We remember Martin Luther King, Jr. for his bold, impassioned leadership during the Civil Rights years, and for the tragedy of his assassination in 1968. But King fought many battles that were related to, and extended beyond, the rights of Black Americans. He was a pacifist who vocally opposed the Vietnam War and U.S. military intervention elsewhere in the world. He sought to erase the blight of poverty for Americans of all colors. He was a champion of workers’ rights who fought for fair wages and safe working conditions. He spoke out for comprehensive health coverage and educational opportunities for every citizen. Above all, he preached nonviolence, love and forgiveness in the face of violence, hatred and intolerance.
Now, 45 years after his death, he is remembered as one of our nation’s great leaders and orators. Maybe that’s why trying to choose just 30 of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most inspirational, insightful quotes is such a daunting task—how can we say one is better than another? But for the sake of brevity, we’ve listed here some of Dr. King’s better- and lesser-known quotes from speeches and sermons. Every one of them is a reminder of his brilliance, vision and profound sense of humanity.
But enough of our rambling—the best way to salute Dr. King on his holiday is with his own words.
ON THE FIGHT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
- Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the wellbeing of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
- Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
- Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
- The time is always right to do the right thing.
- The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.
- A right delayed is a right denied.
- The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
- 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.
- True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
ON FACING HATE WITH LOVE
- At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.
- 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 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.
- I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.
- Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.
- We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
- Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.
- Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
- If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.
- He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
ON THE HOPE FOR FREEDOM
- If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.
- One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.
- There is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.
- Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
- 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.
- It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.
- Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
- Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is a fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial.
- I’ve looked over, and 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. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.
- Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.