it did not precede it and become an obstacle to it.

What we did three decades ago during an economic holocaust can easily be done today in the comfort of prosperity.

I propose specifically the creation of a national agency that shall provide a job to every person who needs work, young and old, white and Negro. Not one hundred jobs when 10,000 are needed. Not some cheap way out. Not some frugal device to maintain a balanced budget within an unbalanced society.

I propose a job for everyone, not a promise to see if jobs can be found. There cannot be social peace when a people have awakened to their rights and dignity and to the wretchedness of their lives simultaneously. If our government cannot create jobs, it cannot govern. It cannot have white affluence amid black poverty and have racial harmony.

The turmoil of the ghetto is the externalization of the Negro's inner torment and rage. It has turned outward the frustration that formerly was suppressed in agony.

The Negro knows that a society that is able to plan intercontinental war and interplanetary travel is able to plan a place for him in its callous refusal to be just the civilized society is driving a wedge of destructive alienation into the hope of harmony.

Tranquility will not be evoked by pious words. To do too little is as inflammatory as inciting to riot. Desperate men do desperate deeds. It is not they who are irrational but those who expect injustice eternally to be endured. I am convinced that a single dramatic massive proof of concern that touches the needs of all the oppressed will ease resentments and heal enough angry wounds to permit constructive attitudes to emerge.

I regret that my expression may be sharp but I believe literally that the life of our nation is at stake: here at home. Measures to preserve it need be boldly and swiftly applied before the process of social disintegration engulfs the world of society.

Mr. President, this is an emergency state as surely as was the recent crisis in the railroads of our nation. Unless Congress can be motivated to act immediately upon some creative and massive program to end unemployment, we face the possible spread of this tragic destruction of life and property. I urge you to use the power of your office to establish justice in our land by enacting and implementing legislation of reason and vision in the Congress.

Martin Luther King Jr.


Back to Front in the Fight for Freedom.