Selected Quotes

Education | Nonviolence | Reconciliation | Social Justice | Social Transformation


It is precisely because education is the road to equality and citizenship, that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights. The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second class status. Therefore, as Negroes have struggles to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 14th March 1964

If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.
-- Mahatma Gandhi, 19th November 1921

From my experience of hundreds of children, I know that they have perhaps a finer sense of honour than you or I have. The greatest lessons in life, if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children.
-- Mahatma Gandhi, 19th November 1931

As the years progress, what women and men will discover is that the most lasting and rewarding educational experiences come not from specific information provided in classroom lectures or assigned textbooks, but from the values obtained in active engagement in meaningful issues. We achieve for ourselves only as we appreciate the problems and concerns of others—and only as we see our own lives as part of a much greater social purpose.
-- Manning Marable , 1997

As June approaches, with its graduation ceremonies and speeches, a thought suggests itself... Whatever career you may choose for yourself—doctor, lawyer, teacher—let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man . Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. , 18th April, 1959

I said to my children, 'I'm going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don't ever want you to forget that there are millions of God's children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don't want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.'
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. , 7th January, 1968

The Negro has no room to make any substantial compromises because his store of advantages is too small. He must press unrelentingly for quality, integrated education or his whole drive for freedom will be undermined by the absence of a most vital and indispensable element—learning.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. , 14th March, 1964



I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United States.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

The survival of democracy depends on the renunciation of violence and the development of nonviolent means to combat evil and advance the good.
--A.J. Muste

In our struggle against racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, I came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi's method of nonviolence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity. It may well be that the Gandhian approach will bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. , 1958

Once one assumes an attitude of intolerance, there is no knowing where it will take one. Intolerance, someone has said, is violence to the intellect and hatred is violence to the heart.
--Mahatma Gandhi , 1942

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
--A.J. Muste

I do believe that when there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless victim of her own dishonor. But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment... Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
--Mahatma Gandhi, 1920

Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored... I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, and there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.
--Mahatma Gandhi 1948

Non-violent resistance implies the very opposite of weakness. Defiance combined with non-retaliatory acceptance of repression from one's opponents is active, not passive. It requires strength, and there is nothing automatic or intuitive about the resoluteness required for using nonviolent methods in political struggle and the quest for Truth.
--Mahatma Gandhi 1936

Just as one must learn the art of killing in the training for violence, so one must learn the art of dying in the training for non-violence. Violence does not mean the emancipation from fear, but discovering the means of combating the cause of fear. Nonviolence, on the other hand, has no cause for fear. The votary of nonviolence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life.
--Mahatma Gandhi 1940

I contend that non-violent acts exert pressure far more effective than violent acts, for the pressure comes from goodwill and gentleness.
--Mahatma Gandhi

Courtesy towards opponents and eagerness to understand their view-point is the ABC of non-violence.
--Mahatma Gandhi 20th July, 1944

Truth and nonviolence are not cloistered virtues but applicable as much in the forum and the legislatures as in the market place.
--Mahatma Gandhi 8th May, 1937

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one's whole being into the being of another.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 1957

While the nature of this account causes me to make frequent use of the pronoun 'I,' in every important part of the story it should be 'we.' This is not a drama with only one actor. More precisely it is the chronicle of fifty thousand Negroes who took to heart the principles of nonviolence, who learned to fight for their rights with the weapon of love, and who, in the process, acquired a new estimate of their own human worth.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 1955

If we arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don't ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 24th February, 1956

I believe that it is impossible to end hatred with hatred.
-- Mahatma Gandhi 23rd November, 1924

We have learned that change cannot come through war. War is not a feasible tool to use in fighting against the oppression we face. War has caused more problems. We cannot embrace that path.
-- Rigoberta Menchu 1995

I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems, not only through weapons and war. Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side of the trench and the person on the other side of the trench are both human beings, with the same faculties. At so me point they have to begin to understand one another.
-- Rigoberta Menchu 25th September, 1996

