The Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nonviolence and civil disobedience
Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
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.
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.
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.
Social inequality, economic injustice and justice
Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.
A right delayed is a right denied.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.
Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
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.
War and Vietnam
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.
One of the greatest casualties of the war in Vietnam is the Great Society . . . shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam.
The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.
Morality and personal responsibility
A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.
The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.
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.
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
The time is always right to do what is right.
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
Love and hate
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars . . . Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
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.
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
That old law about “an eye for an eye” leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing
And of course, Dr. King had a dream, one that will be at least partially fulfilled on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration.
“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . .
“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.”
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