131 Of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Most Powerful Quotes

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s quotes and speeches still resonate today.

Let no man pull you low enough to hate him. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wikimedia Commons

Martin Luther King, Jr. s widely known as an American activist who consistently and effectively advocated for peace, love, and equality among all people. He was a man of high faith and morale, which set him apart from the many other activists of this time.

Often compared to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, the driving force behind much of his life, speeches, and the backbone of his civil rights movement was always peace. His method of love and acceptance for all human beings is what led him to be one of the most renowned public figures in all of American history.


Despite his tragic assassination on April 4, 1968, his speeches continue to play a formative role in the way we accept and treat each other, regardless of race or gender, today.

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King's birthday was January 15, and to honor his legacy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated annually as a federal holiday on the third Monday of January, which this year falls on January 16, 2023.

As we continue fighting for justice for all throughout the United States, we look to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches to motivate us to continue to fight for change.

From quotes about radical change and justice to freedom and peaceful protests, here are 131 of Reverend King's most powerful quotes of all time.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Life

1. “It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Cees de Boer, CC0 / Wikimedia Commons


2. "Live like Jesus died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back tomorrow."

3. "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"

4. "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

5. "Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

6. "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

7. "To be great, you have to be willing to be mocked, hated, and misunderstood. Stay strong."

8. "Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better."

9. "You will change your mind; You will change your looks; You will change your smile, laugh, and ways but no matter what you change, you will always be you."

10. "No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for."

11. "Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others."

12. "There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth."

13. "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

14. "Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live."

15. "The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Love

16. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

17. “Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

18. “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.”

19. “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.”

20. “There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

21. "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

22. "Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another."

23. "There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love."

24. "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression in retaliation. The foundation of such a method is Love."

25. "Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

26. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

27. "A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live."

28. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

29. "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

30. "Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you."

31. "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."

32. "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

33. "He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love."

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Inspirational Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes

34. “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo, CC0 / Wikimedia Commons

35. “The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes open.”

36. “So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.”

37. “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.”

38. “One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right when the head is totally wrong.”

39. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

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

41. “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

42. “But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

43. "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

44. "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, he lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

45. "Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude."

46. "I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream."

47. "Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness."

48. "If I cannot do great things I can do small things in a great way."

49. "When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong you cannot be too conservative."

50. "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right."

51. "We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."

52. "Lightning makes no sound until it strikes."

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

54. "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal."

55. "Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see."

56. "No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

57. "A lie cannot live."

58. "Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."

59. "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Leadership & Equality

60. "Never, never be afraid to do what’s right. Especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the ones we inflict on our soul when we look the other way."

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: IISG Photograph: Ben van Meerendonk Derivative work: Jahobr, CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons


61. "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

62. “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: BFF563, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

63. "There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges."

64. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

65. "Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man."

66. "The richer we have become materially, the poor we become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers."

67. "This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"

68. "We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."

69. "Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better."

70. "We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

71. "But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free."

72. "Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land."

73. "We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Justice

74. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Wikimedia Commons


75. “A right delayed is a right denied.”

76. "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

77. "No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

78. "The time is always right to do what is right."

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

80. "It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people."

81. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

82. "One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

83. "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Nonviolence

84. “The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That's all.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

85. “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”

86. “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.”

87. “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

88. “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”

89. "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but as a means by which we arrive at that goal."

90. "We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

91. "Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war."

92. "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit you not only refused to shoot a man but you refused to hate him."

93. "It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it."

94. "The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility."

95. "A riot is the language of the unheard."

96. "We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Education and Freedom

97. "Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

98. "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."

99. "Your ignorance is their power."

100. "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

101. “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Wikimedia Commons


102. “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

103. "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."

104. "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the pressure; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Faith

105. “This faith transforms the whirlwind of despair into a warm and reviving breeze of hope. The words of a motto which a generation ago were commonly found on the wall in the homes of devout persons need to be etched on our hearts: Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.”

106. “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

107. "Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase."

108. "Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals."

109. "With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

110. "Let us not wallow in the valley of despair."

111. "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

112. "We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."

113. "We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope."

114. "Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear."

115. "Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself."

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes on Progress

116. "We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead."

Martin Luther King Jr. quotesPhoto: Hugo van Gelderen / Anefo, CC0 / Wikimedia Commons


117. "If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

118. "We are not makers of history. We are made by history."

119. "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."

120. "The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows."

121. Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but it comes through continuous struggle.

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Quotes About Martin Luther King, Jr.

122. "Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama's running so we all can fly." — Jay-Z

123. "Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't carry just a piece of cloth to symbolize his belief in racial equality; he carried the American flag." — Adrian Cronauer

124. "The greatest lesson I learned that year in Mrs. Henry's class was the lesson Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to teach us all: Never judge people by the color of their skin. God makes each of us unique in ways that go much deeper." — Ruby Bridges

125. "Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort." — Robert Kennedy

126. "Dr. Martin Luther King is not a black hero. He is an American hero." — Morgan Freeman

127. "Each year on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth, America has the opportunity to reflect on our nation's progress towards the realization of his dream." — Adam Schiff

128. "Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized bias when he saw it, knew what he was talking about." — Jack Schwartz

129. "What shaped my politics regarding war and peace was Martin Luther King, Jr., the most extraordinary person that I ever heard. And when he began to talk about the issues of war and peace with such eloquence and such passion, I was drawn to that like a magnet." — Ron Dellums

130. "Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as our prince of peace, of civil rights. We owe him something major that will keep his memory alive." — Morgan Freeman

131. "Even after facing jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. courageously and boldly spoke out against racial inequality." — Yvette Clarke

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Facts About Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth name was Michael.

King Jr.'s father changed his son's name to Martin Luther after becoming inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader of the same name.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 29 times.

In 1956, he was arrested alongside Rosa Parks for organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. survived an assassination attempt in 1958.

Ten years before being shot and ultimately killed, a mentally-ill woman stabbed King in his chest. “A climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt,” King said after recovering from the attack. “The experience of these last few days has deepened my faith in the relevance of the spirit of nonviolence if necessary social change is peacefully to take place.”

  • Dr. King's mother was also shot and killed.

Six years after her son's death, a man who claimed to hate Christians shot Alberta King during a church service.

  • King entered college when he was just 15 years old.

He attended Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Lani Akingbade is a writer who focuses on social justice and pop-culture topics.