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MLK Speaks at Illinois Rally for Civil Rights at Soldiers’ Field

June 21, 1964 - Strict enforcement of the new civil rights legislation and a continued effort to end racial discrimination and poverty were called for today in Chicago by Dr. Martin Luther King, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. King was the principal speaker at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights at Soldiers’ Field (pictured). He cautioned Negroes against believing that racial equality automatically was assured when the Senate passed the civil rights bill Friday.

Dr. King’s words were applauded by a predominantly Negro crowd, which various estimates placed at more than 57,000 persons.

“We must continue to engage in demonstrations, boycotts, and rent strikes and to use all the resources at our disposal,” Dr. King said. “We must go to the ballot box and vote in large numbers.”

“But nonviolence,” he continued, “is the most total weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for human dignity.”

He called passage of the civil rights bill “a lasting tribute to the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

“But passage of the bill does not mean that we have reached the end of the civil rights struggle,” he said. “It was merely a step in a 1,000-mile journey. We have come a long way in our journey, but we have a long, long way to do.”

Defining segregation as “a new form of slavery covered up by a few niceties of complexion,” Dr. King said Negroes “are through with segregation now, henceforth, and forevermore.”

“Now we must make full and constructive use of the freedom we already possess,” he declared. “We must not wait until the day of full emancipation before contributing to our nation and making improvements in the life of our country.”

Dr. King urged Negro youth to become educated and skilled to “be the best of whatever you are.”

He criticized those who would “slow down” in the rights movement.

“Asia and Africa are moving at jet speed toward political independence, but there are places in the United States where we are moving at a horse-and-buggy pace to get a hamburger and a cup of coffee in a lunch counter,” he said.

Mahalia Jackson closed the rally by leading the crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

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