...instead of giving a rifle to somebody, build a school; instead of giving a rifle, build a community with adequate services. Instead of giving a rifle, develop an educational system that is not about conflict and violence, but one that promotes respect for values, for life, and respect for one's elders. This requires a huge investment. Yet if we can invest in a different vision of peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem has a nonviolent answer.
-- Rigoberta Menchu 24th September, 1996

The reason I can't follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everyone blind. Somebody must have sense and somebody must have religion. I remember some years ago, my brother and I were driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee. And for some reason the drivers that night were very discourteous or they were forgetting to dim their lights... And finally A.D. looked over at me and he said, 'I'm tired of this now, and the next car that comes by here and refuses to dim the lights, I'm going to refuse to dim mine.' I said, 'Wait a minute, don't do that . Somebody has to have some sense on this highway.' And I'm saying the same thing for us here in Birmingham. We are moving up a mighty highway toward the city of Freedom. There will be meandering points. There will be curves and difficult moments, and we will be tempted to retaliate with the same kind of force that the opposition will use. But I'm going to say to you, 'Wait a minute, Birmingham. Somebody's got to have some sense in Birmingham.'
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. 3rd May, 1963

World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Nonviolence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred, and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. December 1964

In the event of a violent revolution, we would be sorely outnumbered. And when it was all over, the Negro would face the same unchanged conditions, the same squalor and deprivation—the only difference being that his bitterness would be even more intense, his disenchantment even more abject. Thus, in purely practical as well as moral terms, the American Negro has no rational alternative to nonviolence.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1964

I was out in Watts during the riots. One young man said to me... 'We won!' I said, 'What do you mean, 'we won'? Thirty-some people dead—all but two are Negroes. You've destroyed your own. What do you mean 'we won'?' And he said, 'We made them pay attention to us.' When people are voiceless, they will have temper tantrums like a little child who has not been paid attention to. And riots are massive temper tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. July, 1967

I would be misleading you if I made you feel that we could win a violent campaign. It's impractical even to think about it. The minute we start, we will end up getting many more people killed unnecessarily. Now, I'm ready to die myself. Many other committed people are ready to die. If you believe in something firmly, if you believe in it truly, if you believe it in your heart, you are willing to die for it, but I'm not going to advocate a method that brings about unnecessary death.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1966

I cannot make myself believe that God wanted me to hate. I'm tired of violence, I've seen too much of it. I've seen such hate on the faces of too many sheriffs in the South. And I'm not going to let my oppressor dictate to me what method I must use. Our oppressors have used violence. Our oppressors have used hatred. Our oppressors have used rifles and guns. I'm not going to stoop down to their level. We have a power that can't be found in Molotov cocktails.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The policy of the federal government is to play Russian roulette with the riots; it is prepared to gamble with another summer of disaster. Despite two consecutive summers of violence, not a single basic cause of riots has been corrected. All of the misery that stoked the flames of rage and rebellion remains undiminished. With unemployment, intolerable housing, and discriminatory education, a scourge in Negro ghettos, Congress and the administration still tinker with trivial, halfhearted measures. Yet only a few years ago, there was discernible, if limited, progress through nonviolence. Each year, a wholesome, vibrant Negro self confidence was taking shape. The fact is inescapable that that the tactic of nonviolence, which had then dominated the thinking of the civil rights movement, has in the last two years not been playing its transforming role. Nonviolence was a creative doctrine in the South because it checkmated the rabid segregationists who were thirsting for an opportunity to physically crush Negroes. Nonviolent direct action enabled the Negro to take to the streets in active protest, but it muzzled the guns of the oppressor because even he could not shoot down in daylight unarmed men, women, and children. This is the reason there was less loss of life in ten years of Southern protest than in ten days of Northern riots.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.



