A Proper Sense of Priorities

A speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Washington, D.C.
February 6, 1968

Closing remarks:

As we were marching today, some 5,000 strong, I thought about Selma because I could look around and see so many who have marched with us in Selma, and from Selma to Montgomery. And we are still marching and we are still moving. And I give you my commitment today that I plan to continue.

Someone said to me not long ago, it was a member of the press, “Dr. King, since you face so many criticisms and since you are going to hurt the budget of your organization, don’t you feel that you should kind of change and fall in line with the Administration’s policy. Aren’t you hurting the civil rights movement and people who once respected you may lose respect for you because you’re involved in this controversial issue in taking the stand against the war.”

And I had to look with a deep understanding of why he raised the question and with no bitterness in my heart and say to that man, “I’m sorry sir, but you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. [Laughter – Applause] I don’t determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or by taking….[Applause] Nor do I determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.” [Applause] Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus. [Applause]

On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. [Applause]


Yes… truly a proper sense of priorities… and especially apropos now for us and our friends and colleagues at PNHP.

The speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Proper Sense of Priorities,” was, as the title states, a speech on the proper sense of priorities. As a central theme he expressed his opposition to the war in Vietnam.

For those who believe that it was a stretch to use a quote from an anti-war speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. to advance the cause of health care justice, the following excerpt from the same speech should clarify the intent of my message:

“I’m still convinced that the struggle for peace and the struggle for justice or the struggle for civil rights, we call it in America, can be tied together. These two issues….[Applause] They are tied together in many many ways. And I feel the people who are working for civil rights should be working for peace and I feel that those who are working for peace should be working for civil rights and justice.”

Justice in health care is what Physicians for a National Health Program is all about (and many of us incidentally are pacifists as well).

I apologize to those who perceived my communication to be deficient, though the stand-alone words of Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly require no clarification.