Thoughts of King Inspire: Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Great Leader
Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as a courageous civil rights leader who used the tactics of non-violence to raise the consciousness of a nation and change the course of history. He is also remembered for his eloquence as a writer and speaker..
He began his career as a minister and then became a leader in the movement for civil rights. But more than that, he became a leader who fought for justice for all people. His greatness lies not just in his accomplishments, but in his moral teachings.
He was a philosopher who had a deep understanding of human nature. It was that understanding, coupled with his eloquence and great personal courage that made him successful in transforming American society.
Key Dates in the Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Born of January 15 to Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King
Marries Correta Scott
PhD in Theology, Boston College
Led Montgomery bus boycott after the Rosa Parks incident/Buses desegrgated
Goes to India/Meets family of Gandhi
March on Washington and "I Have a Dream Speech"
Recieves Nobel Peace Prize
March Agains Fear (Begins to expand his issues.)
Assassinated in Memphis TN
President Reagan signs bill for Martin Luther King Day
The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The biographer weaves together an "autobiography" from King's unpublished and published writings, his speeches, and his interviews. He masterfully blends this together with his own research to create an engrossing and inspirational book. This book is not a dry recitation of facts--I read it as though it was a novel. If you only know Dr. King through news reports and history books, this is the book to read to know him as a friend.
Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Mahatma Gandhi and his success using non-violence as a tactic for gaining Independence for India from Britain. King realized that these tactics could also work to help gain civil rights for black people in the United States. His belief was that it was the only tactic that could work.
He knew that if he was to change laws and practices, he had to change minds and hearts. He had to call attention to the injustices and raise the consciousness of the American people. Violence would only beget more violence. A violent insurrection would be quickly snuffed out; many people would die; attitudes would harden.
"Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."
"If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation."
On Love and Hate
Non-violence was more than a political tactic. Martin Luther King made love a cornerstone of his political activities because the power of love was part of his moral beliefs. “Love thy enemy” was not just a biblical imperative; it was a way of life. Love enhances and opens up the heart; hate destroys and kills the soul.
"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
"I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear."
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend."
"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."
A Thought from MLK on Love and Hate
On Speaking Out
Martin Luther King believed that it was important to speak our against injustice and immorality. To see an injustice and not speak out is as much a sin as to commit the injustice. Justice must be called out; a bright light must be shined on it. Often injustice is not recognized as injustice until it is shown to be so.
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people."
"You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say."
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
On Courage and Character
Speaking out, and taking action, against injustice often requires much courage. Martin Luther King realized that courage was not easy, but he considered it necessary if one wished to claim to be of good character. He didn’t mince words about it
"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right."
"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."
"We must constantly build dykes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."
If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
A Thought from MLK on Courage
Martin Luther King often had to reconcile breaking a law through civil disobedience with morality. Is not breaking the law an act of immorality? Martin Luther King believed that the use of moral means (laws) to achieve unjust ends (discrimination) did not make the ends moral.
(Martin Luther King was right, but I can see others misusing his argument. Who gets to decide what is an unjust law? Some people in the United States think that laws about paying taxes are unjust. Perhaps history is the judge. If you prevail, then you are right.)
Martin Luther King wanted to change hearts and minds, but his most important objective was to change unjust laws.
"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
"Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless."
"[I will fight] until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."
On Race Relations
Martin Luther King's fight was primarily for the civil rights of black people in the United States. He advocated brotherhood among all people and an end to discrimination based on the color of one’s skin.
"We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers."
"We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
A Thought from MLK on Brotherhood
On Social Justice for All
Martin Luther King eventually began to expand his message. Social justice was not just about the oppression of blacks, but about the oppression of the poor. He began to fight for workers' rights and for an end to the Vietnam war.
"We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free market capitalism for the poor."
"We all came in on different ships, but we're all in the same boat now."
"One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society... shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam."
"God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war."
Martin Luther King lived his religion. He used religion to shape his life and his mission. He didn’t preach be good, be quiet, and wait for heaven. He preached that religion required morality, and morality required taking action for social justice.
"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."
"The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself. It, too, is based on a lack of faith. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition."
MLK’s Work is Not Yet Finished.
We have lost Martin Luther King, but his words live on. They inspire us to seek social justice. There will always be another fight to be fought.
"I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable."
Martin Luther King believed that justice comes in slow increments, always moving towards greater justice.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice."
In the meantime, nothing sums up the legacy of Martin Luther King better than this quote:
"Be the peace you wish to see in the world!"
See the movie "Selma" to better understand the life and times of MLK, Jr..
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Catherine Giordano