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King: “Cruel Jest” to Tell Bootless Man to Lift Self by Bootstraps

In May 1967, NBC correspondent Sander Vanocur asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “What is it about the Negro? I mean, every other group that came as an immigrant somehow—not easily, but somehow got around it? Is it just the fact that Negroes are black?” Dr. King patiently explained the unique history of African Americans in the United States of America:

…when white Americans tell the Negro to lift himself by his own bootstraps, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. Now I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps, but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps [Dr. Martin Luther King, interviewed by Sander Vanocur, NBC News, May 8, 1967].

History happened. We live in that history. The past is immutable; the future is ours to change for the better, in recompense for our sins.

The above exchange takes place with Vanocur’s question at 13:45; Dr. King’s full response begins there. Here’s the full 26-minute interview:


  1. Jason 2019-01-21

    We need MLK now more than ever. We need to study his ideas and finally learn how to overcome the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism.

  2. Jason 2019-01-21

    “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” -MLK’s Beyond Vietnam Speech

  3. TAG 2019-01-21

    …. waits for trolling from Jason ….

    I agree. The thing that blows me away in that exchange was King’s self control, his quick and eloquent retort, and, as Corey states, his ability to condense all the aspects of black American history that were relative to the question into two minutes.

    Easy to digest information that was actually historically accurate and gives the correct perspective. This was not propaganda. This was education from an intelligent man. He was a teacher.

  4. Debbo 2019-01-21

    “The white man has made [Negro’s] color a stigma.”

    MLK, one of the USA’s greatest heroes, certainly schooled Sander Vanocur and made clear what continues to happen in this nation.

    Jason, I agree. (I’m stunned!)

  5. Porter Lansing 2019-01-21

    Lower middle class whites often find their only route to self-esteem is by thinking and verbalizing, “At least I ain’t a n***er.” President Trump fans this “greasy totem pole of success” ideology with baseless blame. He tells his worshippers that their lack of improvement over an entire generation isn’t their fault. It is their fault. Many chose pain pills and bar stools over more skills and night schools and now are reinforced in their fallacies that it’s those damn Mexican’s fault and the n*ggers, too. “The lazy bastards are taking so much welfare that we can’t get a decent job.” Trump is single handedly destroying the legacy of MLK.

  6. Steve Pearson 2019-01-21

    Wow Porter. Way to throw Trump into a comment on this MLK video. The funny thing about this, well actually not funny, is how those of you on the other side of the aisle type away your “opinions” and fail to see how laced they are in your own type of hatred. Religious bigotry against Christianity is rampant on this site. You’ll explain it away of course because that is what happens on the Left. Attacks to those against the Left are okay.

    I wish MLK was alive today and that he didn’t die. I bet all of us would be blown away by what he’d say in this climate.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-21

    Wait! Wait! The Jason above is a different Jason from the Trumpist apologist who frequents the comment section. Both comments come from a different Jason. Jasons, you all need to distinguish yourselves!

  8. jerry 2019-01-21

    Whew, I thought Jason the troll had gotten into the cough medicine again. Thanks Cory for sorting that out as it was not in his form to be so thoughtful. The Jason that posted at the beginning is spot on.

  9. Porter Lansing 2019-01-21

    Pearson … I’ve got a minute to make you look like a fool, again. Wanna go?

  10. mike from iowa 2019-01-21

    Yeah, I’m back. Thanks, Cory.

  11. John 2019-01-21

    Thanks for sharing the MLK interview.

  12. Roger Cornelius 2019-01-21

    Now this is rich, on the eve of MLK day vice president Mike Pence compared Trump to Martin Luther King.
    The MAGA caps are now recognized as the new KKK white hoods.
    Years ago a white BIA worker from Washington, D.C. posed a similar question to than Oglala Sioux Tribal President Al Trimble, Al responded with something along the lines of, “most of the tribal members don’t have boots and sure and hell don’t have boot straps”.
    As you read more and more of Martin Luther King’s speeches and writings you will find that with his foresight, he has already answered Donald Trump.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2019-01-21

    Pearson is working overtime at being a victim. If he wants sympathy, he’s come to wrong place.

  14. RJ 2019-01-21

    Steve Pearson is a “minister”, correct?

  15. leslie 2019-01-22

    Forbes writes 1.20 that King said science interprets fact and does not conflict with religion. Unbelievable gullibility” he called it, was the problem. Science says Greenland is melting 300 B tons of ice annually. Western Canada 12B tons, and Antarctica 150 B tons. These rates are 3 to 5 times faster than projected. Idiot Trump just tweeted with all the cold weather he wishes for more global warming. The pivot from fossil fuels MUST OCCUR NOW TOprevent warming to exceed 1.5 C. Impeach this bast*rd!

  16. Aaron Aylward 2019-01-22

    “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed, without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.”

    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-01-22

    RJ … Steve Pearson is a religious kook that works at a convenience store in Sioux Falls. (not that it’s not an honorable profession)

  18. mike from iowa 2019-01-22

    I bet all of us would be blown away by what he’d say in this climate.

    Rilly, rilly bad choice of words to usse when referring to MLK.

  19. TAG 2019-01-22

    Although I appreciate that most Americans (90% approval) now have a positive view of MLK, we often forget how unpopular he was in his time. At the time of his death in 1968 he had a disapproval rating of 75%. 25 points higher than in 1963 when he first came to prominence. A big part of that was his views on Vietnam. In the early 70’s America finally started agreeing with MLK and the hippies about that war, but he was dead by then. Also there was plenty of racism accross the country, not just in the South. (still is) There were lots of people in the North that agreed with desegregation, but felt protesters were going too far, pissing off the bigots and inciting the violence against them.

    Although his methods were non-violent, they were designed to create tension and conflict. That is the purpose of protest, to create change by making people uncomfortable. Think about that the next time somebody tries to argue that NFL players have the right to protest non-violently, but simply chose the wrong place and time to do it.

    MLK is popular now because he was right, and ahead of his time. History won’t be as kind to Trump and the current strain of Republicans.

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