January 19, 2014

57 Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that Changed the World & Will Change Our Lives.


It first happened to me as a young and naive Asian and Jewish girl: the ugly act of racism that tore through me like a raggedy sharp knife right into my heart, and into my once-secured mind’s eye.

I could not fathom the pain of being called a “slanteyed Jew,” or understand why I was being told to go back to “wherever I came from,” which was the same neighborhood as all the other children I had known since I was a babe, in a small Southern California town by the sea.

No one can truly grasp the horrors of bigotry until it is experienced, in its ugly and raw form, unyielding and dark. And yes, it is a huge and unsettling feeling that causes one to lose hope that there may be any sense of goodness left in the world, or if there were any light or fairness to begin with.

Surely, my blood was red and my skin felt both warm and cold, just like other children.

Surely, I ran home after school on crisp fall afternoons because it felt good and I was in my youth, just like other children.

And surely, I longed for summers when the sun played bright well into the evening so I could play longer outside, just like other children.

But that all changed, you know, that feeling of innocence that folds and weeps when you first understand evil and hardship, and when you first learn that the world is not so kind, and that you had better watch for its hard bending and swift perils.

My parents were from two different races, Japanese and Jewish, and they met not long after the bombing attack of Pearl Harbor, which caused many Americans to feel hatred and practice discrimination against Asians. But even though they were shouted at and scorned upon for their union, they married and bore five children, right in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which is still an integral movement today—as we are far from calling it a day when it comes to equality and justice for all.

The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played like a soundtrack to the values that were my childhood and now, in my adult life. In news reels that played his courageous, resounding, and beautiful voice, his words were not just those of an African-American pastor who sang the words of Civil Rights for Blacks, but narrated the feelings and dreams of all of those who sought a better life, and even for my own mixed race children who look up to me for solace and spirit today.

The quotes that I have chosen by the great Dr. King are those that resonate most deeply with me, and are words that still hold their worth and meaning, as well as their context more than 40 years after his death.

His words prove that what is spoken, what is written, and what is said out loud for others to hear can make a difference, as well as change a generation and more to come because of their integral truth, uncommon and intense honesty, and humble sincerity.

57 Quotes by the Great Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. (1929-1968)

May you understand them and feel their breadth and wisdom

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“When you are right, you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.”

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at our goals.”

“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.”

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others? Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.”

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

“We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you.”

“Morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

“When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.”

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

 “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, 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 street sweeper who did his job well.”

“If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values—that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.”

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.”

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

“A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.”

“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.”

“Morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

“One who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.”

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

“Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.”

“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 verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

“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 the law.”

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

“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.”

“The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious.”

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”

“Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

“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.”

“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

“At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”


Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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