Martin Luther King, Jr. on Work: “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

By Matthew McMullan
Jan 18 2019 |
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963. | Public Domain

The civil rights leader discusses the dignity found in any job.

I watched The Dirty Dozen (for like the 50th time) a couple of days ago, and let me tell you something, man: it’s ridiculous. It’s got Lee Marvin in it, leading a bunch of condemned men, out for killin’ Nazis. Groundbreaking at its time, I’m sure. It came out in 1967.

But something slightly more timeless was produced in 1967. 

Yeah, only slightly: It's this speech, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he delivered at a junior high school in Philadelphia. It was posed around the question: What is your life’s blueprint?

It’s a very good one – as most of Dr. King’s speeches are – and it has something very important to say about the dignity of work:

"If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well."

All work should be celebrated in this way. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on Monday. Watch his speech below: