On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech to an audience of 250,000 supporters. A pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, this speech was amongst many of Dr. King’s works that shaped the language of racial equality.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born over ninety years ago in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. Following his assassination, his legacy was immortalized into American history with the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Martin Luther King Jr Day is one of many ways we now remember Dr. King. Another is our continued admiration of his skill as a thought-provoking wordsmith and orator.
Passionately spoken to his generation and earnestly remembered by ours, Martin Luther King’s sermons and speeches continue to hold true in today’s fight for equality. MLK is also one of many figureheads whose work is contemplated during Black History Month.
In honor of black history, culture, and language, we’ve put together a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most powerful quotes.
15 Thought-Provoking MLK Quotes on Justice
Martin Luther King Jr. was a trailblazing activist. He challenged generations of institutional racism, segregation, and injustice simply through the power of words. And he was not alone in doing so.
The civil rights movement was spearheaded by many black and non-black individuals. Some backed by hundreds of thousands of supporters, others more quietly remembered. One individual was the iconic Mahalia Jackson, a singer from New Orleans.
A giant of gospel blues, we have Mahalia Jackson to thank for the delivery of the “I Have the Dream” speech as we know it.
Martin Luther King Jr had previously used the “I have a dream” phrase in past speeches. He was advised not to do so again—and he wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Mahalia Jackson insisting otherwise.
The speech was a message of hope and justice, envisioning a new America that Martin Luther King Jr., Mahalia Jackson, and thousands of others fought and continue to fight for.
In celebration of that vision, here’s a list of the greatest Martin Luther King Jr. quotes concerning justice, change, and equality:
1. “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” speech, 1963
2. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Strength to Love, 1963
3. “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963
4. “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” – Speech at the Youth March for Integrated Schools, 1959
5. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right” – “A Proper Sense of Priorities” speech, 1968
6. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” – Strength to Love, 1963
7. “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Cornell College, 1962
8. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” – “The Dead of Evil upon the Seashore” sermon, 1956
9. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Strength to Love, 1963
10. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963
11. “I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.” – Nobel Lecture, 1964
12. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” speech, 1968
13. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.” – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963
14. “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 people.” – Speech at the Fourth Annual Institute, 1959
15. “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” – “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963
11 Thoughtful MLK Quotes on Peace
Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong proponent of nonviolence and spoke of it often in his sermons, which inevitably earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
As a black man and activist, he faced intimidation, imprisonment, harassment, and violence. Martin Luther King Jr stood by his beliefs, preaching peace, faith, and forgiveness to supporters and opponents alike.
To inspire and guide you through difficult times, here are some of the most powerful Martin Luther King Jr. quotes discussing peace and nonviolence:
16. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” – Stride Toward Freedom, 1957
17. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” – “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963
18. “We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say, ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.” – Nobel Lecture, 1964
19. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.” – “Love in Action” sermon, 1963
20. “The beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.” – Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964
21. “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” – Strength to Love, 1963
22. “We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.” – “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, 1967
23. “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.” – “Peace on Earth” Christmas sermon, 1967
24. “The time is always right to do what is right.” – Speech at Oberlin College, 1964
25. “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him.” – Stride Toward Freedom, 1958
26. “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.” – during his novel peace prize acceptance speech, 1964
14 Powerful MLK Quotes on Love
Love was another recurring theme in the work of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s publications, Strength to Love, is a series of sermons touching on the very subject.
His sermons discuss the concept of agape, the ancient Greek term for unconditional and charitable love of others. He incorporated agapae into his Christain beliefs and spoke of it as a necessary force for racial equality in the America of his time.
He also spoke of love to those around him. A handwritten note reportedly penned by Martin Luther King Jr himself beautifully articulates the meaning of love after an unidentified person asked him about the subject (viewable above.)
Below, we’ve gathered several MLK quotes about love and loving your fellow man:
27. “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.” – Handwritten note, mid-1960s
28. “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” – “The Most Durable Power” sermon, 1956
29. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Speech at St. Louis University, 1964
30. “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 Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964
31. “Hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.” – “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, 1967
32. “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963
33. “I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems.” – “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, 1967
34. “You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself.” – “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon, 1967
35. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – A Gift of Love, 2012
36. “Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love…violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” – Nobel Lecture, 1964
37. “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.” – A Gift of Love, 2012
38. “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.” – The Most Durable Power” sermon, 1956
39. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” – Speech in Montgomery, 1957
40. “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” – A Testament of Hope, 1986
6 Meaningful MLK Quotes on Education
Martin Luther King Jr. attended a seminary where he received his doctorate and later gained a Ph.D. at Boston University in 1955. His early writings in a college newspaper and future sermons occasionally explored the importance of education. When he did, he spoke of it in conjunction with spiritualism, morality, and equality, which remain relevant today.
To inspire your studies, here are several Martin Luther King Jr. quotes about the value of education:
41. “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” – “The Purpose of Education.” The Maroon Tiger, 1947
42. “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve, and you don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon, 1968
43. “Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.” – “The Purpose of Education.” The Maroon Tiger, 1947
44. “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” – “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart” sermon, 1959
45. “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!” – “The Purpose of Education.” The Maroon Tiger, 1947
46. “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” – “The Purpose of Education.” The Maroon Tiger, 1947
15 Eloquent MLK Quotes On Life
Martin Luther King Jr was an undoubtedly wise and genuine leader. He strived to inspire and provoke change not only through words—but through action.
Although it has been many years since his passing, Martin Luther King Jr. and others of his time are inspirations to our generations. What they said and did were in hopes of a better life.
Whether you need a helping hand or comfort in dark times, here is our compilation of Martin Luther King Jr. quotes to guide you through life:
47. “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run then walk, and if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Address at Spelman College, 1960
48. “We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” – “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963
49. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Sermon at Selma, Alabama, 1965
50. “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” – Speech at Glenville High School, 1967
51. “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” – “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon, 1960
52. “Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.” – Nobel Lecture, 1964.
53. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963
54. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – In My Own Words, 2002
55. “One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right when the head is totally wrong.” – Strength to Love, 1963
56. “Occasionally in life, one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end.” – “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, 1967
57. “Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – “The Domestic Impact of the War in Vietnam” speech, 1967
58. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” – Speech at Park-Sheraton Hotel, 1962
59. “What is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy.” – “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon, 1968
60. “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – “Birth of a New Age” speech, 1956
61. “There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.” – “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon, 1967
Final Thoughts on the Best MLK Quotes
From justice and equality to peace and nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr built a legacy felt most strongly in the words we continue to repeat and contemplate.
Just as he strived to inspire like-minded individuals, he also sought to change the opinions of those against equality and overturn institutional injustice. His work, and the work of other activists, make up a pivotal part of modern black history.
If you’d like to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr and his work, many of his sermons and speeches are free to read online.
Which was your favorite out of these MLK quotes? Which do you find most inspiring? Perhaps you have a particular quote from Dr. King that you feel we should have added to this list? Let us know in the comments below.