Martin Luther King Jr., social activist and proponent of non-violence was the victim of violence which became a prelude to even more violence. It is ironic and unfortunate that Martin Luther King’s death on April 4th, 1968 brought riots and destruction throughout the US. A man who fought so tirelessly for understanding and non-violence should have been allowed a memory untainted by riots, and blessed with peace; yet while he never condoned violence or riots, he sought to understand from where it sprang as he taught that “riots are the language of the unheard.”
“But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is what MLK did for the downtrodden and unheard: gave them a voice. It is often said that the measure of a truly spiritually-minded person is not in the good works they do, but in how vigorously they seek out and fight against evil (not only in others, but also in themselves.) Unfortunately, the more we speak and express, the higher the likelihood and risk that someone will disagree with us, criticize, take offense, or worst-case scenario, develop a deep-seated hatred or envy for that which we stand. To be sure, the only safe way to never have detractors is to never speak. Cowards have few enemies, but there is much to be admired in a man who will stop at nothing to fight injustice; even when it means sacrificing his own.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. was building up momentum and planting seeds of hope to vitalize the civil rights movement, darkness followed to try to extinguish his message, the name of his assassin not worth mentioning. He was aware of numerous death threats and did not expect to live. To inspire and imbue a people with a feeling of peaceful justice, hope and significance after an absurdly long history of humiliation and degradation is a tragically heroic life fully-lived, albeit cut unjustly short.
Favorite MLK quotes below:
“No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
“Men for years have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It’s no longer the choice between violence and non-violence in this world. It’s non-violence or non-existence.”
“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.”
Reminds me of a saying from an ancient sage who said: “It’s not how much you love someone when you love them that matters, but how much you love them when you hate them.”
“There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for; it is worth going to jail for. I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self-respect.”
He died the next day. Interestingly, Abe Lincoln, John Lennon and Martin Luther King Jr., all either prophesied their deaths or subconsciously knew they were going to die shortly beforehand having either spoken or dreamt about it.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. 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.”
“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
“Through our scientific genius, we have made this world a neighbourhood; now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense we must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.”
“I believe that the day will come when all God’s children from bass black to treble white will be significant on the constitution’s keyboard.” (San Francisco, 1956)
“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression; and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and the barefoot people of the land are raising up like never before.”
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality & freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.”
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. “
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. “
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”