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Americans Who Tell the Truth

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Religious Leaders

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clergyman, Civil Rights Leader, Writer, Human Rights Activist (1929-1968)

Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. 


Additional Quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. 

A lie cannot live. 

A man can't ride your back unless it's bent. 

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live. 

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan. 

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. 

A right delayed is a right denied. 

A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard. 

A riot is the language of the unheard. 

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. 

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem. 

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better. 

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. 

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. 

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love. 

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 

Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. 

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. 

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. 

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. 

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.  

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. 

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. 

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. 

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. 

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. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. 

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. 

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. 

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. 

I submit that an individual who breaks the law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.

I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live. 

I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law. 

If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.



Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist minister. He completed his formal education with degrees from Morehouse College, Crozier Theological Seminary and Boston University (Ph. D. in Systematic Theology, 1955). While serving as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, he led the boycott which resulted in the desegregation of that city’s bus system. His resolve in the face of threats to his safety as well as that of his family, his conviction that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and his ability to write and speak with extraordinary power and clarity brought him to national prominence as a leader of the movement to achieve racial justice in America.

He studied the writings and example of Mohandas K. Gandhi in India who powerfully influenced his philosophy of non-violence. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King said: “Non-violence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.” Like Gandhi, King also understood the strategic value of non-violence “We have neither the techniques nor the numbers to win a violent campaign.” His commitment to non-violence led him to oppose the American war in Viet Nam.

Like Henry David Thoreau, Dr. King believed in the necessity of resisting unjust laws with civil disobedience. As a leader of many demonstrations in support of the rights of African-Americans, he was subject to frequent arrest and imprisonment. His Letters from a Birmingham Jail (1963) was a call to conscience directed primarily at American religious leaders.

When a fellow civil rights worker was killed after the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, King said: “If physical death is the price that some must pay to save us and our white brothers from eternal death of the spirit then no sacrifice could be more redemptive.” Martin Luther King’s own redemptive sacrifice was exacted by an assassin’s bullets on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.



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