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.
Life’s most important and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?
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.
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 though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
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.
These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every [person] of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits [their] convictions, but we all must protest.
A riot is the language of the unheard.
Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man better than the black man…. And when his undernourished children cried out of the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last output of psychological oblivion.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.
Privileged groups seldom give up their privilege voluntarily.
We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.