Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Martin Luther King, Jr.

American Clergyman, Activist, African-American Civil Rights Leader, Assassinated

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction... The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it."

"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."

"Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

"It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the so-called bad people, but the appalling silence of the so-called good people. It may be that our generation will have to repent not only for the diabolical actions and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the crippling fears and tragic apathy of the children of light."

"Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy."

"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

"Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

"Pity may represent little more than impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul."

"The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands a times of challenge and controversy."

"We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart."

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

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

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

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten... America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness - justice."

"Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals."

"Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.' 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 down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the people's injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 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. The choice today is not between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence...Segregation is the offspring of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality."

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."

"Riots are the voices of the unheard."

"Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority."

"I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up the "oughtness" that forever confronts him."

"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."

"The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility."

"The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

"Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others."

"We have genuflected before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate."

"We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together like fools."

"[A majority of people] are not theoretical atheists; they are practical atheists. They do not deny the existence of God with their lips, but they are continually denying his existence with their lives."

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

"A life is sacred. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on; it is not man."

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

"A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard."

"Alienation is a form of living death. It is the acid of despair that dissolves society."

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

"Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself become an ally of the forces of social stagnation."

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final world in reality."

"I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."

"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. 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."

"Every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom."

"At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love."

"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."

"All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."

"An individual who breaks a 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 justice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law."

"If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."

"Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means."