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A Collection of Wise Words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Date Posted: 2000-01-08

As Americans and the rest of the world prepare to commemorate the birthday of one of the most famous civil rights leaders of the last century, the Nobel Prize winner of 1964, it may be a good thing to take time and read some of his words again. They are words of wisdom, spoken by a man who probably had divine inspiration. They are words whose meaning remain as true today as the day they were spoken. Within the next weeks, we will join in celebrating the great visionary’s dream. We start this week with some memorable quotes from the minister.

“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 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.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.)

“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” (Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.)

“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.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 1964.)

“Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another's flesh.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1963.)

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.)

“When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions of civil services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967.)

“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.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1962.)

“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.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.)

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.)

“Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement, not replace, the progress of change. It was the way to divest himself of passivity without arraying himself in vindictive force.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can't Wait, 1964.)

“If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., speech, Detroit, Michigan, June 23, 1963.)

“Being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry. It means trying to hold on to physical life amid psychological death. It means the pain of watching your children grow up with clouds of inferiority in their mental skies. It means having your legs cut off, and then being condemned for being a cripple. It means seeing your mother and father spiritually murdered by the slings and arrows of daily exploitation, and then being hated for being an orphan.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.)

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