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6 quotes: Martin Luther King Jr.

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Americans celebrate the third Monday of every January in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. However, his message of human dignity and racial equality inspired people worldwide, whether he delivered his sermons in Atlanta or Oslo.

Below are six quotations that reflect his deepest beliefs and philosophy:

On the source of human dignity:

Deeply etched in the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value, the heirs of a legacy of dignity and worth. If we feel this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with starvation and ill health when we have the means to help them.

(“The Quest for Peace and Justice.” Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Oslo, Norway. December 11, 1964.)

Why Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Communism:

I strongly disagreed with communism’s ethical relativism. Since for the Communist there is no divine government, no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles; consequently almost anything – force, violence murder, lying – is a justifiable means to the “millennial” end.

(from Strive Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 1957.)

On rejecting overpopulation and Malthusianism:

More than a century and a half ago people began to be disturbed about the twin problems of population and production. A thoughtful Englishman named Malthus wrote a book that set forth some rather frightening conclusions. He predicted that the human family was gradually moving toward global starvation because the world was producing people faster than it was producing food and material to support them. Later scientists, however, disproved the conclusion of Malthus, and revealed that he had vastly underestimated the resources of the world and the resourcefulness of man.

Not too many years ago, Dr. Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book entitled Enough and to Spare. He set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? Even deserts can be irrigated and top soil can be replaced. We cannot complain of a lack of land, for there are twenty-five million square miles of tillable land, of which we are using less than seven million.

(“The Quest for Peace and Justice.” Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Oslo, Norway. December 11, 1964.)

On the “aristocracy of character”:

These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. … We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

(“Eulogy For The Young Victims of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing,” September 18, 1963. Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.)

On doing a job well:

We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework.  Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs; even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets.  But no work is insignificant.  All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

(Strength to Love. 1963.)

The world’s greatest problem:

The trouble isn’t so much that our scientific genius lags behind, but our moral genius lags behind. The great problem facing modern man is that, that the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. … The problem is with man himself and man’s soul.

(“Rediscovering Lost Values.” Detroit, Michigan. February 28, 1954.)

(Photo credit: Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. Public domain.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.