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Quotations for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


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I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  ~Robert F. Kennedy


The time is always right to do what is right.  ~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 your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.  ~Franklin Thomas


Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.  ~Abraham Joshua Heschel


Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart.  ~Countess of Blessington


It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.  ~Carl T. Rowan


How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.  ~Anne Frank


Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.  ~Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy


The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.  ~Leo Rosten


I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.  ~George Bernard Shaw


Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.  And seeing them... he cried, "Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?"  God said, "I did do something.  I made you."  ~Author Unknown


A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of a forest.  I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high.  ~Fiona MacLeod


What a person believes is not as important as how a person believes.  ~Timothy Virkkala


You must be the change you wish to see in the world.  ~Mahatma Ghandi


If everyone howled at every injustice, every act of barbarism, every act of unkindness, then we would be taking the first step towards a real humanity.  ~Nelson DeMille


Dare to do things worthy of imprisonment if you mean to be of consequence.  ~Juvenal


We cannot, by total reliance on law, escape the duty to judge right and wrong.... There are good laws and there are occasionally bad laws, and it conforms to the highest traditions of a free society to offer resistance to bad laws, and to disobey them.  ~Alexander Bickel


Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught.  I have a two-year-old son.  You know what he hates?  Naps!  End of list.  ~Dennis Leary


I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.
~Langston Hughes, The Black Man Speaks


To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow.  ~William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches and Public Letters


Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color.  ~Author Unknown


Racial superiority is a mere pigment of the imagination.  ~Author Unknown


I am working for the time when unqualified blacks, browns, and women join the unqualified men in running our government.  ~Cissy Farenthold


I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!  And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.  ~Barry Goldwater


And we who have toiled for freedom's law, have we sought for freedom's soul?
Have we learned at last that human right is not a part but the whole?
~John Boyle O'Reilly


Leadership is action, not position.  ~Donald H. McGannon


Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.  ~William James


It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little - do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith


Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.  ~Author Unknown


Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.  ~Norman B. Rice


It's easy to make a buck.  It's a lot tougher to make a difference.  ~Tom Brokaw


A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle.  ~Author Unknown


Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something.  ~Henry David Thoreau


If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.  ~Anthony J. D'Angelo, The College Blue Book


My life is my message.  ~Mahatma Ghandi


If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.  ~Betty Reese


A snowflake is one of God's most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together!  ~Author Unknown


The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.  ~Helen Keller


Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.  ~Mother Teresa


Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.  ~Albert Einstein


When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders.  ~Veterans Fast for Life


If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.  ~Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobediance, 1849


If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.  ~Bishop Desmond Tutu


[W]hen you first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are), and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro... when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" - then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


The majority of the Negroes who took part in the year-long boycott of Montgomery's buses were poor and untutored; but they understood the essence of the Montgomery movement; one elderly woman summed it up for the rest.  When asked after several weeks of walking whether she was tired, she answered:  "My feet is tired, but my soul is at rest."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


I will always remember my delight when Mrs. Georgia Gilmore - an unlettered woman of unusual intelligence - told how an operator demanded that she get off the bus after paying her fare and board it again by the back door, and then drove away before she could get there.  She turned to Judge Carter and said:  "When they count the money, they do not know Negro money from white money."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., March 1956


As television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the border oceans, everyone who believed in man's capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., about the March on Washington in the summer of 1963, Why We Can't Wait, 1963


[I]t must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist.  If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent.  This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


The conservatives who say, "Let us not move so fast," and the extremists who say, "Let us go out and whip the world," would tell you that they are as far apart as the poles.  But there is a striking parallel:  They accomplish nothing; for they do not reach the people who have a crying need to be free.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963


A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.  The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


We did not hesitate to call our movement an army.  But it was a special army, with no supplies but its sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except its faith, no currency but its conscience.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963


Today we know with certainty that segregation is dead.  The only question remaining is how costly will be the funeral.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.  Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the state's segregation laws was democratically elected?  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.  Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


I would be the last to condemn the thousands of sincere and dedicated people outside the churches who have labored unselfishly through various humanitarian movements to cure the world of social evils, for I would rather a man be a committed humanist than an uncommitted Christian.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate.  History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued that self-defeating path of hate.  Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize lecture, 11 December 1968


Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul-saving music of eternity?  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


When Negroes looked for the second phase, the realization of equality, they found that many of their white allies had quietly disappeared.... To stay murder is not the same thing as to ordain brotherhood.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Black Power alone is no more insurance against social injustice than white power.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


In the final analysis the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


The problem with hatred and violence is that they intensity the fears of the white majority, and leave them less ashamed of their prejudices toward Negroes.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968


We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968


As a teenager I had never been able to accept the fact of having to go to the back of a bus or sit in the segregated section of a train.  The first time I had been seated behind a curtain in a dining car, I felt as if the curtain had been dropped on my selfhood.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.  ~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.


Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live.  Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.  We have guided missiles and misguided men.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


If a man is called a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo 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 streetsweeper who did his job well.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


[W]e are the heirs of a past of rope, fire, and murder.  I for one am not ashamed of this past.  My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


It was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham.... The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Even when the polls are open to all, Negroes have shown themselves too slow to exercise their voting privileges.  There must be a concerted effort on the part of Negro leaders to arouse their people from their apathetic indifference.... In the past, apathy was a moral failure.  Today, it is a form of moral and political suicide.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


The Negro is the child of two cultures - Africa and America.  The problem is that in the search for wholeness all too many Negroes seek to embrace only one side of their natures.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


And so we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with enthusiasm.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, "There lived a great people - a black people - who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization."  This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., address to Holt Street Baptist Church, 5 December 1955


[E]very human life is a reflection of divinity, and... every act of injustice mars and defaces the image of God in man.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Unfortunately, most of the major denominations still practice segregation in local churches, hospitals, schools, and other church institutions.  It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, the same hour when many are standing to sing:  "In Christ There Is No East Nor West."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


We were all involved in the death of John Kennedy.  We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of law, which said that a man's life was sacred only if we agreed with his views.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963


President Lyndon Johnson's high spirits were marked as he circulated among the many guests whom he had invited to witness an event he confidently felt to be historic, the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.... The bill that lay on the polished mahogany desk was born in violence in Selma, Alabama, where a stubborn sheriff... had stumbled against the future.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Liberalism provided me with an intellectual satisfaction that I never found in fundamentalism.  I became so enamored of the insights of liberalism that I almost fell into the trap of accepting uncritically everything it encompassed.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


When the Negro was completely an underdog, he needed white spokesmen.  Liberals played their parts in this period exceedingly well.... But now that the Negro has rejected his role as an underdog, he has become more assertive in his search for identity and group solidarity; he wants to speak for himself.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


Nonviolent resistance makes it possible for the Negro to remain in the South and struggle for his rights.  The Negro's problem will not be solved by running away.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


You are quite right in calling for negotiation.  Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.  Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., to the eight fellow clergymen who opposed the civil rights action, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


As I like to say to the people in Montgomery:  "The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people.  The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


There is such a thing as the freedom of exhaustion.  Some people are so worn down by the yoke of oppression that they give up.... The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber.... To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958


One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and is willing to accept the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal."  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963


We need not join the mad rush to purchase an earthly fallout shelter.  God is our eternal fallout shelter.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism.  We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed.... This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man's earthly pilgrimage.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


The Christian faith makes it possible for us nobly to accept that which cannot be changed, and to meet disappointments and sorrow with an inner poise, and to absorb the most intense pain without abandoning our sense of hope.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


Each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


"I" cannot reach fulfillment without "thou."  The self cannot be self without other selves.  Self-concern without other-concern is like a tributary that has no outward flow to the ocean.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize lecture, 11 December 1968


Without denying the value of scientific endeavor, there is a striking absurdity in committing billions to reach the moon where no people live, while only a fraction of that amount is appropriated to service the densely populated slums.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


But while so many white Americans are unaware of conditions inside the ghetto, there are very few ghetto dwellers who are unaware of the life outside.  The television sets bombard them day by day with the opulence of the larger society.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


The curse of poverty has no justification in our age.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


Millions of citizens are deeply disturbed that the military-industrial complex too often shapes national policy, but they do not want to be considered unpatriotic.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


Black Power is a nihilistic philosophy born out of the conviction that the Negro can't win... the view that American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Let us say boldly, that if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968


There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminates even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


A world war - God forbid! - will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to untimely death.  Yet there are those who sincerely feel that disarmament is an evil and international negotiation is an abominable waste of time.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


But alas!  Science cannot now rescue us, for even the scientist is lost in the terrible midnight of our age.  Indeed, science gave us the very instruments that threaten to bring universal suicide.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967


Perhaps only his sense of humor and irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation in the world speaking of his aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., about Ho Chi Minh, Beyond Vietnam lecture, 4 April 1968


If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.  It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam lecture, 4 April 1968


We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women.... When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander.  We reach for soap that is created for us by a Frenchman.  The towel is provided by a Turk.  Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African.  Before we leave for our jobs, we are beholden to more than half the world.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963


It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch-antirevolutionaries.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968


Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face.  But I left with a smile.  I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., March 22, 1956


The sooner our society admits that the Negro Revolution is no momentary outburst soon to subside into placid passivity, the easier the future will be for us all.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963


If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you to go on in spite of all.  And so today I still have a dream.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968



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