Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes

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

A lie cannot live.

A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

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

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

A right delayed is a right denied.

A riot is the language of the unheard.

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

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

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

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.

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.

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

Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.

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.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.

Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.

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

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

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

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

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.

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.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

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 every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Helvetica, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I met Malcolm X once in Washington, but circumstances didn’t enable me to talk with him for more than a minute. He is very articulate … but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views – at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.

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.

I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.

I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.

If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.

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

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

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.

In every age and every generation, men have envisioned a promised land.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.

It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.

It is true that behavior cannot be legislated, and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me.

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.

Jesus is eternally right.

Jesus is not an impractical idealist; he is the practical realist.

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites.

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.

Let us be practical and ask the question: How do we love our enemies?

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land . . . So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten.

Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.

Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

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

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

One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society… shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam. One who breaks an unjust 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.

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

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

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

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.

Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man.

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.

Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power religion gives man wisdom which is control.

Seeing is not always believing.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

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

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

The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.

The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.

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?’

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.

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

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

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.

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.

The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.

The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

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

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.

The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

The time is always right to do what is right.

The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.

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. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.

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

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize – I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to – segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry.

There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing. True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.

War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow.

Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

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

We have guided missiles and misguided men.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

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

We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the postive affirmation of peace.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

We must reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence.

We must use time creatively.

We were here before the mighty words of the Declaration of Independence were etched across the pages of history. Our forebears labored without wages. They made cotton ‘king’. And yet out of a bottomless vitality, they continued to thrive and develop. If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. . . . Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.

We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

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.

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.

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.

When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement 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 spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression.