Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist. He was a spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He was born on January 15, 1929, and died at age 39, on April 4, 1968.
In his honor, Martin Luther King day is celebrated on the third Monday of January every year. “The campaign for a federal holiday in King’s honor began soon after his assassination in 1968. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.” (Martin Luther King Jr. Day, n.d.)
In 1994, the King Holiday also became a day of service. “The national Martin Luther King Day of Service was started by former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, who co-authored the King Holiday and Service Act…The federal legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 23, 1994.” (Martin Luther King Jr. Day, n.d.). Many organizations, families, and individuals coordinate and volunteer in a variety of community service activities on this day each year.
Dr. King said so many inspirational things in his sermons and in his speeches. I feel like when kids first learn about Martin Luther King Jr. they are too young to realize that he lived, and died, not that long ago. The rights and issues that he fought for haven’t disappeared or been resolved. I believe that there has been a substantial change since the 1960s but we can’t be naive. Racial injustice is still present. We need to stay informed and we need to pay attention. And as a white woman, I know that I need to be aware of my privilege.
Below I have gathered a few quotes from Dr. King that I felt were still very relevant today. Most, if not all, will always be relevant. I also tried to provide links to where the quotes came from, you’d be surprised how many people get misquoted or paraphrased!
1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.], April 16, 1963
2. “…I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” – Dr. King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, April 3, 1968
3. “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” – “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 28, 1963
4. “…the time is always right to do right.” – Commencement Address for Oberlin College, June 1965
5. “We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.” – Love your Enemies
6. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” – Strength to Love (1963)
7. “…everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” – “The Drum Major Instinct,” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 4, 1968
8. “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 28, 1963
9. “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” –Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.], April 16, 1963.
10. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” – “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 28, 1963
11. “…when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.” – “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 28, 1963