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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
We are here today to honor a man with a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. He lived and died for the cause of human brotherhood. He was a doctor to a sick society. He was a prophet of a new and better America. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America. He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet. ~Jimmy Carter [mash-up quotation from a 1976 speech and King's posthumous 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom citation —tg]
The triple evils of poverty, racism, and war were his concerns wherever they were found in the world. He devoted his life to the process of uprooting them. By reaching into and beyond ourselves and tapping the transcendent ethic of love, we shall overcome these evils. Love, truth, and the courage to do what is right should be our own guideposts on this lifelong journey. ~Coretta Scott King, The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1987
He did not belong to us, he belonged to the world. ~Martin Luther King, Sr.
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, 1963 April 16th
There is nothing to be afraid of if you believe and know that the cause for which you stand is right. You are ready to face anything and you face it with a humble smile on your face, because you know that all of eternity stands with you and the angels stand beside you and you know you are right. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., 1961
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law... 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, 1963 April 16th
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 about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity 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.
Martin Luther King died as he lived, fighting to his last breath for justice... We who knew him intimately cannot recall a single instance when he expressed a word of hatred for any man. Yet his indictment of segregation, discrimination, and poverty was a hurricane of fire that opened a new era of struggle for freedom. ~Harry Belafonte and Stanley Levison, 1968
With profound faith in our Nation's promise, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led a non-violent movement that urged our country's leaders to expand the reach of freedom and provide equal opportunity for all... By preaching his dream of a day when his children would be judged by the content of their character — rather than by the color of their skin — he helped awaken our Nation to the bitter truth that basic justice for all had not yet been realized... Today, we celebrate the long arc of progress for which Dr. King and so many other leaders fought to bend toward a brighter day... As Americans of all races and beliefs come together on this day of service to honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us pledge to recognize the common humanity of all people, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born. ~Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation — Martin Luther King Jr., Federal Holiday, 2016
Martin Luther King represents a voice, a vision, and a way... I am convinced that the whole future of America depends on how seriously we take this voice, this vision, and this way. ~Abraham Heschel, 1968
I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me...
~Langston Hughes, "The Black Man Speaks," Jim Crow's Last Stand, 1943
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, 1966
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights... we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mother and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whom; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," 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, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963 April 16th
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. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963 April 16th
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. ~John F. Kennedy, 1963
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., "The Days to Come," Why We Can't Wait, 1964
The means by which we live are marvelous indeed. And yet something is missing. 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.
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
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.
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963 April 16th
When it is not on the side of civil rights, then the law is not right, it is white. ~Langston Hughes (1902–1967)
I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
If the injustice... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. ~Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," 1849
I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace can never become a reality. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964
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. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
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. And every dedicated American could be proud that a dynamic experience of democracy in his nation's capital has been made visible to the world. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., about the August 1963 march in Washington, D.C., Why We Can't Wait, 1964
Love builds. It is positive and helpful. It is more beneficial than hate. Injuries quickly forgotten quickly pass away. Personally and racially, our enemies must be forgiven. Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice where no man's skin, color or religion, is held against him. "Love thy neighbor" is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced. It connotes brotherhood and, to me, brotherhood of man is the noblest concept in all human relations. Loving your neighbor means being interracial, interreligious and international. ~Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955), last will and testament, 1953
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964
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, 1964
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 A. Thomas, 1982
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" 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., letter from Birmingham Jail to the eight fellow clergymen who opposed the civil rights action, 1963 April 16th
No work is insignificant. If a man is called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweet streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," sermon, c.1952
Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. #goodtrouble ~John Lewis, @repjohnlewis, tweet, 2018
[Martin Luther King, Jr.] introduced me to the idea of taking one step, even if you can't see the whole stairway when you start. ~Marian Wright Edelman, 1986 [quoteinvestigator.com]
[R]ace prejudice is not only a shadow over the colored — it is a shadow over all of us, and the shadow is darkest over those who feel it least and allow its evil effects to go on. ~Pearl S. Buck, What America Means To Me, 1943
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., 1958
Apathy among the Negroes themselves is also a factor. Even where 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., 1958
We have King as our tomorrow. ~Shun P. Govender
I see an America in which Martin Luther King's dream is our national dream. ~Jimmy Carter
The dream is one of equality and opportunity... men will dare to live together as brothers... Whenever it is fulfilled, we will emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man into the bright and glowing daybreak of freedom and justice for all of God's children. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., 1960
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal."... 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 have a dream that one day... in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers... With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day... And when... we allow freedom to ring... from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of that old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!" ~Martin Luther King, Jr., speech, 1963 August 28th, Washington, D.C.
published 2002 Dec 22
revised 2021 Jan 17
last saved 2022 Sep 18