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"Give Us the Ballot"

Martin Luther King's Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

17 May 1957, Washington, D.C.


The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom was a non-violent demonstration in Washington, DC on May 17, 1957, and an early event of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

King's oratory is named the "Give Us the Ballot" speech as its key section uses this demand as an anaphora followed by the different changes that voting rights for African-Americans will bring about.

It is one of King's major deliveries. The call for voting rights for African-Americans is not only morally right but will lead to change, change for the better for all of America. Leadership is required from the government, from white liberals in the North, white moderates in the South, and from the African-American community. King urged his followers to show love and understanding and abstain from violence.

With his oratory King established himself as the "No. 1 leader of 16 million Negroes" (James L. Hicks, Amsterdam News). His call for the ballot eventually led to the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The organizers gained experience and the march laid the foundation for further larger demonstrations in Washington for the Civil Rights Movement.

Key Quotes

"Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights ...
"Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law ...
"Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will ...
"Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy ...
"Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court's decision of May 17, 1954."

Read in Full: The entire text and audio of this speech available at:

Copyright Info: This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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