Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes
from the book
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King,
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 (Adolph) Eichman chose to ignore: How responsible
am I for the well-being of my fellows?
If an American is concerned only about
his nation, he will not be concerned about the peoples of Asia,
Africa, or South America. Is this not why nations engage in the
madness of war without the slightest sense of penitence? Is this
not why the murder of a citizen of your own nation is a crime,
but the murder of citizens of another nation in war is an act
of heroic virtue?
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
The profit motive, when it is the sole
basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition
and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about
making a living than making a life.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where
he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he
stands at times of challenge and controversy.
One who breaks an unjust law must do so
openly ... and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
Never forget that everything Hitler did
in Germany was legal.
Most people ... are thermometers that
record or register the temperature of majority of opinion, not
thermostats that transform or regulate the temperature of society.
The most dangerous criminal may be the
man gifted with reason, but with no morals.
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create
such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which
has constantly refused to negotiate is force to confront the issue.
It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
Many white Americans of good will have
never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have
deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.
Those who assert that evil means can lead
to good ends are deceiving themselves.
Something about evil we must never forget,
namely, that evil is recalcitrant and determined, and never voluntarily
relinquishes its hold short of a persistent, almost fanatical
To ignore evil is to become an accomplice
Freedom is never voluntarily given by
the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
History is the struggle between good and
"Martin Luther King is the most notorious
liar in the country." J. Edgar Hover
To accept passively an unjust system is
to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as
evil as the oppressor.
It is not possible to be in favor of justice
for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.
I have come to see that America is in
danger of losing her soul, Something must happen to awaken the
dozing soul of America before it is too late.
The willingness to accept the penalty
for breaking the unjust law is what makes civil disobedience a
moral act and not merely an act of lawbreaking.
Morality cannot be legislated but behavior
can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but
they can restrain the heartless.
The law may not be able to make a man
love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.
The habits, if not the hearts of people,
have been and are being altered by legislative acts, judicial
decisions, and executive orders. Let us not be misled by those
who argue that segregation cannot be ended by force of law.
One may well ask: How can you advocate
breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the
there are two types of laws: just and
unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One
has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.
Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
How does one determine whether a law is
just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with
the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that
l is out of harmony with the moral law.
An unjust law is a code that a numerical
or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does
not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By
the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a
minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself.
Laws only declare rights; they do not
deliver them. The oppressed must take hold of laws and transform
them into effective mandates.
Law and order exist for the purpose of
establishing justice . . . when they fail in this purpose they
become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of
... A genuine leader doesn't reflect consensus,
he molds consensus.
If we are to have peace on earth, our
loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties
must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation;
and this means we must develop a world perspective.
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.
... 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, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through
evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents
and the end represents the tree.
It is wrong to use immoral means to attain
moral ends.... It is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to
use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
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.
... middle-class values were less important
than human values.
Middle-class values stress the importance
of career and money. These were not the values which led to the
civil rights movement; these are not the values which lead to
positive social transformation.
They (the young blacks who made history
in the early 1960s) abandoned those (middle class) values when
they put careers and wealth in a secondary role. When they cheerfully
became jailbirds and troublemakers, when they took off their Brooks
Brothers attire and put on overalls to work in the isolated rural
south, they challenged and inspired white youth to emulate them.
A nation that continues year after year
to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social
uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
... The trailblazers in human, academic,
and religious freedom have always been in the minority.
"I must confess that over the last
few years I have been gravely disappointed by the white moderate,"
he wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. "I have almost
reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling
block is not the White Citizen's Council-er 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,
who constantly says 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but
I can't agree with your methods of direct action,' who paternalistically
believes that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom.''
Money, like any other force such as electricity,
is amoral and can be used for either good or evil.
For modern man, absolute right and absolute
wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong
are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular
Our nation was born in genocide when it
embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian,
was an inferior race.
True peace is not merely the absence of
tension; it is the presence of justice.
... truth lies prostrate on the rugged
hills of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before the false
gods of nationalism and materialism.
In order to be true to one's conscience
and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse
to cooperate with an evil system.
We are a nation that worships the frontier
tradition, and our heroes are those who champion justice through
violent retaliation against injustice. It is not simple to adopt
a credo that moral force has as much strength and virtue as the
capacity to return a physical blow; or that to refrain from hitting
back requires more will and bravery than the automatic reflexes
Non-violent resistance is not aimed against
oppressors but against oppression.
Often the oppressor goes along unaware
of the evil involved in his oppression so long as the oppressed
One of the most persistent ambiguities
we face is that everybody talks about peace as a goal, but among
the wielders of power peace is practically nobody's business.
True peace is not merely the absence of
tension, but it is the presence of justice.
The only real revolutionary ... is a man
who has nothing to lose.
The dispossessed of this nation -- the
poor, both white and Negro -- live in a cruelly unjust society.
They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against
the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against
the structures through which the society is refusing to take means
which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the
load of poverty.
It is not only poverty that torments the
Negro; it is the fact of poverty amid plenty. It is a misery generated
by the gulf between the affluence he sees in the mass media and
the deprivation he experiences in his everyday life.
There is nothing new about poverty. What
is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid
... power without love is reckless and
abusive and ... love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.
I'm not interested in power for power's
sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right
and that is good.
Power and morality must go together, implementing,
fulfilling and ennobling each other.... Power at its best is the
right use of strength.
We need a radical reordering of our national
Human progress is neither automatic nor
inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no
social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every
step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering,
and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of
He who passively accepts evil is as much
involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. He who accepts evil
without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
We are at the moment when our lives must
be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly.
Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that
best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
Any religion which 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.
A religion true to its nature must also
be concerned about man's social conditions.
A social movement that only moves people
is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions
is a revolution.
Our only hope today lies in our ability
to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes
hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism
When scientific power outruns moral power,
we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.
One of the sure signs of maturity is the
ability to rise to the point of self-criticism.
Evil is not driven out, but crowded out
... through the expulsive power of something good.
We must rapidly begin the shift from a
"thing"-oriented society to a "person"-oriented
society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property
rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets
of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable to being conquered.
We are prone to judge success by the index
of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by
the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.
The Darwinian concept of the survival
of the fittest has been substituted by a philosophy of the survival
of the slickest.
To cure injustices, you must expose them
before the light of human conscience and the bar of public opinion.
We must use our vast resources of wealth
to aid the undeveloped countries of the world. Have we spent far
too much of our national budget in establishing military bases
around the world and far too little in establishing bases of genuine
concern and understanding?
We in the West must bear in mind that
the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited
them through political or economic colonialism.
Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate
Freedom is ... the bonus we receive for
knowing the truth.
The plea for unity is not a call for uniformity.
There must always be a healthy debate.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort,
complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to
adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much
of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become
I am convinced that if we are to get on
the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo
a radical revolution of values.
A true revolution of values will soon
cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past
and present policies.
A true revolution of values will soon
look uneasily on the glaring contrast between poverty and wealth.
With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see
individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money
in Asia, Africa, and South America only to take the profits out
with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and
say: "This is not just."
It will look at our alliance with the
landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just."
The Western arrogance of feeling that
it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them
is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hands
on the world
... the great glory of American democracy
is the right to protest for right.
Martin Luther King, Jr. page