12 Powerful Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes To Honor His Timeless Legacy
Martin Luther King Day is coming up on Monday, January 20. As everyone (hopefully) knows, the national day of service is named in honor of the legendary civil rights leader who was tragically shot to death in 1968. The legacy he left behind, however, will never be forgotten. The Martin Luther King Jr. quotes listed below powerfully illustrate the kind of message the minister and social activist spread during his lifetime, and the kind of world he envisioned: one of equality between all races and ethnicities, and one of peace. While most everyone knows parts of King's famous "I have a dream" speech, as you'll see below, his words go far beyond that powerful day in Washington, D.C.
Martin Luther King (MLK) Day is not only a reminder to think about and talk to your children about King's legacy, but it's also a day to give back. And this year, the celebration marks the holiday's 25th anniversary. Observed each year on the third Monday in January as “a day on, not a day off," the federal holiday is meant to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. Get inspired to do your part and make a better world for all as you read the words below:
1. "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."
This quote was taken from Strength to Love, a volume of King's most well known homilies, published in 1963. Essentially, one's character is really put to the test based on how they handle themselves under pressure and controversy, rather than when everything is running smoothly.
2. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which King wrote in 1963 after he was jailed for defying a state court's injunction to lead a march of black protesters without a permit (urging an Easter boycott of white-owned stores), King's words are more powerful than ever. He was fighting for a democracy that works for everyone, no matter the color of their skin.
3. "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now because I've been to the mountaintop... 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."
From his “I've Been to the Mountaintop” speech in 1968, you can just feel King's optimism and positive energy. I would like to say that the promised land has been achieved for all, but I'm not sure we're quite there yet.
4. “Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
Written for a younger crowd, a group of students in Philadelphia in 1967, I just love the Dr. Seuss-like quality of his words here. Whatever you are, just try and be the best you can. I think this would make a great quote for a child's bedroom.
5. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
One of his most famous quotes from Strength to Love, this will always be one of my favorites. No matter how dark things get, we must always look to love to see us through.
6. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Written for a commencement speech at Oberlin College in 1965, these are inspiring words and a call to action for young graduates.
7. "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.”
From a commencement address at Spelman College in 1960, another great quote for young people starting out in the world on their own. Always keep moving forward!
8. “One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right when the head is totally wrong."
From Strength to Love, this quote goes back to one of his central themes, that everything starts and ends with love.
9. "We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
A central theme of King's, this quote from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" grasps the understanding that time is always of the essence.
10. "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."
From his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, this quote centers around his themes of love as the answer, even in the face of adversity. It's a quote that seems particularly relevant in today's world.
11. "Hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love."
From his 1967 "Where Do We Go From Here?" address, one of the most amazing things about Martin Luther King was his way of getting things done. His marches and rallies were peaceful. He fought hate with love, and anyone that has carried his message on knows that love will always win in the end.
12. "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."
I encourage you to listen to the live audio from his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. You simply can't listen to these words and not know how passionate and inspiring King was to everyone who loved him. Luckily for all of us, his words and the action that has resulted from his words lives on today.