Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was undoubtedly one of the greatest thought leaders and philosophers this world will ever see. The ideals and concepts that King developed, composed and orated remain relevant and are the foundation of the studies of many modern-day thought leaders.
After a 2008 visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the Memphis motel where King was assassinated, I began reading and studying King’s writings and speeches. I was both inspired and frightened by how relevant his words remained. And in these studies, particular quotes of Dr. King became a part of my world, my being and my life’s philosophy. Here are five of those quotes:
Source: “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing the injustices we address while passively ignoring others. If one injustice is allowed to live, all justice is threatened. And I have no desire to live in a world where justice is threatened.
Source: CBS Interview with Mike Wallace, Sept. 27, 1966 (Video)
When Mike Wallace asked Dr. King about the vocal black minority who were advocating violence despite his philosophy of non-violence, Dr. King responded, “I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.” In the days after Ferguson, Missouri teen Mike Brown was murdered by local police officer Darren Wilson and a small portion of the community respond by looting, the truth of these words rang out and countered the narrative that these “looters and rioters” are counterproductive criminals seeking to destroy their own community. I liken looting and rioting to a temper tantrum. When people refuse to hear and understand you, when “normal” communication fails, when you can’t achieve justice through the established systems, sometimes you cry out and force your voice to be heard. It may not solve your problems, but it definitely let’s people know that you are present and upset.
Source: I’ve been searching for over an hour, and unfortunately, I can’t find the original appearance of this quote in King’s writings or speeches (I’m going to keep looking).
This quote always comes to mind when people who claim they aren’t racist, sexist or bigoted, sit silently as marginalized groups fight for justice and their basic civil rights. I’m always personally hurt and offended when people who I consider friends and associates remain silent and without actions as people who look like me are treated unjustly. This quote is the reason why I side eye 90 percent of my Facebook friends. I have much more respect for those who open their mouth to spit vile hatred than I do individuals who remain silent and thoughtless in the face of injustice.
On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us.
Source: “Our God Is Marching On!” March 25, 1965
At the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery, King acknowledged allies of other races who had stood with the black Alabamians fighting for their right to vote. While many of our present social injustices are based on race, they really aren’t race problems. They are humanity issues. And I question the humanity of any individual, despite his or her race, who can sit silently while another person or group of people are treated unjustly.
Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.
Source: “Birth of a Nation,” The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Often I become exhausted by the fight that awaits us. It seems only natural that a civilized society would easily “unoppress” marginalized individuals and grant them the civil rights every human being deserves; however, when doing so equates to loss of power, a part of the privileged population will always remain silent or fight for continued oppression. Freedom won’t be given to us. It must be taken.