Every year on the third Monday of January, a national holiday is held in the U.S.A to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Americans from all walks of life take the day off work and participate in marches and demonstrations in honor of the life of the late Dr. King.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15th, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., father of four and husband to life partner and supporter Coretta Scott, was a pivotal advocate for African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s that agitated for equality among all races in the United States.
After graduating from Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), and Boston University (Ph.D., 1955) with a doctorate degree in theology, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Alabama in 1954 when he was just 25 years old. The young Baptist minister began a series of peaceful protests in the south to end the racial segregation and discrimination prevalent at the time, going on to lead the 1955 segregation Montgomery Bus Boycott.
In 1957, Dr. King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an African-American civil rights organization, serving as its first president. With the SCLC, Dr. King unsuccessfully championed the struggle against segregation in Albany, Ga., in 1962, and equally organized and led nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Ala. The latter protests attracted national attention following television news coverage of the brutal police response.
Unwavering, Dr. King went on to help organize the massive 1963 protest march on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There, he displayed among White America what Black Americans already knew, his unique charisma and gift as one of the greatest orators in American history.
In 1965, Dr. King and the SCLC led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators in the Selma to Montgomery protest marches that successfully agitated for voting rights; albeit after enduring violence from the police. The following year, he took the movement north to Chicago to protest segregated housing.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. King expanded his focus to include advocacy on poverty. He also spoke out against the Vietnam War.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. waves to participants in the Civil Rights Movement's March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial. It was from this spot that he delivered his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech on August 28, 1963. (Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)
Dr. King achieved a lot as an orator and civil rights activist in his short life. For starters, King gave hundreds of moving speeches across the country that inspired people to stand up against injustice and live together as brothers and sisters. He wrote numerous articles and published five books to spread the message of love, justice and equality.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had emerged as the predominant leader in the Civil Rights Movement. His work and activism helped to change many laws dealing with the equality of African Americans, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. All this he accomplished as the leading spokesperson for nonviolent methods of achieving social change.
In 1963, TIME magazine selected Dr. King as its Man of the Year. The following year in 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his input in combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He also won posthumous the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
On April 4th, 1968, King was shot and killed while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old.
Although his life ended abruptly that day, his trailblazing activism and soaring vision for a just America changed the nation. The work he started continues even today and his messages of love, nonviolence and justice reverberates across the world in those who see injustices and seek to change them.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019 and honor the good reverend’s life and sacrifice, we now remember his messages and highlight his most iconic words from his speeches and writings—lest we forget and those who sought to silence him win.
Join us as we celebrate the great Martin Luther King, Jr. by remembering his most iconic quotes to strengthen, inspire, and empower individuals and communities to strive for a more just and loving world.
1. “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.”
2. “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”
3. “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
4. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
5. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
6. “We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace.”
7. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
8. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”
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. “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
11. “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
12. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
13. “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.”
14. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
15. “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.”
16. “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
17. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
18. “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
19. “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.”
20. “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.”
21. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
22. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
23. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
24. “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 mankind.”
25. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
26. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
27. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
28. “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”
29. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
30. “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
31. “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
32. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
33. “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”
34. “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
35. “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”