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Select Quotations from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love; "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you" ... So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? –The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." April 12, 1963. Birmingham, AL.
... I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed ... without having first spoken clearly against the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government.
... the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us ... he said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible ... I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. ... we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West nvesting huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. ...
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light."[Isaiah 9:2/Matthew 4:16] We in the West must support these revolutions. –The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Beyond Vietnam–A Time to Break Silence." April 4, 1967. New York, NY.
There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. ... we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ... I'm not talking about communism. What I'm talking about is far beyond communism. ... communism forgets that life is individual. ... Capitalism forgets that life is social. ... And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis ... that combines the truths of both. –The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, "Where Do We Go From Here?" August 16, 1967. Atlanta, GA.
On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? 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 he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. –The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "A Proper Sense of Priorities." February 6, 1968. Washington, DC.