On this the 25th observance of Martin Luther King Day, here are some quotes from King on violence and justice.
Sadly, it’s an apt topic for Baltimore and — following the recent shootings of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people — the whole country.
The last quote isn’t about violence per se but it seemed like an uplifting notion to carry into today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Baltimore, starting at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street at noon.
(Many today typically mark the birth of the slain civil rights leader by quoting from, or reciting, his “I Have a Dream Speech.” We looked for excerpts from King’s other speeches and writings and welcome any additional ones that readers might want to submit.)
A descending spiral . ..
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.””
From ‘Where Do We Go From Here?” as published in Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62.
Conscience asks the question . . .
In some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.
-From “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” 1968
The greatest purveyor of violence. . .
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.
– From “Beyond Vietnam,” a speech delivered in Riverside Church in New York City in 1967.
True peace . . .
True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.
– 1955 response to an accusation that he was “disturbing the peace” by his activism during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Harness the drum major instinct . . .
If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say ….
We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. … And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.
– From “The Drum Major Instinct,” given at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1968