basic mobility

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Senior Member
Hi! What does "basic mobility" means?
It comes from Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream".
Here's the passage:

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

I would like to understand if travel has some metaphorical meaning, so I need to understand what basic mobility refers to exactly.
Does it mean only the movement from one place to another or something else?

Thanks a lot.
  • cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    MLK seems to be talking quite literally about travel, but the reader is free to extend "basic mobility" to the realm of social standing. The word "ghetto" (q.v.) lends a bit of support to this interpretation. "Basic mobility" is the ability to move from one place to another.
    Last edited:

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    It is a reference to the notion of social mobility, which Americans are very keen on.
    It is the idea that anyone can start life in one social condition but with an education and hard work they can progress to a better social condition.

    M L King was not going to be happy with the very limited social change of moving from one sort of ghetto to another one. He is saying that there are social contraints on the lives of black people at the time of this speech. In this part he is referring explicitly to segregation.

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    Given the start of the passage, it seems reasonable to presume that its continuation was also intended to be taken literally, though we can't rule out that he was talking about social mobility - it is, after all, something of a turning point in the speech, beyond which the metaphors start to come thick and fast. (Cross-posted)
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