MLK’s latter years – those after the 1964 Civil Rights Act – are often forgotten, especially since King became vocal about the Vietnam war and moved the focus of his campaign to northern cities in a way which made previously sympathetic Yankees uncomfortable. But as this recently discovered 1967 speech to a Cleveland high school audience shows clearly that King was not in favour of the tokenism that his successors have veered towards, and he says it beautifully:
“If you are setting out one day to be a good Negro doctor, or a good Negro lawyer, or a good Negro schoolteacher, or a good Negro preacher, or a good Negro skilled laborer, or a good Negro barber or beautician, you have already flunked your matriculation exam for entrance into the university of integration.
“Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that nobody can do it any better. If it falls your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say ‘Here lived a great street-sweeper who swept his job well.’”
Happy 83rd birthday Martin Luther King.