Dr. Martin Luther King’s Inspiring Street Sweeper Speeches (Audio)

One recurring theme in many of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s speeches that always inspires involves the job of street sweeper as a parable for self-fulfillment. I’ve always admired Dr. King’s ability to affect not just churchgoers or civil rights activists but humans of all kinds, secular and otherwise, and the “street sweeper” element and its metaphorical allusions to the arts is my favorite example of this.

…[E]ven if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry…

This sentiment is reminiscent of the anonymously-penned poems, “Be the Best of Whatever You Are,” (often attributed to Douglas Malloch) which Dr. King cites in the sermon. In my searches tonight reflecting on Dr. King, I really appreciated how he introduced the street sweeper at the 50th anniversary of Alpha Phi Alpha in Buffalo, 1957 – “The Birth of a New Age.” A great blueprint for any commencement speech.

“We need more people who are competent in all areas and always remember that the important thing is to do a good job. No matter what it is. Whatever you are doing consider it as something having cosmic significance, as it is a part of the uplifting of humanity. No matter what it is, no matter how small you think it is, do it right. As someone said, do it so well that the living, dead, or the unborn could do it no better.

More and more multimedia from Dr. King’s sermons and speeches in the ’50s and 60s continues to crop up and it’s sometimes stunning how much more impact the words have when spoken by the reverend himself as opposed to reads on the written page or website.

I could not find the Buffalo ’57 audio, however I came across audio of a King speech that includes the street sweeper riff in the King Institute archives at Stanford. This 3.5-minute clip was taken from the full “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon delivered at New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, on 9 April 1967. Another recently web-published sermon of note is this one from Temple Israel, a Jewish synagogue in Hollywood from 1965 which popped up a few years ago.

In addition to the King Institute archives, find more audio of Dr. King’s speeches here, here, and here.

6 Replies to “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Inspiring Street Sweeper Speeches (Audio)”

  1. I plan on using this excerpt for my sermon on Sunday as a reminder that the pursuit of excellence remains a sorely needed commodity in our nation. At a time when we now give the score of 50% to students who just show up in class and teachers in some districts are forbidden to give zeros for work not turned in, we need to recover a national commitment to genuine excellence

  2. So powerful. I think Dr. King has so much more to teach us after all these years. We need to listen to him more, and I wish the Black community the best.

  3. Mr. Sternberg,

    I had never heard of this speech until yesterday. I heard it on a talk show in Atlanta and I had to listen to it again. Thank you for posting the speech. I can play if for my sons to hear. As a black man, it is refreshing and inspiring to hear these words. The so-called black leaders will never have the courage to inspire the black community, only make them feel sorry for themselves. I thank God everyday for his blessings and I am so thankful to hear this speech.


  4. Dear Mr. Sternberg,

    I heard a sound clip from your blog aired on the Michael Berry Show (WOAI via iHeart Radio). Commenting to say – Thank you for the time and effort you put into compiling Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s divine sermons and public speeches – I am truly inspired and hungry for more of the good Reverend’s bread.

    Sadly, I must confess that the only Martin Luther King speech I can remember from (public) school is the “I Have a Dream…” speech – to boot, I can only recall the first four words (the name). It’s not all the school’s fault – I’m a grown woman and simply have never taken the time to learn about the Reverend. Nevertheless, I feel a change in the winds, a time to unlearn and relearn about the Rev.

    So I am writing on your blog today to meekly say – BLESS GOD my lot is to home educate my four young men as best I can – and thanks to your blog (and Mr. Berry’s unmattched zeal) – I am electing to take my boys (figuratively) on a six-week (maybe six month) journey into hearing and receiving what the late Reverend taught. As I said, I am truly inspired; thank you.

    God bless you and… you’re doing a great job at what you do.

    Inspired to aspire,
    Mrs. Tiffany K Mayfield

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