In this WSB newsfilm clip from July 27, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks about recent race riots in New York City and Rochester, New York and comments on the relationship between civil rights leaders and the riots and possible causes of the riots. Dr. King, sitting at a desk with microphones in front of him, acknowledges that some critics have implied that African American civil rights leaders bear some responsibility for the recent rioting, either by directly causing it or by failing to prevent it. King responds to the implications by highlighting his commitment to nonviolence. He stresses that violence "creates many more social problems than it solves" and calls it "both impractical and immoral." King urges that African Americans in New York City and Rochester end violence and embrace nonviolence.
King continues by emphasizing the need for "an honest, soul-searching analysis and evaluation of the environmental causes which have spawned the riots." He asserts "an ever-increasing measure of justice and dignity accorded to all persons" will help achieve peace in New York, Rochester, or Mississippi. After a break in the clip, King suggests measures to help prevent riots including "elimination of ghettoized housing, discriminatory barriers to jobs, inferior and segregated schools, and discriminatory barriers of the right to vote." He cites the results of a survey published in the New York Times which shows a majority of African Americans continue to believe nonviolence is more effective in promoting positive change than nonviolence is, but warns that without progress in "housing, jobs, and schools" that opinion may change. King believes African American leaders must strongly encourage nonviolence and also strongly encourage white leaders to make progress in "getting rid of the environmental conditions that cause the riots." King invites African American and white "people of goodwill" to fight nonviolently against racial and economic oppression. Replying to a question by an off-screen reporter, King indicates New York mayor Robert F. Wagner, through one of his aides, has invited him to the city where he will speak with African American leaders in Harlem and Brooklyn, two locations of severe rioting. King announces he is willing to go on a "peace mission" to Harlem or Rochester in the future and would like to see the community deal with its problems in a nonviolent manner.
Rioting in New York City began on July 10 after an off-duty policeman shot and killed an African American young man he said was carrying a knife. One local African American newspaper editor blamed "leftist civil rights agitators" for the riots including King, James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and James Forman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) among other civil rights leaders; many African Americans in New York discounted the alleged Communist role in the rioting. Rioting in Rochester broke out July 24 after police attempted to arrest several a young African American on charges of public intoxication. State leaders put a thousand National Guard troops on stand-by for anti-riot action in Rochester where four people were killed after several days of rioting. A report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) eventually indicated the riots were independent and not communist started or influenced.
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The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking about race riots in Rochester and New York City, New York, 1964 July 27, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1187, 51:25/57:31, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.