Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a serious quote junkie. I love finding nuggets of wisdom plucked from the minds of some of history’s greatest thinkers. That’s why I heart these quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is #MLKDay. Lest you think that the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. are ancient history, let me remind you that today only would have been Dr. King’s 86th birthday. And I think you’ll find, as I did, that many of these quotes carry just as much weight today as they did when they were originally spoken.

34 Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” 

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

“One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong. Only through the bringing together of head and heart—intelligence and goodness—shall man rise to a fulfillment of his true nature.”

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

“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.”

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”

“This is the unusual thing about nonviolence — nobody is defeated, everybody shares in the victory.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“Whatever I was, I owed to my family and to all those who struggled with me. But my biggest debt I owed to my wife. She was the one who gave my life meaning. All I could pledge to her, and to all those millions, was that I would do all I could to justify the faith that she, and they, had in me. I would try more than ever to make my life one of which she, and they, could be proud. I would do in private that which I knew my public responsibility demanded.”

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“Perhaps…the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

“Even if they try to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true that they are worth dying for. And if a person has not found something to die for, that person isn’t fit to live!”

“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”

“We all came in on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

“Through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers—or we will all perish together as fools.”

“God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. History has proven time and time again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better. 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.”

“The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people.”

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

“We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

“The richer we have become materially, the poorer we become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself.”

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.”

“The surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

“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 murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.”

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”

“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

One more thing: as always, it’s important to consider the context of all quotes, not just quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An example from 2014:

Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 For more on Dr. King and his legacy, visit the King Center website here.

 Image credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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