Martin Luther King Jr's Most Inspiring Quotes

The Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr sparked a wave of progress that swept the U.S. throughout the 1950s and 60s, the ripples of which are still being felt to this day.

His commitment to racial equality and ending segregation was pivotal in the weaving of a new social fibre across the nation.

However, in recent years, many of the systematic racial abuses that Martin Luther King Jr dedicated his life to peacefully combatting have once again bubbled to the surface. Recurring police brutality and the growth of movements such as Black Lives Matter have brought racial tensions across the country to a near breaking point.

As a result, today's Martin Luther King Jr Day bears a greater cultural and societal weight. To commemorate the day, Newsweek has compiled a series of King Jr's greatest quotes.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." — Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

"When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was 60 percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is 50 percent of a person. Of the good things in life he has approximately one-half those of whites; of the bad he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing, and Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population." — Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.

"Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are." —Speech before a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, October 26, 1967.

"With patient and firm determination we will press on until every valley of despair is exalted to new peaks of hope, until every mountain of pride and irrationality is made low by the leveling process of humility and compassion; until the rough places of injustice are transformed into a smooth plane of equality of opportunity; and until the crooked places of prejudice are transformed by the straightening process of bright-eyed wisdom." —Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964.

"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now because I've been to the mountaintop... 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." — I've Been to The Mountaintop speech, April 3, 1968. This was his last speech before being shot dead the following day.

"If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, 'brethren!' Be careful, teachers!" — The Purpose of Education from Morehouse College student newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, 1947.

"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask—and rightly so—what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted." — Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence speech, New York, New York on April 4, 1967.

MLK Speech at Sproul Plaza in Berkeley
Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967 at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza in Berkeley, California. Michael Ochs/Getty Images

"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." — I Have a Dream speech, March on Washington. Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963.

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed." — Letter From Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

"It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes, but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos." — The Role of the Behavioral Scientist in the Civil Rights Movement, Washington D.C. at the American Psychological Association Convention on September 1, 1967.

"Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals." — A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart sermon, August 30, 1959.