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"... Where Do We Go from Here - Chaos or Community ?  By: Martin Luther King,Jr.

... This edition of "Where Do We Go from Here" is based on the 1967 edition  
  - published in the United States by Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. 

 Some spelling and punctuation have been adjusted,
and obvious errors have been corrected.
Printed in the United States of America
13 12 11 10  8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Composition by Wilsted & Taylor Publishing Services
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found on page 226. ...


Having shared a precious friendship with Martin
King during the last ten years of his life, I was very
pleased to learn that Beacon Press was returning to its important role as a publisher of his book-length
works. Then, when I was asked to write the introduction
for this new edition of King’s fourth book, many powerful
memories flooded my being. First and most important was
my recollection of how determined Martin was to be fully
and creatively engaged with the living history of his time, a
history he did so much to help create but also a dangerous
and tumultuous history that shaped and transformed his own
amazingly brief yet momentous searching life.
From this position of radical engagement it would have
been relatively easy for King, if he chose, to confine his published writing to telling the powerful stories of the experiences he shared almost daily with the magnificent band of
women, men, and children who worked in the black-led
Southern freedom movement, recounting how they struggled to transform themselves, their communities, this nation,
and our world. Instead, going beyond the stories, King insisted on constantly raising and reflecting on the basic questions he posed in the first chapter of this work—“Where Are 
x | introduction
We?” and in the overall title of the book itself, Where Do
We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Always present, of
course, were the deepest questions of all: Who are we? Who
are we meant to be?)
These are the recognizable queries that mature human
beings persistently pose to themselves—and to their communities—as they explore the way toward their best possibilities. Not surprisingly, such constant probing toward
self-understanding was a central element of King’s practice
when he was at his best.
Indeed, it was the urgent need for such self-examination
and deep reflection on the new American world that he and
the freedom movement helped create that literally drove
King to wrestle publicly and boldly with the profound issues of this book. Ironically, it was almost immediately after
the extraordinary success of the heroic Alabama voter-registration campaign—which led to the Selma-to-Montgomery
march, and the follow-up congressional passage of the 1965
Voting Rights Act—that King realized he had to confront
a very di¤cult set of emerging American realities that demanded his best prophetic interpretation and his most creative proposals for action.
Perhaps the most immediate and symbolic energizing
event came just days after President Lyndon Johnson signed
the hard-won historic Voting Rights Act, when the black
community of Watts, in Los Angeles, exploded in fire, frustration, and rage. When King and several of his coworkers
rushed to Watts to engage some of the young men who were
most deeply involved in the uprising, they heard the youth
say, “We won.” Looking at the still smoldering embers of
the local community, the visitors asked what winning meant,
and one of the young men declared, “We won because we
made them pay attention to us.”

introduction | xi
Building on all of the deep resources of empathy and
compassion that seemed so richly and naturally a part of his
life, King appeared determined not only to pay attention but
to insist that his organization and his nation focus themselves
and their resources on dozens of poor, exploited black communities—and especially their desperate young men, whose
broken lives were crying out for new, humane possibilities
in the midst of the wealthiest nation in the world. Speaking later at a staƒ retreat of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King expressed a conviction that had long
been a crucial part of what he saw when he paid attention to
the nation’s poorest people. He said, “Something is wrong
with the economic system of our nation. . . . Something is
wrong with capitalism.” Always careful (perhaps too careful)
to announce that he was not a Marxist in any sense of the
word, King told the staƒ he believed “there must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move
toward a democratic socialism. . . . ” This seemed a natural
direction for someone whose ultimate societal goal was the
achievement of a nonviolent “beloved community.” But a
major part of the white American community and its mass
media seemed only able to condemn “Negro violence” and
to justify a “white backlash” against the continuing attempts
of the freedom movement to move northward toward a
more perfect union. (King wisely indentified the fashionable
“backlash” as a continuing expression of an antidemocratic
white racism that was as old as the nation itself.)
Meanwhile, even before Watts, King and the SCLC staƒ
had begun to explore creative ways in which they could
expand their eƒort to develop a just and beloved national
community by establishing projects in northern black urban neighborhoods. (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, or SNCC, the other major Southern movement 

