Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to equality and human rights, spurred by his activism against illegal and oppressive conditions faced by Black Americans, can never be overstated.
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, just as he was organizing The Poor People’s Campaign, a movement which sought to turn attention to financial inequality and gross capitalism. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s is considered one of America’s greatest achievements. Though Dr. King is no longer here to observe the fruits of his labor, his unmatched oration and speech writing lives with us forever. Here are nine Dr. King quotes to meditate on.
1. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963
Dr. King's call for equality, penned in a filthy Alabama jail cell he was thrown in for peaceful protest, has stood the test of time. King's reminder that injustice to anyone endangers everyone's rights should serve as an important provocation in today's times of division.
2. “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," 1963
The "I Have A Dream" speech is undoubtedly one of the most powerful pieces of literature in the American canon. The masterful work was delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. It's estimated that over 250,000 people covered the national lawn to hear King speak. Today, still, King's dream for children not to judged on their appearance but on the content on their character is one we continue to fight to realize.
3. "First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," 1963
Dr. King wrote "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" as a response to a published letter from eight white clergymen titled "A Call For Unity" that encouraged Black Alabama citizens to stop their peaceful protests and bide their time for equality. King's message to white moderates is one of his most powerful and apt today and serves as a good message to current white allies.
4. “The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” "The Three Evils of Society," 1967
Racism wasn't just on the docket to be eliminated during the civil rights movement. To obtain complete freedom and equality King understood that unchecked capitalism was also a threat to the most disenfranchised. Conveniently, many historians forget King's call for economic redistribution.
5. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1957
Known for his advocacy for peaceful protest and repeated calls for moral integrity, King's speeches often combatted the conflict between good and evil. Aptly, he named the brutal racism hurled at Black Americans what it was: evil. His insistence to drive out hate with love was an early call to "go high" when others go low.
6. “The time is always right to do what is right.” Oberlin College, 1964.
Sweet and simple, this quote ages like fine wine. Whenever you find yourself in a moral dilemma, remember that doing the right thing is always appropriate.
7. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” "Letter from Birmingham Jail," 1963
Even though he's publicly praised today, Martin Luther King Jr. was extremely disliked when he was alive. White America saw him generally as a trouble maker for his nonviolent protests. Among all else, King's direct urging that disenfranchised Black people, demand — not ask — for freedom had America shook.
8. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” "Where Do We Go From Here?" 1967
Karma, God, kismet, whatever you believe in — one of the bases of many faith systems is that in the end righteousness will prevail. Even in King's untimely demise after being one of the major leaders in the civil rights movement, he spoke with certainty that, inevitably, we shall overcome.
9. “Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” "What Is Your Life's Blueprint?" 1967
If you needed a push to keep going, look no further than this quote. Whatever you are, you're enough to keep going and keep fighting the good fight.