"Give Us the Ballot, We Will Transform the
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Speech given before the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington, May 17,
Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent
and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental
sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of good will, this May 17 decision
came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of segregation. It came as
a great beacon light of hope to millions of distinguished people throughout
the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. It came as a legal and sociological
deathblow to the old Plessy doctrine of "separate-but-equal." It
came as a reaffirmation of the good old American doctrine of freedom and equality
for all people.
Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition.
This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen
up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words
as "interposition" and "nullification." Methods of defiance
range from crippling economic reprisals to the tragic reign of violence and terror.
All of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.
But, even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent
Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a
tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and its
is democracy turned upside down.
So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not
possess myself. I cannot make up my mind it is made up for me. I cannot
live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact I
can only submit to the edict of others.
So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member
of Congress is to give us the right to vote. Give us the ballot and we will no
longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights. Give us the
ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an
anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute
books of the southern states and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded
perpetrators of violence. Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient
misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will,
and send to the sacred halls of Congressmen who will not sign a Southern Manifesto,
because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice. Give us the ballot and
we will place judges on the benches of the South who will "do justly and
love mercy," and we will place at the head of the southern states governors
who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine. Give
us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness,
implement the Supreme Court's decision of May 17, 1954.
Learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and read more of his speeches and
writings at The Martin Luther
King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University.