Today, Jan 17, 2011, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. The civil rights leader was also one of the most famed orators in American history. Here are a collection of 10 MLK quotes.
10. 'Cruel irony'“We have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room.” –Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam
King connected war with the fight against poverty, complaining that the government, by far, spent more money on the military than on anti-poverty programs. “It is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only $53 for each person classified as poor,” King said in the speech, delivered on April 30, 1967, in Atlanta.
9. 'Brothers'“The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers." –Strength to Love
King emphasized the link between all of humanity, which he used as a rationale to end both discrimination at home and the war in Vietnam.
8. 'Something he will die for...'“I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.” –Detroit
Two months before King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, he addressed thousands of activists after a march on Detroit on June 23, 1963. The speech contained a similar refrain that would make “I Have a Dream,” iconic, though the latter had historical and Biblical references that were not present when he spoke in Detroit.
7. 'Highest respect for the law'“I submit that an individual who breaks a 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 the law.” –Letter from Birmingham Jail
The above passage was influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” in which he argues that one should break unjust laws immediately, and be willing to accept the consequences. King noted in his autobiography that reading Thoreau’s essay as a college student introduced him to the idea of nonviolent resistance.
6. 'Injustice anywhere...'“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –Letter from Birmingham Jail
King wrote the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" on April 16, 1963 after being jailed for taking part in nonviolent demonstrations around the city.
5. 'Let no man pull you low...'“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.” –Paul’s Letter to American Christians
In this sermon on Nov. 4, 1956, King adopted the voice of the Apostle Paul to imagine what the New Testament author would have said about American society. In King’s imaginary letter, Paul called on Americans to redouble efforts to help the poor, work for social equality, and come together as a nation. He also warned that America’s spiritual development had not kept pace with its amazing scientific strides, and urged people to concentrate on faith.
4. 'Hatred paralyzes life'“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” –Strength to Love
King believed that fear was the first step towards hate, and that that the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia was fundamentally about fear. King worried this fear might eventually push the citizens of both states to hate each other.
3. 'The final word'“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” –Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
When King learned he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he vowed to donate all $54,123 of the cash prize to the civil rights movement. He accepted the award on Dec. 10, 1964, on behalf of the civil rights movement, and noted that it was “profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer.”
2. 'The ultimate measure of a man'“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.” –Strength to Love
"Strength to Love" is a collection of King’s sermons and speeches published in 1963, the same year he was named Time’s Man of the Year.
1. 'Hate cannot drive out 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.' –Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community
At the height of his career, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave 450 speeches and traveled more than 325,000 miles per year. All told, his speeches and writings fill hundreds of pages, but it’s not all unique material. Throughout his career, Dr. King often reused lines in his speeches, including this one, which popped up in several places throughout the mid to late 1960s.
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