xii | introduction
organizing force, was involved in similar Northern explorations by the mid-1960s, but both organizations were hampered by severe financial di¤culties.) Partly because of some
earlier contacts with Chicago-based community organizers,
King and SCLC decided to focus on that deeply segregated
city as the center of their expansion into the anguish of
the North. By the winter of 1966, SCLC staƒ members had
begun organizing in Chicago. At that point King decided
to try to spend at least three days a week actually living in
one of the city’s poorest black communities, a west-side area
named Lawndale. From that vantage point, working (sometimes uncomfortably) with their Chicago colleagues, King
and SCLC decided to concentrate their attention on a continuing struggle against the segregated, deteriorating, and
educationally dysfunctional schools; the often dilapidated
housing; and the disheartening lack of job opportunities.
This book must be read in the urgent context of King’s
di¤cult experiences in Watts and Chicago, which seemed
more representative of the nation’s deeper racial dilemma
than were the Southern battlegrounds of Selma and Montgomery. For instance, Chicago was the setting for King’s
fierce reminders that “the economic plight of the masses of
Negroes has worsened” since the beginnings of the Southern
freedom movement, because slum conditions had worsened
“and Negroes attend more thoroughly segregated schools
than in 1954.”
In the face of such hard facts, King insisted on pressing
two other realities into the nation’s conscience. One was his
continuing plea for “a coalition of Negroes and liberal whites
that will work to make both major parties truly responsive to
the needs of the poor.” At the same time he insisted that “we
must not be oblivious to the fact that the larger economic 
introduction | xiii
problems confronting the Negro community will only be
solved by federal programs involving billions of dollars.”
This was the King of Where Do We Go from Here. Sparked
by the young men of Watts, informed by the streets he
walked in Chicago, inspired by the magnificently ordinary
organizers and community members who faced white rage
and fear-filled violence in the Windy City and its suburbs,
King was constantly teaching, learning, urging, admonishing—reminding Americans not only of the powerful obstacles in our histories, our institutions, and our hearts, but
also calling our attention to the amazing hope represented
by Thomas Paine, one of the few really radical, grassrootsoriented “founding fathers,” who dared to proclaim, “We
have the power to begin the world over again.” Insisting
on claiming such revolutionary words, King readily grasped
them for himself and for us all. Mixing all this with his undying commitment to the way of active nonviolence, King
remained faithful to the call he had put forth at the end of
the Selma-to-Montgomery march: “We must keep going.”
(Always going, always carrying the costly testimony: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and
meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what
I have found in nonviolence.”)
Ironically enough, while King’s time in Chicago placed
its indelible mark on both his questions and his relentless
search for answers—for himself and for the rest of us—it was
another Southern-based experience that pressed him to share
some of his deepest convictions, hopes, and fears. Indeed,
the recounting of his crucial participation in the June 1966
Mississippi March Against Fear (the “Meredith March”) provided King the opportunity he needed to oƒer some of his
own powerful responses to the fear-tinged, media-driven 

xiv | introduction
national debate about the rise and meaning of the call for
Black Power and the spread of the urban black explosions
inadequately called “riots.”
In addition to oƒering his own constantly expanding
appreciation of the positive, healing elements of a black selflove, King continued to urge the African American community to refuse to let the path toward black a¤rmation lead
into the self-defeating way of isolation and despair. “There
is no solution for the Negro through isolation,” he wrote.
Instead, encouraging black people to continue moving on
toward our best possibilities (instead of copying white America’s worst habits—especially its racism, extreme materialism,
and militarism), King declared that “our most fruitful course
is to stand firm, move forward nonviolently, accept disappointment and cling to hope.” In that same frame of mind,
King added, “To guard ourselves from bitterness we need
the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity
to transfigure both ourselves and American society.” (Did
he foresee the Obama opportunity? Will Obama really see
King, paying attention? And what about us? Where do we
go? The questions cannot be avoided.)
At the same time, King took the opportunity to speak
to white allies whose support for the freedom movement
had already diminished as the campaign moved on to address
the harsh realities and structural challenges of the North. In
that context, King called Black Power a cry of “disappointment with timid white moderates who feel that they can
set the timetable for the Negro’s freedom.” With increasing regularity, that theme of black disappointment (that he
surely shared) was also applied to the Johnson administration
and its devastating war in Vietnam. Indeed, as the war expanded, drawing more and more American troops (mostly
poor, working class, and people of color on the front lines), 

introduction | xv
as it endangered and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people, King’s protesting, consciencedriven voice began to be heard with increasing vigor. And
Where Do We Go from Here provided another opportunity
to contrast the comparative timidity and lack of creativity
of Johnson’s cut-rate War on Poverty to the robust energy,
imagination and billons of dollars dedicated to the Southeast
Asian disaster. That was the setting in which King described
the call for Black Power as an urgent scream of “disappointment with a federal administration that seems to be more
concerned about winning an ill-considered war in Vietnam
than about winning the war against poverty here at home.”
Even as he spoke and wrote those words, King recognized the danger they carried. He knew that there were
many black and white allies and supporters of his organization and of the larger freedom and justice movement who
considered it unwise, unpatriotic, and unnecessarily provocative to combine the call for legal and economic rights at
home with a profound questioning of the foreign policy of
a federal government whose assistance was considered essential in the achievement of civil rights. (King knew as well
that many of his sturdy financial contributors were having
di¤culty continuing to give support toward such unorthodox views—especially when they tended to expect black
people to be superpatriots, in the most narrow definition
of the word. And, of course, King also knew that Lyndon
Johnson expected nothing less than utter fealty, in gratitude
for his role as the “Civil Rights president.”)
Interestingly enough, in the course of his insistent wrestling with the purpose and future direction of his own organization and of the larger movement, King used the pages
of this book to press himself and his coworkers to move
beyond a narrow, legalistic understanding of their work, to 

