When one reads Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, his I See the Promised Land speech, and his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, they can see that there was a clear shift in King’s attitude in regards to race relations. One will see that during the beginning of the 1960’s when he gave the I have a Dream Speech and wrote the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, he was a much more conservative King than he was in 1968 when he gave his I See the Promised Land speech the night before his death. In the I Have a Dream speech, he states, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” (218). this statement shows his conservative view point in 1963 when the speech was delivered. It represents his conservative views because even though nearly one hundred years had passed since Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation which was supposed to set the African Americans free, they were still suffering from certain types of enslavement. They were not offered certain jobs, they could not eat in certain restaurants, and they could not attend the same schools as whites in many cases, but despite all of this, he was urging his people to fight the battle against oppression without bitterness and hatred. This would have been a difficult task for anyone to accomplish, and if King was more liberal he would have not expressed the level of discipline he did when he encouraged his people to not be bitter toward white people. The fact that African Americans had suffered oppression for another one hundred years after the emancipation proclamation, but yet King still refused to openly express bitterness and hatred toward whites, shows his conservative roots.
King’s conservative view point also comes through in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail. In this letter, he writes that there are two types of African Americans in America, and he states that he stands in the middle of these groups. As he writes, “One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and comes perilously close to advocating violence.” (296-297). One may read this and think that King is a moderate with regards to race relations when he wrote this letter because he says that he stands in the middle of these opposing forces, but his conservative side is expressed later in the letter when he writes, “if I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable patience, then I beg you to forgive me.” (302). If King was a liberal, he would not have begged for forgiveness. The more liberal Martin Luther King would have openly expressed his true feelings to the men he was writing to. If he had written this letter in 1968 when he gave the I See the Promised Land speech, he would have omitted the begging for forgiveness part.
As one reads the I See the Promised Land speech, they can see that the King of 1968 when he delivered it was much more liberal than the King of 1963. His frustration with the slow progress he and his associates had made from 1963-1968 was evident in his speech. By 1968, he was more outspoken in his view of race relations and expressed his impatience in more liberal terms than the King of 1963 would have. For example, he states, “I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.” (280). At this point in his life, he wanted change right at that moment. This is not to say that he did not want immediate change in 1963, but the way he stated it in his speech the night before his death was much more firm than the way he wrote in his letter from Birmingham City Jail. He begged for forgiveness in jail, and demanded reform in his I See the Promised Land speech. The King of 1963 was much different than the King of 1968 in regards to his view of race relations in America; therefore, when one attempts to answer whether or not he was conservative, moderate, or liberal in his views of race relations, one must ask at what point in his life?