MLK Quotes That Are Relevant Today

For most of my life, I have been acutely aware of the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. as a historical figure. The more I read, both by him and about him, the more significant he becomes. He was not a perfect man by his own admission, but his life and work present us with an aspirational tale. If we follow in his footsteps, we can do more good and work towards brotherhood.

In preparation for MLK day this year, I read a number of quotes from his speeches and books. The following words struck me as equally relevant today as when they were written/spoken.

Here they are in no particular order. My only commentary comes in the form of bolding the words that especially resonated with me.

From Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech:

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression… Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved mankind must evolve for all human conflict, a method that rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

From Strength to Love:

“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.”

From sermon titled Rediscovering Lost Values:

“The real problem is that through our scientific genius we’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we’ve failed to make of it a brotherhood.”

From Sermon titled Cooperative/Noble Competition:

“Imagine the change that would come about if the Churches applied this truth. Now we are bogged not in competitive denominationalism, which is destroying the warm blood of the Protestant Church. Which of them shall be accounted greatest? Let the churches stop trying to outstrip each other in the number of their adherents, the size of its sanctuary, the abundance of wealth. If we must compete, let us compete to see which can move toward the greatest attainment of truth, the greatest service of the poor, and the greatest salvation of the soul and bodies of men.”

King’s words after a bomb was thrown into his house in Alabama in 1956:

“If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us.”

From Stride Toward Freedom:

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

From sermon titled Rediscovering Lost Values:

“But I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it’s wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong.”

From sermon titled Conquering Self-Centeredness:

An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality.”

From sermon titled Loving Your Enemies:

“If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil.”

From Social Justice and the Emerging New Age address:

“We must never substitute a doctrine of Black supremacy for white supremacy. For the doctrine of Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.

From Where Do We Go From Here?:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

From Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and 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 he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

From Letter from Birmingham Jail:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

From The Quest for Peace and Justice:

The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for “the least of these”.”

From speech titled How Long, Not Long:

“I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions. And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”

Gudjon Bergmann
www.gudjonbergmann.com

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