Martin Luther King Jr. in His Own Words: Radical, Revolutionary

Some lesser-known quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., to combat the dominant "dreamer/reformer" idea that will be sold by the media tomorrow. King was nothing less than a radical revolutionary — which you know if you've read his most important speech (but if you don't believe me, you can hear him say it himself).

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

There is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence"
Riverside Church, New York City, 4 April 1967

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam"

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Beyond Vietnam"
Quoted in "The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV"
FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality ... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize
Oslo, 10 December 1964

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 the postive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the dischords of war. Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will — and determination — to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize

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 law.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Letter from Birmingham Jail"
Birmingham, Alabama, 16 April 1963

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. My citing the creation of tension may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. ... Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Loving Your Enemies"
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"The Trumpet of Conscience"
Steeler Lecture, November 1967

Anatole France once said, "The law in its majestic equality forbids all men to sleep under benches — the rich as well as the poor." ... France's sardonic jest expresses a bitter truth. Despite new laws, little has changed ... The Negro is still the poorest American — walled in by color and poverty. The law pronounces him equal — abstractly — but his conditions of life are still far from equal.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast"
Saturday Evening Post, 7 November 1964

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle — the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly — to get rid of the disease of racism. ... Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution"
National Cathedral, Washington, DC, 31 March 1968

In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People's Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. ... We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. ... We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible. Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn't move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution"

Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. ... This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution"

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution"

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Wall Street Journal, 13 November 1962

White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change of the status quo. ... There is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Where Do We Go From Here?"
Southern Christian Leadership Conference Address, 1967

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Where Do We Go From Here?"

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Martin Luther King Jr.
"Where Do We Go From Here?"

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