Martin Luther King Jr.? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the economics of health care I came across the following statement attributed to the famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.:
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
A writer at “The Huffington Post” website attempted to trace this quotation and obtained first-hand testimony from an attendee at a human rights convention in 1966 who stated that King did make this remark, but King used the word “inhuman” instead of ‘inhumane”. 1 Would you please explore this topic? Perhaps contemporaneous documentary evidence can be located.
Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Martin Luther King Jr. did make a statement that was nearly identical to the modern version given above. On Saturday, March 26, 1966 multiple newspapers published an article from the Associated Press (AP) newsgathering organization about a press conference held in Chicago on the night of Friday, March 25. The annual meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights was being held, and King spoke to journalists before he was scheduled to deliver an address to conference attendees. King’s theme was the disparate medical care received by blacks. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2 3
“We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.
“I see no alternative to direct action and creative nonviolence to raise the conscience of the nation.”
Modern renditions of the quotation contain the terms “health care” or “healthcare”, but the concurrent AP report indicated that King simply said “health”. Also, King used the word “inhuman” instead of “inhumane” according to the AP.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
A few days later on March 29, 1966 the “Woodlawn Booster” weekly newspaper of Woodlawn, Illinois reported on the words spoken by King. The following passage was somewhat different. Perhaps this version was delivered during King’s speech instead of during the press conference beforehand: 4
The head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference spoke at a meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in the University of Chicago’s Center for Continuing Education, 1306 E. 60th.
“Of all forms of discrimination and inequalities, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman,” Dr. King said. “It is more degrading than slums, because slums are a psychological death while inequality in health means a physical death.”
In 1969 an instance of the quotation was printed in a reference work called “The History of the Negro in Medicine”. The words were employed as an epigraph for the first chapter and the accompanying citation pointed to the 1966 conference: 5
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman….
The Rev. Martin Luther King at the Second National Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Chicago, March 25, 1966.
In 1983 “The New York Times” printed a statement spoken by a Justice Department lawyer named Neil H. Koslowe during a court case. An instance of the quotation was ascribed to King: 6
In opening his argument today, Mr. Koslowe, the Government lawyer, quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as saying, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.” Mr. Koslowe added that the new rules represented the Government’s effort to investigate inequality and injustice in the care of handicapped infants.
In 2003 “The Denver Post” of Colorado published an opinion piece about medical care that included a modified instance of the expression containing the term “health care” and the word “inhumane”: 7
Overall, less money will be required to run this system and it will provide universal and comprehensive care, a great improvement over our current cruel and wasteful situation.
‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’
– Martin Luther King Jr.
The website of the Physicians for a National Health Program posted an article about the provenance of the quotation dated October 14, 2014. The article successfully identified the March 26, 1966 news story from the Associated Press and shared the contents. The article also presented a citation from April 1966. 8
In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr. did make a comment on this topic on March 25, 1966 while attending a meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. The citations dated March 26, 1966 and March 29, 1966 gave two versions that differed a bit. QI suggests using the earlier of the two.
Image Notes: Star of Life Symbol created by U.S. Government employee as part of official duties; public domain. Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. circa 1964 from the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
(Great thanks to George Mannes, a senior editor at “Money” magazine, whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- Website: The Huffington Post, Article title: Tracking Down Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Words on Health Care, Article Author: Amanda Moore (Staff attorney-legal editor, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law), Timestamp on website: January 18, 2013 4:00 pm EST, Timestamp of update on website: March 20, 2013 5:12 am EDT, Website description: News, blogs and original content offering coverage of politics, entertainment, style, world news, technology and comedy. (Accessed huffingtonpost.com on October 22, 2015) link ↩
- 1966 March 26, Mt. Vernon Register News, King Charges Negro Medical Care Inferior (Associated Press), Quote Page 5, Column 3, Mt. Vernon, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1966 March 26, Racine Journal Times, Dr. King Bitterly Flays Health Care Given Negroes (Associated Press), Quote Page 2B, Column 5 and 6, Racine, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1966 March 29, Woodlawn Booster, Wood lawn’s Mortality Rate Cited, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Woodlawn, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1969, The History of the Negro in Medicine by Herbert M. Morais, (Third edition of this volume), Series: International Library of Negro Life and History, Chapter 1: By Way of Introduction, (Quotation appeared as epigraph of chapter 1), Quote Page 1, Published under the auspices of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Publishers Company, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1983 April 9, New York Times, Rules to Aid Handicapped Infants Face Court Test by Robert Pear (Special to the New York Times), Quote Page 1.8, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 2003 January 12, Denver Post, Can we cure health insurance? Canada points the way, by Ron Forthofer, Quote Page E.01, Denver, Colorado. (ProQuest) ↩
- Website: Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Article title: Dr. Martin Luther King on health care injustice Date on website: October 14, 2014, Description of organization given on website: “Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 19,000 members and chapters across the United States”. (Accessed pnhp.org on October 22, 2015) link ↩