Martin Luther King Jr: “I am proud to be maladjusted”

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — which has been an official federal holiday since 1986 — many people read or listen once again to his most famous speech, delivered August 28, 1963,  I Have a Dream,  During previous MLK Days, I’ve provided the transcript and video of several other of King’s memorable speeches: The Three Sicknesses of U.S. Society, delivered August 31, 1967, and Drum Major Instinct, delivered February 4 1968.
This year, I’d like to excerpt one passage, with its playful call for a new association, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment, from a long, erudite speech king delivered at college campuses across the nation for several years, such as Southern Methodist University on March 17, 1966. (Full transcript.)

“…Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. It is the ring and cry of modern child psychology and certainly we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. We all want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must honestly say there are some things in our nation and the world to which I am proud to be maladjusted and wish all men of goodwill would be maladjusted until the good society is realized.

I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to a religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leaving millions of people smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence…

..we need maladjusted men and women where these problems are concerned. It may well be that our whole world is need of the formation of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried the words that echoed across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as that great Virginian Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch words across the pages of history, words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus Christ, who could say to the men and women around the Galilean hills, “Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.” And through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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