If you're getting a day off from work or school on Monday thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you might want to take a moment to think about the true meaning behind the holiday. The third Monday of every January honors one of the most important leaders in American history. As you read through some of these most inspiring MLK Jr. quotes, you'll understand why he's such an iconic figure — and why his words are just as relevant today as they were decades ago.
Dr. King was one of the most important voices of the civil rights era, despite his life being cut so tragically short. He helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, which followed the arrest of Rosa Parks after she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus, according to Brittanica.com. Just a few years later, he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an organization which played a prominent leadership role in the civil rights movement, according to the King Center. And in 1963, he helped organize the March on Washington to demand equality for African-Americans.
Though King's actions and accomplishments earned him a prominent place in American history, his pen has had just as big of an impact. From his famous "I have a dream" speech to his landmark "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," his words continue to uplift and inspire. These 18 quotes make it easy to see why — King promotes the best virtues that humans possess: kindness, understanding, forgiveness, hope, and most important of all, love.
1. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
There's certainly a lot of darkness and hate in the world right now. For MLK, there was only ever one way to fight it.
2. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Just because something isn't happening in your own backyard, doesn't mean you can ignore it.
3. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Speaking up is a theme that MLK returns to again and again. We all have a duty to say something when we see injustice happening.
4. “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.”
These are most definitely times of challenge and controversy. It's hard to recognize a historical moment when you're living through it, but the times we're living in right now will most definitely be written about in the history books — will you be satisfied with your place in it?
5. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Don't forget that Dr. King was a preacher in addition to an activist. The Baptist minister invoked his faith to keep him motivated in the struggle for civil rights.
6. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
There's often a conflict between doing what's easy and doing what's right, but MLK leaves no doubt which one you should choose.
7. “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
Martin Luther King Junior Day is a federal holiday, which means many of us will have the day off from work or school. Why not spend it in service? There are volunteer opportunities everywhere.
8. “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”
You'd think it was from a poem or song if you didn't know this beautiful quote was from MLK. This is a great one to remember when you're going through tough times.
9. "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."
The "I Have a Dream" speech must be MLK's most famous, and it's not hard to see why. The dream he spoke about so movingly may not have been achieved yet, but his words continue to inspire people to fight for it.
10. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”
Quotes like this make you realize how much the country could use a voice like King's today. But you also have to wonder how many people would be willing to listen.
11. “If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
Love conquers all, and is always the answer for Dr. King.
12. “So in the days ahead let us not sink into the quicksands of violence; rather let us stand on the high ground of love and non-injury.”
Taking the high road isn't easy, but ultimately, it's better for your spirit and your cause.
13. “If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”
Everyone has something to contribute, period. Don't let your self-doubt convince you otherwise.
14. "Let no man pull you so low as to hate him."
MLK suffered death threats, an assassination attempt, and was imprisoned dozens of times simply because he fought for equality. But through it all, he never stooped to the level of hating the people who tried to bring him down.
15. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Though he stuck to non-violent means, there's no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a revolutionary. His activism was a key component that would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, according to History.com.
16. "I have decided to stick to love... Hate is too great a burden to bear."
Choosing love over hate is something that King stresses over and over again. If more people could follow in his footsteps, the world would definitely be a better place.
17. "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."
King probably couldn't have even imagined a world where anyone and everyone has a platform to communicate thanks to smart phones, social media, and the internet. But even with all that technology at people's disposal, you have to ask yourself how much they're really communicating with each other, and actually listening.
18. "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."
It's so chilling to take in the "I may not get there with you," portion of this quote, when you consider King was assassinated the very next day after giving speech according to ABC News. He was just 39 years old.