Leadership Qualities

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and Protestant minister, inspired millions with his words and deeds. His style, developed out of a deep tradition of black church preaching as well as the study of modern theology, was moving and his words were often memorable. He worked against racism, segregation, and economic exploitation, and for human rights for all. He was able to reach moderates and able to speak radically. Here are some quotations from his speaking and writing.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Gift of Love

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. 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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

[E]verybody can be great because everybody 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 don’t have to know 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., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

First, we are challenged to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

You can have no influence over those for whom you have underlying contempt.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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 long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

There is something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that would praise you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’ There is something wrong with that press.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.

— Martin Luther King Jr., 1966

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.

— Martin Luther King Jr.
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