Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was just 39 years old when he was assassinated 50 years ago, on April 4, 1968, but the values he stood for – acceptance, equality, non-violent protest – have echoed throughout the five decades since.
His speeches were bold, triumphant, and touched with King’s tireless need to revise. As the perfectionist spoke, millions listened.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here are some of the most inspiring words the activist spoke during his short life.
“The function of eduction is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
On standing up for what’s right:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interralated structure of reality.”
On good people staying silent:
“History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
On helping others:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
“Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”
On speaking up:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”
“The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and enables the man who wields it.”
On staying neutral:
“The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neautral in times of great moral conflict.”
On understanding each other:
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”