Source of MLK “Cruel jest to say to a bootless man” interview quote

Full interview that NBC originally aired on June 11, 1967 in the special “After Civil Rights: Black Power.”

Joshua Dance
5 min readJan 22, 2019

I saw this tweet, and the accompanying video, which really made me think.

I don’t feel like I can add anything, or that I have anything valuable to add to the conversation surrounding Martin Luther King, and what he worked for, but I felt like I could find the origin of the quote and the interview.

Searching for the Transcript

First I just wanted to read the transcript but I couldn’t find the source of the interview or the transcript. So I transcribed it myself.


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?

Martin Luther King:

White America must see, that no other ethnic group has been a slave on American soil. That is one thing that other immigrant groups haven’t had to face.

The other thing is that the color, became a stigma. American society made the Negroes color a stigma. America freed the slaves in 1863, through the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, but gave the slaves no land, and nothing in reality. And as a matter of fact, to get started on.

At the same time, America was giving away, millions of acres of land in the west and the Midwest. Which meant that there was a willingness to give the white peasants from Europe an economic base, and yet it refused to give its black peasants from Africa, who came here involuntarily in chains and had worked free for two hundred and forty-four years, any kind of economic base.

And so emancipation for the Negro was really freedom to hunger. It was freedom to the winds and rains of Heaven. It was freedom without food to eat or land to cultivate and therefore was freedom and famine at the same time.

And when white Americans tell the Negro to “lift himself by his own bootstraps”, they don’t oh, they don’t look over the legacy of slavery and segregation. I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own boot straps, but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.

And many Negroes by the thousands and millions have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of Oppression and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.

I wanted to learn more, read more.

No Twitter Source

But as often happens on Twitter, there was no source, and no link to learn more. So I started googling.

Found this tweet from NBC.

This showed that it was an official NBC video. Watching the video again, I noticed the date and the place.

This was a good lead. So I googled ‘mlk interview may 8 1967’ which turned out to give me exactly what I wanted. Top of the search results was the original interview.

It is 26 minutes long. The video includes this description:

In 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King spoke with NBC News’ Sander Vanocur about the “new phase” of the struggle for “genuine equality.”

I avoided all the Facebook videos in the search results, since they are usually re-uploads without source links. However doing more research I found that NBC posted also on Facebook, this with a much better explanation and link than they had on Twitter.

Did more Googling and found this article from NBC in 2013 that explained the setting more fully.

NBC News gave the go-ahead to Vanocur and producer Stuart Schulberg to prepare a special report called “After Civil Rights: Black Power.” It aired on June 11, 1967 — the fourth anniversary of Kennedy’s landmark civil rights speech.

The centerpiece of the special was Vanocur’s interview with King. It was shot on color film, something still relatively new in television news in 1967. And it was conducted in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was a pastor, as his father had been. King’s parents were married there. He was baptized there. And on April 9, 1968, his funeral was held there.

Did more googling and found the transcript from the special.

However the interview in the special is evidently edited as the NBC Learn transcript doesn’t match up with the full interview.

I also found the video on YouTube, as NBC’s custom video player doesn’t load very well.

I tried to find the full special to watch, and I found a mention that the full special was available on

However you have to register and NBC only grants access to those looking to license footage.

Access to our research database is reserved for current clients and professional researchers/producers looking to license footage from our archives.

I also found this speech that uses the same phrase, and was delivered 38 days earlier at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on 31 March 1968.

What are we going to do?

I feel that the most important thing we can do as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King is to examine our own lives and ask ourselves, “What am I doing to help or hinder civil rights? What can I do to advance Martin Luther Kings dream?”