This is a national holiday in the United States — the third Monday in January — to honor the memory of the civil rights leader. It is time to remember his commitment to the cause of nonviolence and his work on behalf of the poor and the powerless.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) spoke to his own people and gave them hope — a sense of their inherent dignity and high destiny. He called other racial and ethnic groups to brotherhood and sisterhood — a caring concern for and commitment to others. King was a pioneer breaking down barriers, building bridges, and gathering us all together. His spirit lives on in those who strive to bring into being a more free, just, and peaceful world.
To Name this Day:
The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. contains more than 120 quotations from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist's speeches, sermons, and writings. They are organized under seven areas: the community of man, racism, civil rights, justice and freedom, faith and feligion, nonviolence, and peace.
The Radical King, edited and introduced by Cornel West, is a substantive collection of 23 of King's sermons and speeches. This book is part of the multi-volume The King Legacy Series published by Beacon Press.
Here are seven quotes to ponder on this day. As you do, keep in mind the following comment by Coretta Scott King: "The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others."
- "Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
- "As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent."
- "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, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up."
- "Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self-denial."
- "Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."
- "Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it."
- "If you can't be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley. But be the best little scrub on the side of the hill. 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 the sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or you fail. Be the best whatever you are."
Thou, Dear God, edited and introduced by Lewis V. Baldwin, is a compilation of 68 of Dr. King's prayers, organized into six sections: Prayers for Spiritual Guidance, for Special Occasions, in Times of Adversity, for Strength in Times of Trial, for Uncertain Times, and for Social Justice. Baldwin calls these prayers "an essential component of prophetic social witness, and as a vital ingredient in the overall effort to free, humanize, and empower humanity." Here are three excerpts from this compilation: