Every year when I read a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. aloud to my third grade class, I get all choked up when he is assassinated at the end.
It’s like watching Titanic and always hoping—maybe this time they won’t hit that damn iceberg. Everyone will survive!
But, no. The ship sinks and Martin is shot in the head standing on his hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee in the spring of 1968.
He has a federal holiday and loads of streets named after him. He is a national hero, and deservedly so. Sure, he probably cheated on his wife, just like that other three-initialed icon of the 60s, JFK. He wasn’t perfect. No one is.
Like other cultural icons such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, we idealize and sanctify Martin Luther King, Jr. in our minds and history textbooks.
MLK wasn’t flawless, but he was a powerful catalyst for Civil Rights for the oppressed—and love, peace and justice for all humans. He was a true bodhisattva, and his words and philosophies ring true today as much as they ever have.
Happy MLK Day! Here are 15 of the Reverend’s most inspiring quotes.
- “Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude.”
- “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.”
- “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
- “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.”
- “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
- “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
- “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream—one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.'”
- “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
- “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscious stupidity.”
- “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
- “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
- “Our children need our presence, not our presents.”
- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives