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20 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes That Inspire Inner Nobility & Virtuous Action

In Balanced Achievement’s Quote 20 series, we explore 20 inspirational quotes about a particular topic or 20 memorable quotes said by a historically significant individual. In this article, we turn our attention to looking at 20 Martin Luther King Jr. quotes that inspire inner nobility and virtuous action.


An image shows the one and only Martin Luther King Jr. sitting with his hands folded together near his face as he looks as if he's in deep thought. This picture is used in Balanced Achievement's article covering 20 Martin Luther King Jr. quotes.

Throughout American history there have only been two distinguished individuals, George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., to have a federal holiday named in their honor. While the former led colonial Patriots to an improbable Revolutionary War victory before serving as the country’s first president, the latter played a monumental role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. It was during these two decades when the eloquently impassioned Baptist minister from Alabama led his African-American brothers and sisters towards the mountain top of equal rights by emphasizing and embodying the wholesome qualities of non-violence, determination, compassion and love.

Before his heartbreaking assassination in 1968, Dr. King wrote five books, publicly spoke over 2,500 times and became a symbolic icon for moral courage, altruism, civic responsibility and conscience. Additionally, he was bestowed with the distinctions of becoming the first man of African decent to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 1963 and the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. As the following 20 Martin Luther King Jr. quotes show, there’s been few individuals who’ve been able to inspire inner nobility and virtuous action like the one and only MLK:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. 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. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“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 verbs agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” 

“I must admit to you there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season for suffering… (But) I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

“There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.” 

“A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

“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 ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

“There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” 

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

“We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

“Perhaps the worst sin in life is knowing right and not doing it.”

“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

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

“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. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

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