31 Powerful Quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

As a minister, leader, civil rights activist, and author, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as one of the greatest communicators of all time. Born in Atlanta, GA on Jan. 15, 1929, Dr. King grew up in difficult days. But just as he did through all of his life, he overcame. He fought through the battles and stepped over the obstacles. He held onto truth and stood up for what was right.

Timeline of some key events:

- In 1944, at the age of 15, King begins his freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He would later graduate and go on to study theology at Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University.

- In 1953 Martin Luther King Jr marries Coretta Scott. Over the next years they have four children.

- In 1954 King becomes pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

- In 1957 Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, created to help organize nonviolent protests towards civil rights reform.

- In 1963 Dr. King helped to organize the March on Washington where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

- In 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for standing up against racial inequality through nonviolence. He is also named Man of the Year by Time Magazine.

- In 1968, King delivers what would later be known as his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” in Memphis, Tennessee. The very next day, at the age of 39, Dr. King was assassinated while on the balcony of his hotel room. His last words spoken were to his long-time friend and musician Ben Branch, "Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

Just moments later he would stand before our Lord, free at last from the burdens of this world.

Dr. King’s well-known speeches and words are filled with themes of forgiveness, freedom, peace, standing up for what is right, serving, and loving one another.

Though he had received many honors and awards through his life, and even after his tragic death, he asked that at the end of his life, he only be remembered for other things.

“I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others… And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity…all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

Indeed, he did just that. His legacy of love and strength remain.

31 Powerful Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes, Still Relevant and True for Today:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for.”

“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.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

“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.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

“Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

“It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.”

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”

“Find a voice in a whisper.”

“We shall overcome.”

“Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service...You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

 “If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.”

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”’

“Oh, the worst of all tragedies is not to die young, but to live until seventy-five and yet not ever truly to have lived.”

“Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you're nobody.”

“If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.”

“One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong. Only through the bringing together of head and heart—intelligence and goodness—shall man rise to a fulfillment of his true nature.”

“Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice.”

“God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men, and brown men, and yellow men; God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“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. So 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. ”

Books by Martin Luther King Jr.

Strength to Love

Description of Strength to Love from Amazon: "If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love."

So wrote Coretta Scott King. She continued: "I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr.' s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life. That insight, luminously conveyed in this classic text, here presented in a new and attractive edition, hints at the personal transformation at the root of social justice: " By reaching into and beyond ourselves and tapping the transcendent moral ethic of love, we shall overcome these evils."

In these short meditative and sermonic pieces, some of them composed in jails and all of them crafted during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights struggle, Dr. King articulated and espoused in a deeply personal compelling way his commitment to justice and to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual conversion that makes his work as much a blueprint today for Christian discipleship as it was then. 

Individual readers, as well as church groups and students will find in this work a challenging yet energizing vision of God and redemptive love. 

A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

"We've got some difficult days ahead," civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., told a crowd gathered at Memphis's Clayborn Temple on April 3, 1968. "But it really doesn't matter to me now because I've been to the mountaintop. . . . 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."

These prophetic words, uttered the day before his assassination, challenged those he left behind to see that his "promised land" of racial equality became a reality; a reality to which King devoted the last twelve years of his life.

These words and others are commemorated here in the only major one-volume collection of this seminal twentieth-century American prophet's writings, speeches, interviews, and autobiographical reflections. A Testament of Hope contains Martin Luther King, Jr.'s essential thoughts on nonviolence, social policy, integration, black nationalism, the ethics of love and hope, and more.

The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired many by his words of wisdom and life; he helped to change the mindset of generations with his challenge to live free.  Though his life was cut short, and many sought to stop his mission, they couldn’t stop the dream. Because that dream lives on, free, inspiring, and brave.

Through his courageous life, powerful words, and even in the tragedy of untimely death, we’re reminded of this truth: the enemy never holds ultimate power over our lives and destiny. He never possesses the power to destroy our souls. He never has the power to destroy Truth, God’s Words, or to keep them from going out and making a difference in the lives of others.

Only God Himself is All-Powerful.

And it’s only through Christ that we can boldly proclaim to a dark world, words that stand true through every generation, no matter what attacks or troubles we might face before us, “Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 

Debbie McDaniel is a writer, pastor's wife, mom to three amazing kids (and a lot of pets). Join her each morning on Fresh Day Ahead's facebook page, DebbieWebbMcDaniel, for daily encouragement in living strong, free, hope-filled lives. Find her also at http://twitter.com/debbmcdaniel.

Photo credit: Minnesota Historical Society/Wikimedia Commons

This article is part of our larger Inspiring Quotes resource meant to encourage and strengthen your faith. Visit our most popular quotes by well known Christians and theologians to find more inspiration. Remember, the Holy Spirit can work through us when we have faith and share it with others! Please pass along any quotes that touch your heart because you never know light you’ll shine on someone else’s dark day! 

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