If You Can’t Fly, Then Run


The exact origin of this phrase is Isaiah, but later Dr. King used this phrase in his speech at a college rally when he said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” In fact, he is motivating the youth that how much pessimistic they might become, they have to move forward to fight for their rights and justice.


Dr. King used to preach people and adopted this as a way of his life. He used Gospels as a model to express his ideas to fight for justice. In fact, he is motivating youth that they have to move forward themselves in the direction of fight for their rights and to get justice. He wants students to get involved in active yet peaceful demonstrations. He was well aware of the fact that youth is going to lead their country one day; therefore, they need to get involved. Generally, it conveys a message of perseverance in life to achieve your goals.


This phrase has become a very famous quote since Dr. King has used it in his college speeches. It is a highly motivational line that we usually find in written works, offices, every day and political speeches. For instance, parents and teachers often deliver this line to their children and students as a piece of advice, so that they should not give up or should not become hopeless no matter how tough their life may become.

Literary Source

The exact origin of this phrase is not known, though it is reported that it appeared in Isaiah for the first time, but later Martin Luther King used it in his famous speech at a Spelman college rally in Sisters Chapel. He says;

“Keep moving, for it may well be that the greatest song has not yet been sung, the greatest book has not been written, the highest mountain has not been climbed. This is your challenge! Reach out and grab it… but there is something we can learn from the broken grammar of that mother, that we must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”

(Spelman College Museum April I960, pp. 10-11)

In this passage, Dr. King is preaching his people a lesson of moving ahead and focusing on goals in life, despite facing difficulties. In fact, he wanted African Americans to fight for the same rights, which whites have had. He did not want people to think about impossibilities; rather, he inspired them to focus on possibilities.

Literary Analysis

The phrases comprises two parts where the one puts the analogy of flying and running in front of the young generation in order to select the second option if the first is not available. As a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King did hard work to initiate peaceful protests against injustice going on in the Southern against African Americans. Dr. King encouraged them to keep their determination high, regardless of what their limitations are, but they have to put their efforts for improvement. They need not worry about what they could not do, instead they should focus on doing what they can do. If they do so, they would end up achieving things even that might seem impossible.

Literary Devices

  • Symbolism: All the words “fly, run, walk, and crawl” symbolize perseverance.
  • Analogy: The phrase is an analogy with birds as they start running if they cannot fly when they are injured and so on.

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