xvi | introduction
open themselves to newer, deeper, less-travelled directions—
especially as they faced the systemic, social, political, and
economic issues that met them everywhere in the North.
For instance, toward the end of this work, as King envisioned for himself and others some aspects of a human response to the book’s title question, he wrote, “So far we
have had constitutional backing for most of our demands for
change, and this has made our work easier, since we could
be sure of legal support from the federal courts. Now we are
approaching areas where the voice of the Constitution is not
clear.” King went on with his description of the new situation, saying, “We have left the realm of constitutional rights
and we are entering the area of human rights.” He continued: “The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there
is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the
right to an adequate income. [Or, the right to high-quality
education and health care?] And yet in a nation which has
a gross national product of $750 billion a year, it is morally
right to insist that every person have a decent house, an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.” Here again he urged exploration of a
“guaranteed annual income” for all who needed it.
For the many persons—whatever their color—who originally signed onto the freedom movement to assist in the quest
for the Southern black right to vote, for equal access to public accommodations, and for minimally integrated schools,
this King was out beyond their vision and their reach—and
their control. For me, as I revisit this King and remember his
last years of unrelenting struggle against what he called “the
triple evils” of racism, materialism, and militarism, I see him
on the nettlesome, uncharted path toward a more perfect
union, a path that still challenges us all. I hear him preaching
at his Ebenezer Church in Atlanta: “I choose to identify with 

introduction | xvii
the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I
choose to give my life for the hungry. . . . This is the way
I’m going. If it means suƒering a little bit, I’m going that
way. If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way. If it means
dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice
say, ‘Do something for others.’ ”
And I rejoice to consider the strong possibility that this
King, while paying attention, had opened the way for Barack Obama. So I pray and work that the best of King and
the best of Obama might meet, both enriched, both made
vulnerable and powerful by their attention to the cries of
Chicago’s poorest people, both opening to all of us the opportunity to stand with them—again and again, pressing
them and ourselves to respond to our best angels.
Throughout this book, King continues to combine his various roles—as spirit-based, pro-democracy activist; thoughtful social analyst; loving, encouraging pastor who calls us
to our best possibilities; and as justice-obsessed, biblically
shaped, prophetic spokesperson for the poor. Such a melded
identity allowed King to speak not only to white America
and to the black poor, but to turn, unhesitatingly, as well to
his sisters and brothers in the expanding black middle class.
So he spoke with unflinching honesty and undeniable authenticity when he wrote, “It is time for the Negro middle
class to rise up from its stool of indiƒerence, to retreat from
its flight into unreality and to bring its full resources—its
heart, its mind and its checkbook—to the aid of the less
fortunate brother [and sister].” (King, here, as in the entire
book, unfortunately was a captive of the male gender preferences of his time—and of his church background. When I
consider his capacity for growth, I like to believe that if he
had been given another decade he would have discovered his
own best possibilities there as elsewhere.) 

xviii | introduction
His words to the black middle class provided an excellent opportunity for King to clarify again what he meant by 
America’s constantly used and misused word “integration.”
He wrote, “Let us not think of our movement as one that
seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of
American society.” Instead, he urged, “Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher
destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble
expression of humanness.”
In the light of King’s unstintingly accurate critique of his
“beloved nation,” and his vision of our “higher destiny” as
human beings, it was clear why he needed to believe in Tom
Paine’s radical vision of our capacity “to begin the world
over again,” moving toward “the final goal” of “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living.” Indeed, he seemed deeply
in sync with James Baldwin’s urgent call to us to “realize
ourselves” as an American family of many rich varieties. He
was clearly attuned to Langston Hughes’s readiness to “swear
this oath” that “America will be.” Indeed he often seemed
the prescient older brother to poet June Jordan and her conviction that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” to
transform this reluctant nation into its best possible self.
In fact, reading his words of hope again, I remembered
Martin’s elder sister-in-struggle, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi’s wise and courageous grassroots freedom movement
leader who became a gift to us all. I recalled the story of her
being questioned by a reporter at the historic 1964 Democratic National Convention and asked about her powerful
challenge on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party to the convention’s acceptance of segregated delegations. Did her vigorous antisegregation stand mean that “she
was seeking equality with the white man?” the reporter 
introduction | xix
asked. “No,” Ms. Hamer firmly replied. “What would I look
like fighting for equality with the white man? I don’t want
to go down that low. I want the true democracy that’ll raise
me and the white man up . . . raise America up.”
Using somewhat diƒerent language, this was the message
that King fervently sought to convey to his nation, his people, his children. That was the ultimate answer to the question posed by his book’s title Where Do We Go from Here. To
raise America up, that’s where.
So he was urgent about finding a way through the interstices of his horrendous traveling schedule, dealing with dozens of speaking commitments, both in the United States and
overseas, calling and attending SCLC strategy sessions, tending to a constant set of internal and external crises in Chicago
and Atlanta, always needing to be available for fund-raising
gatherings, hurrying toward family rendezvous. Moving
through all of that, toward the end of 1966, he pressed himself to finish the manuscript. (Actually, King had been working on it, in many forms, ever since he moved to Chicago in
January of that year, often sharing his developing, searching
thinking with Clarence Jones, Stanley Levison, Bayard Rustin, and Andrew Young—his most consistent political and
literary advisors. Sometimes he shared sections of the emerging manuscript at staƒ retreats.)
One final step on the way to completion involved what
was originally planned as a four-week escape to Jamaica, in
January 1967. Carrying several suitcases of notes and other
materials, King traveled with his assistant, Bernard Lee, and
his impressively competent and committed secretary, Dora
McDonald. Coretta also joined him on several occasions during the Jamaica retreat, where he was freed of the telephone
and its demands. So he was free to pay even deeper atten-

