On April 4, 1968, the world lost one of the greatest advocates for social change in history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the face of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference–one of the most influential civil rights organizations of the era, ushered in a new age of race relations in America. His pacifist demonstrations against racial segregation–from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to his famous March to Selma–caught the attention of journalists, the public and elected officials alike. By demonstrating compassion for all, regardless of color, Dr. King was able to stir the heart of the American people–thereby forming a successful biracial coalition behind the enactment of groundbreaking civil rights legislation that permanently changed millions of lives.
Just as Dr. King’s story continues to inspire progressive social change through political advocacy, grassroots organization and mobilization of the masses today, his words remain relevant to the current sociopolitical context. Although he dedicated his life to addressing domestic injustices, Dr. King was keenly aware of the importance of individual responsibility and collective conscience in an increasingly interconnected world. –His top five offerings of wisdom below:
- “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 Address, 1964
- “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 in 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.” The Trumpet of Conscience, 1967
- “I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of goodwill. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” Letter From Birmingham Jail, 1963
- “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967
- “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? 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, 1968
– Melrose Huang