50 MLK Quotes to Turn the Dream Into Reality
MLK Quotes always pick up in popularity this time of year, with good reason. It can be easy to dismiss the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had — and continues to have — on society when you didn’t grow up in his era. So it’s important to keep the dream alive and remember the context in which he rose to prominence.
Dr. King lived in an era much closer to the Civil War, and many of that horrible conflict’s worst qualities were still around. Black men, women, and children were “free” in the sense they were no longer slaves; but they also faced an evil as intense and pervasive as what oppressed them on Confederate plantations.
They couldn’t ride at the front of a bus or use the same restrooms. Many restaurants would refuse service or offer services in some segregated form that was intended to denigrate, humiliate, and dehumanize. In the South especially, it was not uncommon for lynch mobs to hang black men for crimes without proof they did it or the due process of trial.
Through it all, Dr. King adopted a stance of peaceful resistance that continues to reverberate. We may still live in an unjust world of violence, but it’s a better world than the one Dr. King experienced, and it’s because of his enormous influence that we are where we are, and that progress toward his dream is unstoppable.
So, in the spirit of this day, we give you our 50 favorite MLK Quotes of all time.
1. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
2. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
7. I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.
8. A right delayed is a right denied.
9. Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.
10. Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.
11. The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.
12. You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream.
13. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
14. I was not afraid of the words of the violent, but of the silence of the honest.
15. A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
16. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
17. Perhaps the worst sin in life is knowing right and not doing it.
18. Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.
19. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
20. I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
21. We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
22. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.
23. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.
24. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
25. One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
26. A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.
27. The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
28. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
29. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
30. The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.
31. Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
32. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
33. The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.
34. Capitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life. We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity-thus capitalism can lead to a practical materialism that is as pernicious as the materialism taught by communism.
35. One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying.
36. A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.
37. Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial.
38. All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.
39. Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.
40. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
41. 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.
42. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.
43. What good does it do to sit at the counter when you cannot afford a hamburger?
44. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
45. 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.
46. There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that that have nothing to lose. People who have stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.
47. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.
48. I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate, adding deeper darkness to a night that is already void of stars.
49. Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
50. Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
These MLK Quotes Are Just the Beginning
You can find dozens more online. Most express the same idea. Silence to do right when you know what is right makes you complicit in evil. Love drives out hate. Nonviolence is the “sword that heals.” God bless you, Dr. King. May we one day arrive in the promised land you envisioned.
[Featured Image by Army Reserve Photo Gallery]