Last week, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 91. While it is customary to look to our elders for sage advice, King knew that he was walking a path of imminent danger, but that his words could not be silenced by a bullet. Before his assassination at age 39, King reached deep within himself to find messages that would ring as clear and true today as they did during the turbulent times in which he was called to lead.
Here are 12 quotes from 1960 (at age 31) to 1969 (the night before he was killed eight years later) that are part of Dr. King’s enduring legacy.
1. In the final analysis, the question will be, “What did you do for others?” (Three Dimensions of a Complete Life, Sermon delivered in Pasadena, CA, February 28, 1960.)
2. I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other. (Lecture given at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, October 15, 1962.)
3. History has proven that social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of the status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive. (Ibid.)
4. We often end up with the high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. (Ibid.)
5. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written while in solitary confinement after being arrested on charges of violating Alabama’s law against mass public demonstrations, April 16, 1963.)
6. Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. (I Have A Dream, Address given at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.)
7. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. (Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, Norway, December 11, 1964.)
8. We must learn to live together as brothers — or perish together as fools. (Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, Commencement Address for Oberlin College, June 1965.)
9. A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus. (Domestic Impact of the War, Speech before National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace, November 1967.)
10. I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear. (Where Do We Go From Here?, Address delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention, August 1967.)
11. Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. (The Drum Major Instinct, Sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, February 4, 1968, two months before his assassination.)
12. Either we go up together, or we go down together. (I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, Speech given at the Mason Temple, Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968, the night before his death.)
The last words of King’s speech at the Mason Temple were borrowed from The Battle Hymn of the Republic, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” At his funeral, his wife, Coretta, completed the stanza that King had been too overcome by emotion to add, “His truth is marching on.”
Question: Which of these quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. do you find most compelling today?