The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

The method of nonviolence seeks not to humiliate and not to defeat the oppressor, but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding. And thereby and therefore the aftermath of this method is reconciliation.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the 'fight with fire' method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one's enemies—is the solution to the race problem.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

It is the best thing to blame ourselves when people cannot get on well with us. Boundless charity necessarily includes all or it ceases to be boundless. We must be strict with ourselves and lenient with our neighbors. For we know not their difficulties and what they overcome.
--Mahatma Gandhi, 18th August, 1927

In struggling for human dignity the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Negro who experiences bitter and agonizing circumstances as a result of some ungodly white person is tempted to look upon all white persons as evil, if he fails to look beyond his circumstances. But the minute he looks beyond his circumstances and sees the whole of the situation, he discovers that some of the most implacable and vehement advocates of racial equality are consecrated white persons.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 18th September, 1955

True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgment of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.
--Archbishop Desmond Tutu 30th November, 1995

This morning the long awaited mandate from the United States Supreme Court concerning bus segregation came to Montgomery. Our experience and growth during this past year of united nonviolent protest has been of such that we cannot be satisfied with a court 'victory' over our white brothers. We must respond to the decision with an understanding of those who have oppressed us and with an appreciation of the new adjustments that the court order poses for them. We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming together of white people and colored people on the basis of a real harmony of interests and understandings. We seek an integration based on mutual respect.
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 20th December, 1956


Social Justice

There are two types of laws: there are just laws and there are unjust laws... What is the difference between the two?...An unjust law is a man-made code that is out of harmony with the moral law... Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn't segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963

We are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. And we are determined here is Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 5th December 1955

In matters of conscience, the Law of Majority has no place.
-- Mahatma Gandhi , 4th August 1920

The golden rule to apply in all such cases is resolutely to refuse to have what millions cannot.
-- Mahatma Gandhi , 24th May 1926

Stability and peace in our land will not come from the barrel of a gun, because peace without justice is an impossibility.
--Desmond Tutu

...when we allow one group of people to look down upon another, then we may for a short time bring hardship on some particular group of people, but the real hardship and the real wrong is done to democracy and to our nation as a whole. We are then breeding people who cannot live under a democratic form of government but must be controlled by force. We have but to look out into the world to see how easy it is to become stultified, to accept without protest wrongs done to others, and to shift the burden of decision and responsibility for any action onto some vague thing called a government or some individual called a leader.
--Eleanor Roosevelt , 1939

I must confess that I have enjoyed being on this mountaintop and I am tempted to want to stay here and retreat to a more quiet and serene life. But something within reminds me that the valley calls me in spite of all its agonies, dangers, and frustrating moments. I must return to the valley. Something tells me that the ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy. So I must return to the valley—a valley filled with the misguided bloodthirsty mobs, but a valley filled at the same time with the little Negro boys and girls who grow up with the ominous clouds of inferiority forming in their little mental skies; a valley filled with millions of people who because of economic deprivation and social isolation,have lost hope, and see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. I must return to the valley—a valley filled with literally thousand of Negroes in Alabama and Mississippi who are brutalized, intimidated, and sometimes killed when they seek to register and vote. I must return to the valley all over the South and in the big cities of the North—a valley filled with millions of our white and Negro brothers who are smoldering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., 27th January 1965


Social Transformation

Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.
--Martin Luther King, 1964

In the application of the method of non-violence, one must believe in the possibility of every person, however depraved, being reformed under humane and skilled treatment.
-- Mahatma Gandhi , 22nd February 1942

We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, '...we shouldn't have done that.' We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, 'We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history.'
--Desmond Tutu

We have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We are still called upon to give aid to the beggar who finds himself in misery and agony on life's highway. But one day, we must ask the question of whether an edifice which produces beggars must not be restructured and refurbished.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

The nation is sick; trouble is in the land, confusion all around... But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis,Tennessee, the cry is always the same: 'We want to be free.'.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., 3rd April 1968