Reflections on the Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By January 17, 2011Outreach and Events

Listening to the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King always sparks a reaction in me that’s difficult to put into words other than his own.  In response to the man whose sermons and speeches were published as a collection entitled  Strength to Love, the phrases “infinite hope”, “unarmed truth and unconditional love” immediately come to mind. Yet, I find it almost impossible to pinpoint what exactly about the Reverend’s words speaks so directly to the heart. So, I open the floor for others to reflect upon a man whose voice resonates with such heart-felt power even today.

His words exude so many things- strength, compassion, dedication, faith- and so many are memorable that it is difficult to select even a handful of quotes.  For the sake of reflection, I have listed a few here to consider, though I encourage others to think of their own selections of noteworthy or touching quotes.

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

From the aforementioned Strength to Love, this quote seems to capture King’s mastery of synthesizing logic and poetry, as well as his nonviolent approach towards bringing about social justice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Martin Luther King coined this phrase in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he had been imprisoned after partaking in nonviolent demonstrations. Although the message here is very straightforward, I am always interested to see how others interact and interpret this quote and what it means for political and social movements today.

“A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.”

From Martin Luther King’s speech in Memphis, delivered the day before his assassination on April 4, 1968.  This entire speech is beautifully crafted and full with King’s genuine compassion and drive. I encourage you to listen to the entire speech or a musical version of it, as it is more powerful to hear the poetry of King’s speeches in his own voice.

“Returning violence for violence multiples 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.”

Delivered during his travels throughout the United States, this quote is credited to King’s “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?”  speech of 1967. The night and light metaphors are recurrent throughout his speeches, a poetic device that captured the goals- the dream- of such a profound man.

Last year, President Obama contemplated what exactly drew people to King as a leader and a speaker in “Remarks at a Church Service Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.” and I feel that the president may have found a way to encapsulate all that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stood for with these words:

“At the core of King’s success was an appeal to conscience that touched hearts and
opened minds, a commitment to universal ideals—of freedom, of justice, of equality—that
spoke to all people, not just some people.”

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • kmstoffel says:

    Really good. We studied the speech he gave the day before his assassination in an AP literature class back in high school and I distinctly remember the quote you used. I like that you used such poetic and eloquent quotes. King really was a masterful writer and it sort of shows how far words really can go and how, in King’s case especially, it is important to be remembered for the right words and the right changes.

    • Mia Amélie says:

      Like you, I find his eloquence compelling. I consider the Mountaintop speech to be one of his most inspiring and emotionally heart wrenching. It may not be difficult to find speakers today that have mastered the art of speech writing, but it is nearly impossible to find any that do so with such genuinely felt purpose.