Lesser Known Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Probably Won't See In Textbooks

List Rules

Vote up the quotes that most deserve to be mentioned more.

One of the most highly regarded historical figures of the 20th century, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t nearly so universally beloved in his own lifetime. Recognition of his leadership during the Civil Rights Movement has seen his reputation grow considerably in the decades following his untimely passing on April 4, 1968. But with such great acclaim comes accusations from scholars that his legacy has been whitewashed and reduced largely to a single palatable soundbite.

Political figures otherwise diametrically opposed to King’s own ideology feel comfortable invoking his “I Have A Dream” speech while being noticeably more taciturn on his critiques of capitalism and militarism. Although King often spoke out against commercialism, that didn't stop a car company from shamelessly using his speech in a widely panned Super Bowl commercial. The manufactured outrage over honest discussions and education about American history threatens to make the sterilized view of King all the more prevalent. 

This collection of quotes looks to offer a more complete look at one of the U.S.'s best-known but not always best-understood historical figures in his own words.


  • 'I Must Confess That Over The Past Few Years I Have Been Gravely Disappointed With The White Moderate.'
    Photo: Cecil W. Stoughton / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    52 VOTES

    'I Must Confess That Over The Past Few Years I Have Been Gravely Disappointed With The White Moderate.'

    Full quote:

    First, I must confess that over the past few years 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 Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of 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." 

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

    Source: “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” 1963

  • 'Of All The Forms Of Inequality, Injustice In Health Is The Most Shocking And Inhuman.'
    Photo: TwinsofSedona / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    50 VOTES

    'Of All The Forms Of Inequality, Injustice In Health Is The Most Shocking And Inhuman.'

    Full quote:

    We are concerned about the constant use of federal funds to support this most notorious expression of segregation. Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.

    I see no alternative to direct action and creative nonviolence to raise the conscience of the nation.

    Source: Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, March 26, 1966

  • 'The Function Of Education Is To Teach One To Think Intensively And To Think Critically. Intelligence Plus Character - That Is The Goal Of True Education.'
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    55 VOTES

    'The Function Of Education Is To Teach One To Think Intensively And To Think Critically. Intelligence Plus Character - That Is The Goal Of True Education.'

    Full quote: 

    The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

    We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.

    Source: “The Purpose of Education,” 1947

  • '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.'
    Photo: U.S. Information Agency, Press and Publications Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    39 VOTES

    '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.'

    Full quote:

    I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. 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. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. 

    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 men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

    Source: Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, 1964

  • 'Every Man Of Humane Convictions Must Decide On The Protest That Best Suits His Convictions, But We Must All Protest.'
    Photo: Rowland Scherman / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    20 VOTES

    'Every Man Of Humane Convictions Must Decide On The Protest That Best Suits His Convictions, But We Must All Protest.'

    Full quote:

    Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

    Source: Beyond Vietnam, 1967

  • '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.'
    Photo: Rowland Scherman / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.0
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    38 VOTES

    '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.'

    Full quote:

    I would like to suggest some things that we must do to live in this new world, to prepare to live in it, the challenges that confront us. The first thing is this, that we must rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns, with a broader concern for all humanity. You see, this new world is a world of geographical togetherness. No individual can afford to live alone now. The nation cannot live alone for we have been brought together. 

    Source:  “The Birth of a New Age,” August 11, 1956