Wise & Prophetic Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Deborah White, About.com

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), a Baptist minister, was the best-known leader of the US civil rights movement. In his lifetime, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and from the American Jewish Committee, their American Liberties Medallion for his "exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty."

The crowning achievements of Dr. King's drive for equality for all Americans were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a federal holiday marking the January 15 birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., which is celebrated nationally on the third Monday in January.

The inspiring words selected for this article are taken mainly from "The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr," published in 1984. This book contains 120 excerpts, selected by Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, from his speeches, writings and sermons, as well as rare photographs, a detailed chronology, and an introduction by Mrs. King.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on War and Peace

"This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate in to the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.

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

"We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process. Ultimately, you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree."

"The church cannot be silent while mankind faces the threat of nuclear annihilation. If the church is true to her mission, he must call for an end to the arms race."

"The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding. It seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.

Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."

Martin Luther King, Jr on the Role of Religion in Society

"A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions....Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.

Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see---an opiate of the people."

"Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.

The two are not rivals. They are complementary.

Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism."

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Justice and Freedom

"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed."

"Direct action is not a substitute for work in the courts and the halls of government. Bringing about passage of a new and broad law by a city council, state legislature, or the Congress, or pleading cases before the courts of the land, does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of a city hall.

Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another. When skillfully employed, each becomes more effective."

"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.

Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice." Martin Luther King, Jr. on Civil Rights

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality and freedom for their spirit. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up."

"A doctrine of black supremacy is as evil as a doctrine of white supremacy."

"There is nothing that expressed massive civil disobedience any more than the Boston Tea Party, and yet we give this to our young people and our students as a part of the great tradition of our nation.

So I think we are in good company when we break unjust laws, and I think those who are wiling to do it and accept the penalty are those who are part of the saving of the nation."

"Nothing provides the communists with a better climate for expansion and infiltration than the continued alliance of our nation with racism and exploitation throughout the world.

And if we are not diligent in our determination to root out the last vestiges of racism in our dealings with the rest of the world, we may soon see the sins of our fathers visited upon our and succeeding generations.

For the conditions which are so classically represented in Africa are present also in Asia and in our own backyard in Latin America."

"Let us say it boldly, that if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and were compared with the lawbreaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would tbe the white man."

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Mankind

"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

"Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody.

Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different."

"All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America. In doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question that Eichmann chose to ignore: How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellows? To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it."

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