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15 of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most powerful quotes on life and leadership

As we celebrate the King's legacy in the wake of a pro-Trump mob's rampage on the US Capitol building, it seems almost critical that we take a look back at his wise words on life and leadership.

15 of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most powerful quotes on life and leadership
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/ American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) addresses a meeting in Chicago, Illinois, 27th May 1966. (Photo by Jeff Kamen/Michael Ochs Archives/)

After a tumultuous four years that put on display the best and worst of the United States, it is evident that the upcoming Biden administration will have their work cut out for them. As they attempt to unite a deeply divided nation — in a midst of a pandemic, no less — perhaps they might find some help in the wise words and lessons of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who faced similar challenges as he fought for racial and economic justice. Especially now, as we celebrate the civil rights icon's legacy in the wake of a pro-Trump mob's rampage on the US Capitol building, it seems almost critical that we take a look back at the King's words on life and leadership.

Image Source: Getty Images/American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) at a press conference in London, September 1964. (Photo by Reg Lancaster/Daily Express/Hulton Archive)

 

Here are 15 of King's most powerful lessons on life and leadership:

1.

"We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." — from King's speech at Western Michigan University on December 18, 1963.

2.

"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." – during a speech in Washington, D.C., on February 6, 1968.

3.

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." – from In My Own Words, a collection of King's sermons, speeches and writings selected by his widow Coretta Scott King.

4.

"The beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold." – from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 1964.

5.

"Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers." – in his Nobel Lecture delivered at the University of Oslo, on December 11, 1964.
Image Source: Getty Images/ American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) (left) receives the Nobel Prize for Peace from Gunnar Jahn, president of the Nobel Prize Committee, in Oslo. (Photo by Keystone)

 

6.

"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." – during King's "I Have a Dream Speech" on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

7.

"What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." – from a speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 16, 1967.

8.

"Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity." – during a speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 16, 1967.

9.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." – from King's 1963 book Strength to Love.

10.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." – in a letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
Image Source: Getty Images/ President Lyndon B Johnson (1908 - 1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968). The act, part of President Johnson's 'Great Society' program trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws, 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive)

 

11.

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." – during a speech in Detroit, Michigan, on June 23, 1963.

12.

"I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future." – from his speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 16, 1967.

13.

"We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right." – in a letter from Birmingham Jail,  dated April 16, 1963.

14.

"In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." – during his "I Have a Dream Speech" on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

15.

"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." – from King's 1963 book Strength to Love.

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