Martin Luther King

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Famous words


Below are extracts from some of the most famous speeches and writings of Martin Luther King. Some, such as the “I have a dream…” speech are well known; but others are not so famous, but are well worth reading.

image
 Martin Luther King giving a speech in the early 1960s

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

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 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.
I have a dream today!
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day…
Address at March on Washington DC for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
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.
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1964, Oslo, Norway

Was not Jesus an extremist for love – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ – “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist – “Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist – “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist – “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?
Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963

I tell you I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roar. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone.
Sermon in Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 3 March 1968

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About this module

Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister from the southern United States, led a struggle for racial equality which has changed the way westerners see issues of race ever since. His insistence on non-violence and his life and teaching have also inspired work for justice and peace worldwide.

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