Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Born in Atlanta, King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, tactics his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi helped inspire.
He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War.
I Have a Dream Speech
“I Have a Dream” was delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which he called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement and among the most iconic speeches in American history.
Beginning with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863, King said “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. Toward the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised conclusion on the theme “I have a dream”, prompted by Mahalia Jackson‘s cry: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” In this part of the speech, which most excited the listeners and has now become its most famous, King described his dreams of freedom and equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred. The speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.
Top Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“It is a cruel jest to say a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps“ ― Martin Luther King Jr.
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)” ― Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream
“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Wars are poor chisels for crying out peaceful tomorrows.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“the time is always right to do the right thing” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“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.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.