Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

"It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have not used time much more effectively than the people of good will."

"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."

"Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the light and give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has remind us (Moral Men - Immoral Society), groups tend to be more immoral than individuals."

"Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony."

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false, and the false with the true."

"Man has dual citizenry. He loves both in time and in eternity; both in heaven and on earth. But he owes his ultimate allegiance to God."

"Men forget to ask: “What will God think?” And so they live in fear because they tend to seek social approval on the horizontal plane rather than spiritual devotion on the vertical plane."

"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

"Nonviolence means that we will match your capacity to inflict pain with our capacity to endure it… We have the choice in this world today between nonviolence and nonexistence."

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored."

"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart."

"One day we shall win freedom, but not for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

"Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever."

"Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives."

"Our problem is not to be rid of fear but rather to harness and master it."

"Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice."

"Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."

"So when in this day I see the leaders of nations again talking peace while preparing for war, I take fearful pause."

"The best way to solve a problem is to remove its cause."

"The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers."

"The inseparable twin of racial injustice is economic injustice."

"The saving of our world from pending doom will come not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority."

"The time is always right to do what’s right."

"To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good."

"To deny a man a job is to say that a man has no right to exist."

"To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it."

"Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence."

"True pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolent resistance to evil."

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

"We must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means."

"We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

"We should never forget that everything Hitler did in German was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”"

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

"In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law ... that would lead to anarchy. An individual who breaks a law that his 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 law."

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?"

"It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of high maturity, to rise to the level of self-criticism."

"Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

"Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."

"One might ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust."

"The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"Nothing pains some people more than having to think."

"One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means."

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve."

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars."

"No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for."

"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows."