Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15 1929April 4 1968) was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist; he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His son is Martin Luther King III.

Sourced

There are often multiple sources for some famous statements by King; as a professional speaker and minister he used some significant phrases with only slight variation many times in his essays, books, and his speeches to different audiences.
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
  • You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression ... If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
  • True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
    • In a 1955 response to an accusation that he was "disturbing the peace" by his activism during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, as quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound : A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr (1982) by Stephen B. Oates
  • Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
    • Stride Toward Freedom : the Montgomery Story (1958)
  • Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.
    • The Measures of Man (1959)
  • I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
  • A riot is the language of the unheard.
    • Address given in Birmingham, Alabama (1963-12-31)
  • The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
    • Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62; many statements in this book, or slight variants of them, were also part of his address Where Do We Go From Here?" which has a section below.
I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom.
  • Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most element of greatness — justice.
    • Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 109
  • On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man.
    • "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" (31 March 1968)
  • I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be as a people, our destiny is tied up in the destiny of America.
    • "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" (31 March 1968)
  • When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, You are talking anti-Semitism.
    • Seymour Martin Lipset. "The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel", Encounter magazine, December, 1969, p. 24.
    • from a 1968 appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Note: There is a speech attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. based on this quote that is a hoax.
  • I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.
    • As quoted in The Civil Sphere (2006) by Jeffrey C. Alexander, p. 388
  • I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.
    • King sharing his thoughts on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban school prayer, in a 1965 interview with Playboy magazine.
  • If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.
    • from a 1968 Playboy magazine interview


Strength to Love (1963)

We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.
  • The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites. The idealists are usually not realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally known to be passive, nor the passive to be militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive, or the self-assertive humble. But life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony. The philosopher Hegel said that truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in the emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
  • Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. ... And he gave them a formula for action, "Be ye therefore as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." ... We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
  • The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He has a strong austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.
    Who doubts that this toughness is one of man's greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
  • Softmindedness often invades religion. ... Softminded persons have revised the Beautitudes to read "Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God." This has led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion. ... Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
  • There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.
    But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. ... What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of toughmindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of heardheartedness?
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
  • The greatness of our God lies in the fact that He is both toughminded and tenderhearted.
    • Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart
  • Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
    • Ch. 4 : Love in action, Sct. 3
  • Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. ... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
    • Ch. 5 : Loving your enemies; this passage contains some phrases King later used in "Where Do We Go From Here?" (1967) which has a section below.
  • Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
    • Ch. 5 : Loving your enemies
  • The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963)

Response to an open letter by fellow clergyman criticizing his participation in civil rights demonstrations (16 April 1963) Full text online
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities...
  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
  • We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
  • One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
  • How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
  • An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
  • In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
  • Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.
  • I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
  • Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers?
  • Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

I Have A Dream (1963)

I have a dream...
Full text online + audio and video links
  • Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.
    One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
  • When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
    This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.
  • This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
  • The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
  • We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
  • The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
  • I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
We will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Listen to a recording of the original performance of part of this quote:

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Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1964)

Full text online
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.

Speech at Oberlin College (1964)

Speech at Oberlin College (22 October 1964); Quotes from multiple MLK appearances at Oberlin

Keep Moving From This Mountain (1965)

Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood (1965-02-25) - Online text and audio

In every age and every generation, men have envisioned a promised land.

Beyond Vietnam (1967)

Speech at Riverside Church in New York City (1967-04-04) - Online text and audio

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.

Speech on Vietnam (1967)

Speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (1967-04-30)
The truth must be told.

Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)

Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1967-08-16)
We must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.
There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.
I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

The Drum Major Instinct (1968)

Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (1968-02-04)


I've Been to the Mountaintop (1968)

Speech in Memphis, Tennessee (1968-04-03)
Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.
I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.

Misattributions

The Civil Rights Monument in Montgomery, Alabama attributes this Bible verse to Dr. King.

External links

Wikipedia
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Martin Luther King, Jr.
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