Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was a human rights icon, one of the world’s most renowned orators, and the most prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. He fought for a cause that he felt was worth dying for.
As a result, millions of people from diverse backgrounds were able to reach a level of harmony and unity that wasn’t possible at any other time in history. Life would be dramatically different if it weren’t for his timeless influence and decisive determination.
King’s major achievements:
- In 1955, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Though King was arrested during this campaign, it led to a United States District Court ruling that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses.
- In 1957, he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which is an American civil rights organization. He served as its first president.
- In 1963, he led a march in Washington D.C. where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. It was there that he raised global public awareness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.
- In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination.
- As a result of King’s organized and led marches, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were enacted into the law of the United States.
Despite his continual messages of nonviolent resistance to social injustice, King was assassinated in 1968. After his death, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal Freedom in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. In 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. national holiday.
Some of King’s greatest quotes of all time:
1. “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”
To my amazement, I have met people who will strike the fear of the afterlife in peoples’ hearts for doing things that are positive and they will endorse acts of cruelty and injustice and call those acts morally right. And just as this attitude permeated in the southern states of the U.S. so many years ago, it still exists today in various embodiments all over the world.
2. “The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”
There are people in the world who believe that the ends justify the means so that gives them free reign to destroy others peoples’ lives for something they consider just and moral. But ultimately, this kind of attitude usually leads to more harm than good. It’s what we do right now that counts. That is the reality. Our future ambitions have not manifested yet so our actions in the present moment more accurately define us.
3. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
By allowing evil acts to continue around us, we are actually showing approval for those acts. The same thing happened during the times of social injustice 50 years ago in the southern states of the U.S. and the same thing happens to this very day in our own lives and in our own communities. The only way to stop evil from spreading is to confront it and speak against it. Don’t allow wicked people to influence others and poison your communities without taking a stand against them.
4. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Hate only leads to more hate and violence only leads to more violence. This never ending cycle of revenge only intensifies and can only end with both sides being weakened and annihilated. This cycle can only be stopped by the conscious choice to put an end to the fighting and converse out of love and reason. Though this is easier said than done, it’s the only choice we have if we want to further the well-being and survival of us all.
5. “Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”
At some point in your life, you may find yourself in a situation where injustice is prevalent all around you but everyone acts as if it is okay. It is as if the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. And the true becomes false and the false becomes true.
If you act and believe as they do, you would go against your conscious and you may one day lose that and the humanity that you once had in you. If you oppose them, you become an outcast and you may even be ridiculed for doing something that most people would agree is good and honorable. In a situation like that, be brave and follow your conscience. You have a conscious for a good reason: so that you’ll know the difference between bad and good and the difference between being misguided and righteous.
Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech”
As an added bonus, here is Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech” in its entirety. This has been considered by many to be the greatest recorded speech of all time. It is his greatest message to the world:
Although Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life was ended abruptly, his dream still lives on today.
He changed the world fundamentally but unlike many others in history, he did it the right way: he sought freedom and dignity for all people of all backgrounds through the means of peace and altruism. And those of us who honor those tenets will be forever grateful for a job well done.
How did Martin Luther King, Jr. inspire you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.