This year, 2018, April 4th marks the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in American history: The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., beloved civil rights leader, activist, and legend. It seems unthinkable that half of a century has passed since this truly tragic loss, but what's even more unthinkable is that after all this time, our nation still isn't living up to King's visionary "dream" of equality. Rather than mourn the current state of affairs, however, this day is the perfect opportunity to look back at some inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. that remain timeless (and timely as well).
Everybody knows the "I Have a Dream" speech, of course, but that's just a tiny fraction of King's catalog of collective wisdom. Both passionate and impressively prolific as a speaker and writer, there are most likely many, many quotes from King that you've never even heard or read (and really, it seems like pretty much everything the man ever said was worth remembering). From peace and poverty to justice and despair, King addressed the real-life problems and challenges of millions with a conviction that taught a nation how to fight for change without violence. The following quotes should be read, re-read, and then read again, by everyone, everywhere.
1The Measure Of A Man
In a letter he wrote from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963, King wrote the following sage words:
“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. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”
From King's 1963 collection of sermons, Strength to Love:
"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
3The Power Of Peace
When King won the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964, this quote from his acceptance speech perfectly expressed his nonviolent ideals:
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."
4Never Give Up
In 1967, King spoke at Glenville High School in Cleveland and gave his audience what was most certainly the best advice of their lives:
"If you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving."
5The Time Is Now
In his historic speech at Oberlin College in 1965, King spoke this ultimate truth:
"The time is always right to do what is right."
6Justice For All
Also from the letter he wrote from Birmingham Jail, this quote is still so relevant:
"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."
7Silence Is Deadly
The iconic "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963 yielded so many valuable insights, such as the following:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
8A Brighter Tomorrow
From King's "Where Do We Go From Here?" speech, delivered at a convention in Atlanta in 1967:
"When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
9Strength In Compassion
Also from King's Nobel Peace Prize speech:
“The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.”
10An End To Oppression
Yet another gem from the Birmingham Jail letter:
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
King fittingly spoke these profound and practical words as part of his Nobel Peace Prize speech:
"Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all."
12A Call To Action
A reminder that all the current marches and protests are so crucial, this quote from King's 1967 speech "Beyond Vietnam" is one to keep in mind:
“Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”
13Be Your Best Self
In what was probably the most amazing speech given to a group of tweens ever (at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, 1967), King said:
“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.”
14Keep Hope Alive
In a sermon given at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1956, "The Most Durable Power," King encouraged his audience to never lose hope, even in the darkest of times:
“Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter."
On April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, King delivered some of the most famous words of his life in a Memphis church (the "Mountaintop" speech), including this passage:
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop... And 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."
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