To commemorate the great Martin Luther King this January we’ve assembled all of his most notable quotes. We’ve curated MLK’s quotes into categories to help you find the quote you need, for when you need it to express your unique message. By using his words you help keep his vision alive.

Beyond being a champion of human rights and a leader of men, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) was extraordinarily eloquent with words. His speeches, interviews, and texts are a well of deep and meaningful quotes that can serve to motivate and inspire us all. This article brings you the most famous Martin Luther King quotes.

Any of the Martin Luther King best quotes of all time is set to inspire, encourage, and deeply move anyone. His words will no doubt guide your readers or listeners to a righteous path and help you compel them towards committed action.

But first – a bit of background on Dr. King and his life’s work

The mid-50s to late-60s was a time filled with pain, sorrow, and grief; people of color throughout the US refused equal treatment for everything from the schools they could attend to the water fountains they got to use.

However, it was also a time of significant revolution and hope, with critical Civil Rights Movement leaders turning the tide closer towards true freedom for all. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly one of the most crucial, leading a series of peaceful protests and impassioned speeches across the conservative south that would ultimately lead to the passage of America’s first equality laws.

Although his life was tragically cut short by assassination on April 4th of 1968, his influence can still be felt to this very day, his protests inspiring the dramatic legislation changes that help ensure “separate but equal” never again stands and his profound speeches moving entire generations past and present to unite against hatred everywhere.

As the title of this article undoubtedly discloses, MLK left us a great number of fantastic and beautiful quotes that inspired millions during the days of the Civil Rights Movement. These quotes still hold the power to arouse strong feelings and move people to action.  

Martin Luther King hope quotes

1. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop… 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.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not-too-distant tomorrow, the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. inspirational quotes

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man unwavering in his belief that doing your best, and small acts of courage are the way forward. Some of his most inspirational quotes reflect that, so make them part of your own personal code. Let them inspire your readers or listeners to take action and do what they can – no matter how small – to promote your cause.

1. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop… 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.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “If you can’t fly — then run. If you can’t run — then walk. If you can’t walk — then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “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.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Inspirational quote

Martin Luther King quotes on courage

Courage isn’t being unafraid; it’s directly facing your fears and doing what’s right in despite of them. MLK approached it this way, and so should you. Use these quotes to encourage people who may feel paralyzed in the face of uncertainty, anxiety, or worry. These quotes will remind them to take that step forward anyways.

1. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles. Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right?

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right – especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the ones we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King quotes on courage

Martin Luther King quotes on life

There’s something that unites most of these quotes together: the idea that we’re interconnected, that service to one is service to all. Always seek to live with the same attitude in mind. Today and every day, look for ways to be a helper in the world. You never truly realize how big of an impact it will make. 

1. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous, inordinate wealth, while others live in abject, deadening poverty.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King quotes on life

Martin Luther King quotes on racism

MLK’s thoughts on racism often echoed a note of hopefulness about the future while still expressing deep disappointment about the reality of the racial issues around him. We should strive to do the same.

Feel free to celebrate how far we’ve come but don’t forget to recognize there’s still a remarkably long way to go – and beyond this, put in the effort to get there.

Use these quotes on racism to inspire others to commit to doing the hard work of unlearning wrong attitudes and stereotypes and actively fighting against racism.

1. “The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.

The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans…These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are all tied together. And you can’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “They will not be judged by the color of there skin but the content of their character”

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Quote on racism

Martin Luther King quotes on love

Direct discussions about love weren’t really the reverend’s primary focus, but his feelings are still apparent. He felt that love was always the better way to win the hearts and minds of America, and we would be wise to take a leaf out of his book.

Love doesn’t mean letting others walk on you or making excuses for bad behavior, though. It means wanting better for us all, loving people enough to hold them accountable, and loving ourselves enough to do just the same. 

Use these quotes to remind people that love and caring is the only way to build bridges between groups and factions and create a nation.

1. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “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.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King quotes on progress

King’s words on progress hammer one main point, that actual change and equality only happen through convictions and action. As Elie Wiesel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Resting on our laurels, staying silent in the face of injustice, or attempting to stay out of hard discussions only ensures racism will remain alive and well for the rest of our days.

King also makes it clear that. progress is a gradual thing. And sometimes you gain ground only to lose more soon after. So progress should be played as a long game, on all fronts, till the roots of prejudices are finally eradicated.

Use these quotes when you want to remind people that doing nothing to stop injustice is actively allowing it to happen. Neutrality is not an option. Use them also to inspire patience and bring people to take the long road of gradual but constant change.

1. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” 

Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “I feel that the time is always right to do what is right. Where progress for the Negro in America is concerned, there is a tragic misconception of time among whites. They seem to cherish a strange, irrational notion that something in the very flow of time will cure all ills.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist!”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King quotes on non-violence

Contrary to popular belief, MLK’s opinion about violence was complex and nuanced. He never automatically condemned the people behind it, understanding that violence was a symptom of and reaction to horrible, unjust treatment.

He then recognized – unlike many of us today – that it can be regarded as problematic, ineffectual, and something to be avoided without blindly damning the people who engage in it. Let us attempt to see it in the same light while advocating for non-violence as the ideal way forward

1. “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Non-violence 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.

3. “Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement, not replace, the progress of change. It was the way to divest himself of passivity without arraying himself in vindictive force.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? …That the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.

And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity…

And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King quotes on peaceful protest

While we often see peace as our end goal, as a destination we’ll eventually reach with enough time and action, MLK reminds us that it’s also a journey itself.

Peace begets peace. Use these quotes to convince people that if they want a peaceful world, they must commit to spreading around that same energy, and approach all things with the care and attention they deserve. 

1. “We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say, ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but means by which we arrive at that goal.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. While we often see peace as our end goal, as a destination we’ll eventually reach with enough time and action, MLK reminds us that it’s also a journey itself. Peace begets peace. If you want a peaceful world, commit yourself to spread around that same energy and approach all things with the care and attention they deserve.

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King quotes on peaceful protest

Martin Luther King quotes on freedom

Like many of Martin Luther King’s other famous quotes, his well-known words on freedom and also integrally bound up with hope. The end message is that freedom will ring for us all.

It’s not an easy road by any means, but one that is accomplishable as long as we demand it together. Use these quotes to remind your listeners of the great human goal of achieving freedom even in their darkest hours.

1. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice – not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. 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 verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace – a soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King hate quotes

Hate in any capacity was antithetical to MLK and his message, and we’d be remiss not to make that true for ourselves, too. Be angry at people and situations, feel irritation, dislike things – that’s only human.

Uses these quotes to encourage people to rise above hate whenever possible and embrace love instead. They’ll get further in the long run, and their life will be far better without hate’s inky blackness residing in their heart. 

1. “Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, 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.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “So, the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter from Birmingham jail quotes

Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail is a powerful document, a major testament to the activist’s depth that’s too often looked over in favor of his more feel-good and unchallenging statements.

It’s both a serious order and warning to remember that lawfulness does not equal goodness, order does not equal justice, and that true advocacy is not that which begs for time and convenience. Remind your readers to heed this, and the world will be a far more moral world than it is today.  

1. “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the white citizen’s councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice… who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “Over the last few years, I have consistently preached that non-violence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. So, I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “For years now, I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

5. “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter from Birmingham jail quotes MLK

Martin Luther King quotes on equality

We’ve come a long way in the fight for equal rights, but we’ve still got a long road ahead of us. And until all of us are free, none of us are (a statement of truth echoed by MLK time and time again).

Use these quotes to let your readers hold onto that and let it guide their interactions going forward. May they treat others the way they want to be treated and constantly work for the betterment of all, not just themselves, for we’re all connected.  

1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

2. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

3. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

4. “Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal 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.

5. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King quotes on equality

Final thoughts about MLK

History is rife with remarkable historical heroes, full of people who’ve taken risks and righted wrongs when nobody else would. Yet Martin Luther King Jr. truly earns a special spot amongst them all.

Born in 1929, MLK laid witness to some truly terrible times for African Americans in the US, forced to undergo unfair, embarrassing, and downright cruel treatment simply because of the color of his skin. Yet, he didn’t let any of that define his worth or warp what he knew to be true: that all people – no matter class, creed, or color – should be equal and free. 

He took this conviction and turned it into a massive driving force for change, constantly throwing himself into harm’s way and peacefully protesting in the hopes that someone, anyone, would pay attention.

Sure enough, they did. While many people still wrongly turned against him, others were drawn in by his natural charisma and strong belief in creating a better country for us all, and the Civil Rights Movement eventually prospered because of it. 

Soon, Martin Luther King became the very face of the movement and ushered in a new era, one marked by the end of segregation and the beginning of a (slightly) more perfect union.

It’s thanks to the efforts of many, but still, King played a massive role in securing progress. Without him, the America we know today probably wouldn’t exist, and he deserves all the recognition in the world for it.