The son and grandson of Baptist ministers, Martin Luther King, Jr, mixed his theological studies with an exploration of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent techniques for bringing social change. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to cooperate with the segregation policy on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Black residents boycotted the transportation system and elected King the president of the new Montgomery Improvement Association. The success of that campaign launched King to the forefront of the American civil rights movement. He went on to earn the Nobel Peace Prize and was arrested 30 times for his civil rights activities.
King was a charismatic speaker who awakened the public conscience and gave new hope to African Americans and poor people everywhere. Whenever there was injustice to address, he was there, delivering more than 2500 speeches from 1957 to 1968. King delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, in 1963.
In 1968, King gave his final speech — ‘I Have Been to the Mountaintop’ — to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He was assassinated the next day.
Here are some of King’s most memorable quotes:
• “I have a dream that my four 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 submit that an individual who breaks a law that 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 the law.”
• “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
• “The question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists we will be.”
• “We have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We are still called upon to give aid to the beggar who finds himself in misery and agony on life’s highway. But one day, we must ask the question of whether an edifice which produces beggars must not be restructured and refurbished.”
• “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
• “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
• “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop and I don’t mind.”
• “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”