xx | introduction
tion, free to continue to wrestle with the amazingly complex
systems of devastation and constraint that were faced by poor
people in America.
He was also free to speak with loving candor and seething anger to his “white brothers and sisters” who refused to
recognize their own deep personal and structural involvement in the causes of the urban rebellions and the call for
Black Power. Out of that freedom emerged King’s most direct word to white Americans: “Negroes hold only one key
to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the
hands of the white community.”
Before the book was finally published in June 1967, King
had clearly decided to follow his conscience and his commitment to the poor when, on April 4, in New York’s Riverside
Church, he raised his voice in an unambiguous, powerful call
for America to end its destructive, colonialist-style participation in the Vietnam War. (I am grateful that Martin asked me
to prepare the first draft of that statement for him.)
Then, not long after Where Do We Go from Here appeared,
its beleaguered and determined author began to announce
the somewhat vague plans that SCLC was preparing to lead a
major campaign of civil disobedience the following spring in
Washington, D.C.—a Poor People’s Campaign. The plans
were to bring thousands of poor Americans to the nation’s
capital to demand that the War on Poverty receive the energy, funding, and attention that should be withdrawn from
the war in Southeast Asia. Significantly, the Poor People of
the campaign were meant to include not only African Americans, but whites, Latinos, and Native Americans as well.
For King it was obvious that his answer to the book’s
subtitle was very clear: a deeply integrated, loving community rather than segregated chaos; hope rather than despair—
raising up America and making the world over. While on 
introduction | xxi
his committed journey in that humane direction, King was
invited to turn his commitment to the poor into a very concrete collaboration with hundreds of exploited, mistreated
garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. The first paperback version of this book was published shortly after his assassination in the consciously chosen company of the poor.
When the late Coretta King wrote her brief and thoughtful preface to the original, post-assassination Beacon paperback she closed with these words: “The glowing spirit and
the sharp insights of Martin Luther King, Jr., are embodied in this book. The solutions he oƒered can still save our
society from self-destruction. I hope that it will be seen as
a testament, and that the grief that followed his death will
be transmitted to a universal determination to realize the
economic and social justice for which he so willingly gave
his life.”
- Vincent Harding (   ) 


 It was characteristic of my husband that in 1967 when
confusion in the civil rights struggle abounded he
would undertake a book titled "Where Do We Go from
Here: Chaos or Community?" He not only took the responsibility for leadership, he toiled vigorously to offer discerning
In this book he piercingly revealed the cause of our national discord, placing it squarely on the ingrained white
racism of American society. He made discrimination and
poverty the central focus of his attacks. A year later, spending nearly a million dollars with a huge staff, the National
Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was to come to the
same essential conclusions.
In this work Martin Luther King, Jr., stresses the common cause of all the disinherited, white and black, laying the
basis for the contemporary struggles now unfolding around
economic issues. He spoke out sharply for all the poor in all
their hues, for he knew if color made them different, misery
and oppression made them the same.
The book is remarkably contemporary also in its treatment of international relations. The author here discusses
poverty as a source of world instability and the arrogance of 
xxiv | foreword
wealthy nations toward the deprived world. It is our common tragedy that we have lost his prophetic voice but it
would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate
are now ignored.
The glowing spirit and the sharp insights of Martin Luther King, Jr., are embodied in this book. The solutions he
offered can still save our society from self-destruction. I hope
that it will be seen as a testament, and that the grief that followed his death will be transmuted to a universal determination to realize the economic and social justice for which he
so willingly gave his life.

- Coretta Scott King 

May 1968