Today, the nation honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the great American civil rights icon who devoted his life to the pursuit of racial justice and equality until he was gunned down by a sniper’s bullet 52 years ago at the young age of 39. The Rev. King eschewed violence in favor of persuasion and civil disobedience. He was also blessed with an extraordinary oratory gift that captivated and inspired millions to activism. His passionate words remain ever valuable more than a half century later.
From his March 28, 1963, speech in Washington, D.C.: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ … 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.”
From a 1957 sermon: “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.”
From a 1968 sermon: “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 one must take it because it is right.”
From his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “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 reality.”
More from his Nobel speech: “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
From a 1968 speech in Memphis, the day before he was assassinated: “I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”