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President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.
Photo by U.S. Embassy New Delhi. Feature by jrr_wired.

Great orator, Baptist preacher, and Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. changed America.

Born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr. was instrumental in the advancement of equal rights and helping to end segregation in America with a focus on non-violence. He helped to organize a bus boycott by African-Americans in Alabama that lasted over a year and ended in 1956 with the Supreme Court ruling that Alabama’s racial segregation laws on buses was unconstitutional.

He also helped organize marches, sit-ins, and other protests. His house was bombed, he was arrested several times, and one of these arrests led to him writing his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, but he kept on crusading. On August 28, 1963, he organized a peaceful march on Washington D.C. where he delivered his now famous “I Have A Dream” speech to around 250,000 people.

In 1964, he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Civil Rights movement, and he continued his work by speaking out against poverty and the Vietnam War. He was in Memphis, Tennessee in March and April 1968 to support a protest march with striking garbage workers. He was standing on the balcony of his motel room on April 4, 1968, when he was assassinated.

Martin Luther King, Jr. day became a American federal holiday in 1986, and it is currently celebrated on the third Monday of January, close to King’s birthday.

Here is a collection of 20 inspiring and thought-provoking quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches, books, and sermons and a part of a continuing tribute.

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.

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

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

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

From The Measure of a Man, 1959

Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.

From a speech in Detroit, Michigan, 1963

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

From Strength to Love, 1963

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

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.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

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.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

From “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, 1963

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But…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.

One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

From his “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963

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.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it 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 the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’

From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1964

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

From Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967

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

Community Connection

Read more quotes here at the Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

About The Author

Kristin Conard

As a child, Kristin wanted to be a librarian, because she thought that the librarian was the one who got to write all the books in the library.

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