Throughout his life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. relied on his eloquence to elevate the civil rights movement to national consciousness. Nearly 50 years after his death, the nation’s annual January celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides a reminder for Americans to revisit the quotes and sayings of the man who played such a crucial role in the fight to end racial segregation.
Though perhaps best known for spearheading the 1963 March on Washington and delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King’s achievements were various and wide-ranging. From 1957 to 1968, King wrote five books, led countless civil rights marches throughout the American South, delivered more than 2,000 speeches and met with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. At age 35, King became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the award’s official website.
The 2014 film “Selma” commemorated King’s participation in the 1965 civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in the film, discussed what it was like to take on the role during an interview earlier this month with Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a Christian social justice organization. "I always knew that in order to play Dr. King, I had to have God flow through me because when you see Dr. King giving those speeches, you see that he is moving in his anointing," Oyelowo said, according to the Huffington Post.
King’s life was cut short in 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in 1983 that officially declared the third Monday in January to be “Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” Decades later, King’s quotes and sayings remain a source of inspiration and clarity for people from all walks of life.
A selection of King’s most memorable quotes can be found below.
1. “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
2. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
3. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
4. “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”
5. “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
6. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
7. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”
8. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
9. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
10. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
11. “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
12. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
13. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
14. “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for.”
15. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
16. “Everybody can be great ... because anybody 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 only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
17. “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
18. “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.”
19. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
20. “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
21. “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.”
22. “Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society's punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
23. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”