Martin Luther King, Jr: 12 Quotes Beyond the Dream

This tribute was originally published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014. We’re reposting it today with some updates. 

We tend to be all “I had a dream” when we think about Martin Luther King, Jr. King believed passionately in the power of love to drive out hate. He was also a fierce and incisive critic of government policy on health care, labor, war and other issues, and spoke out strongly on the apathy of the citizenry and for decisive action.

A preacher, King could turn an exquisite phrase; an activist and organizer, he knew he had to cut through passivity. Many of his quotes would not be out of place on a protest placard today — but he was not writing for Facebook, and for the true complexity of his arguments, we should read his quotes in context.

Lest we forget, here are 12 rousing King quotes that we found across the web, along with links to the speeches from which the quotes were taken.


“The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.”

From King’s speech at the conclusion of the Selma march, 1965.


“One day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid… You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. Well, you may go on to live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90.”

From a sermon delivered in 1967 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Watch the video.

king-on-health-care quote

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.”

From his press conference before King delivered his speech at the Second Annual Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Chicago, March 25, 1966. Read the report.

king on hitler quote

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

From King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963. Read the letter.

king on bootstraps quote

“It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps. It is even worse to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps when someone is standing on his boot.”

From a presentation January 11, 1968 at Ohio Northern University. Read the entire transcript.

King-on-oppression quote

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

From “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

king on compassion quote

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

From his anti-war speech speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence, given April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church, NYC. Read the speech.

King on-stupidity-quote

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

From his 1963 book of sermons, “Strength to Love.”


“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

From “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.”

King on nonconformists quote

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist.”

From “Strength to Love,” 1963.

king on protest quote

“Somewhere I read that the greatness of America was the right to protest for rights.”

From King’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” delivered on April 3, 1968, in in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated the following day. Read the speech.

Browse the Martin Luther King Digital Archives

Is there a MLK quote you wish we’d included? Add it in the comments section below.

  • Mary Cracchiolo

    At the time of his assassination, I did not realize what a loss to our society his death would be. Now, when I read his words and look at his actions, I realize that he was right. What a tragedy his death was. At the time, I only saw the upheaval, the burning of cities, and thought it wrong. Now, I realize it was a reaction to a tragedy that would effect our country for decades. We need him now more than ever to be a moral voice when many are silent. What turned my blood cold was his statement “Remember that everything Hitler did was legal.” We can’t let that happen here.

  • Carol L.

    Every citizen of the USA and citizens of the world must know that Dr. King was far more than the other speech that we hear all the time.
    This indeed is a teachable moment.
    Thank you

    • Geraldine Goodin

      Thank you Carol L,
      These quotes are priceless, I am saving them to memorize, as i see mankind destroying humanity trying to destroy each other. In the end nobody wins.

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