“All of us are on trial in this troubled hour.”
–MLK Jr. (1968)
If we, as a country, truly understood the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., it would go without saying that celebrating King means supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the new post-Ferguson activism for racial justice in policing and society.
But our popular culture, with its allergy to history and deep political analysis, has left us with a superficial understanding of Dr. King. Too often we fail to appreciate the radical nature of King’s work and the depth of transformation to which he called us. We forget the way he linked issues, his interconnected worldview, his calls for direct action, and the culminating vision of his last years, which I call his Mountaintop Period.
This is especially unfortunate because we need the fullness of his vision now more than ever. King’s gift was to always find the right words for our historical moment. His greatness lies in the fact that 46 years after his assassination he continues to do so for our times.
These 30 quotes, taken from my Twitter streams, @EssentialKing and @EssentialMLK, can help us reconnect with King’s prophetic, timely voice, and–it is hoped–inspire us to take real action for social change.
In the past six months we have seen a resurgence of Black-led, youth-led activism for racial justice unparalleled since the height of the Civil Rights Movement. A new generation of Black leadership—including women, youth, and LGBT leadership—along with an array of allies, has stepped up to carry forward the project of justice.
The courage and commitment of these leaders should pose a challenge to all of us. Will we support them, and join them, or will we sit it out? (If you’ve ever wondered what you might have done in the Civil Rights Era, now is your chance to decide.) A new civil rights movement is emerging. Will we support it, its clear demands, and its larger goal of racial justice?
Dr. King said, “nonviolent direct action will continue to be a significant source of power until it is made irrelevant by the presence of justice.” What actions can we take, individually and collectively, to create a freer, more loving, and more just world for our children and future generations?
In solidarity with the calls from Ferguson, the Bay Area, and across the nation to Reclaim King’s Legacy with actions throughout this King Day weekend, culminating in mass marches on King Day, here are 30 tweetable quotes from the good doctor, short enough to fit on a protest sign and hit the streets with.
King on police brutality:
When we recall King’s statements on police brutality and racist violence there is no doubt that he would ask us to join the Black Lives Matter movement and support the emerging movements calling for transformation on these issues.
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” –MLK, Aug. 28, 1963
“The white man does not abide by the law… His police forces are the ultimate mockery of law.” –MLK (1968)
“How long will justice be crucified and truth buried, how long?” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1962)
“Wounded justice lying prostrate on the streets of our cities.” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1962)
“We have got to go all out to deal with the question of segregation justice. We still have a long, long, way to go.” –MLK (1965)
King on confronting systemic racism:
Although King is a global symbol of the struggle against racism, we seldom recall the depth and prophetic fire of his challenge to systemic and institutional racism and white supremacy, particularly in the speeches from his later years.
“The thing wrong with America is white racism.” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) #ReclaimMLK
“Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility & the status quo than about justice & humanity.” MLK
“However difficult it is to hear, however shocking it is to hear, we’ve got to face the fact that America is a racist country.” MLK (1968)
“Racism is a philosophy based on contempt for life.” -MLK Jr. (1967)
“White America has allowed itself to be indifferent to race prejudice.” –MLK (1968)
King on the importance of direct action and civil disobedience:
Martin Luther King Jr. was a consistent advocate for the power of nonviolent direct action, and he called upon each of us to protest for justice. There is no better way to honor King’s life, on King Day and throughout the year, than actively resisting injustice and oppression, and working for love, compassion, and community by building movements for liberation and justice.
“The blanket of fear was lifted by Negro youth. When they took their struggle to the streets a new spirit of resistance was born.” -MLK
“We have, through massive non-violent action, an opportunity to avoid a national disaster & create a new spirit of class & racial harmony.”
“I’ve just come to a conclusion that our country doesn’t really move on these issues until a movement is mobilized.” #MLK (1968)
“Our power lies in our ability to say nonviolently that we aren’t gonna take it any longer.” –MLK (1967) #ReclaimMLK
“I believe in dissent. We must never lose this.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
King on economic justice and ending poverty:
Throughout his life, from his youth in the Great Depression, to his courting of Coretta, to his final retreats with SCLC staff, King was a fierce critic of capitalism and its exploitation of people. “We… must work out programs,” King said, “of massive active, nonviolent resistance to the evils of modern corporate society.”
“The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
“In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied together.” -MLK
“I think it is absolutely necessary now to deal massively and militantly with the economic problem.” –MLK (1968)
“There’s going to have to be more sharing in this world.” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1967)
King on the question of “Riots”
Although King was often called upon by the press to denounce “rioters” and “looters,” he refused to let the question of riots distract from the core issue of injustice. King preached against violence and the destruction of property, but he refused to vilify those rising up against oppression, and always placed events within the larger context of institutional racism, noting that buildings that were looted and burned represented the white power structure in its totality. “Riots are socially destructive and self-defeating, and I will stand up and condemn them at every point,” he said, “but at the same time I must condemn the conditions that make people feel so hopeless.”
“Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. There is no other answer.” –#MLK (1967)
“Riots are not the causes of white resistance, they are consequences of it.” –MLK (1967)
“It is clear that the riots were exacerbated by police action that was intended to injure or even to kill people.” –#MLK (1968)
“Our summers of riots are caused by winters of delay.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
King on interconnection and linking issues and movements:
The great genius of King was his ability to unite people, issues, and movements, culminating in the Mountaintop Vision of his last years and months. After the Selma campaign he moved to Chicago in 1966 to address northern racism and economic injustice. In 1967 he broke his painful silence and instantly became one of the leading voices against the war in Vietnam. In his last months he worked to build a multiracial coalition of poor people, and in his final hours he told an aide, the next step for the movement would be to “take it international.” King’s final vision, linking racial justice, economic justice, and peace, like King’s entire worldview of interconnection and interrelatedness, is precisely the kind of vision we so badly need today.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” –MLK #ReclaimMLK
“The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes…” (1/2) –MLK
(2/2) “… It is, rather, forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws: racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.” –MLK (1968)
“Local problems are all interconnected with world problems.” –Martin Luther King Jr. (1968)
“I’m still convinced that the struggle for peace and the struggle for justice… happen to be tied together.” –#MLK (1968)
“We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” –MLK
Drew Dellinger, PhD, is a speaker, writer, poet, and teacher. He is author of the award-winning poetry collection, Love Letter to the Milky Way, and the upcoming book, The Mountaintop Vision: Martin Luther King’s Cosmology of Connection. www.drewdellinger.org. On Twitter: @drewdellinger