The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one.
Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people. Neoliberal soul craft avoids risk and evades the cost of prophetic witness, even as it poses as “progressive”.
If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.
Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy. Cornel West, The Guardian, April 4, 2018.
The Letter from Birmingham Jail was written in 1963. King was in solitary confinement, arrested for not having a permit for a peaceful anti-segregation march. Segregation laws were part of the Jim Crow system. The letter was partly written to respond to criticism by some in the civil rights movement about his tactics of using nonviolence and civil disobedience. You can find copies of the letter multiple places online. While searching for that, I came across the audio of King reading the speech himself.
I think of those times when I have had occasions to travel south, through the cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Atlanta.
I was finally able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial during my last visit to Washington, DC, in 2017 when I was attending meetings of the American Thoracic Society.
Martin Luther King: His Own Words
It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right
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.
Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.
The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.
The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.
A lie cannot live.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
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
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.
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.
Only in the darkness can you see the stars.
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.
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.
No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.
A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.
Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.
Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.
No person has the right to rain on your dreams.