In addition to leading the civil rights movement and being one of the greatest civic leaders in history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophetic speaker who pushed for change on a number of societal ills.
Here are five quotes from the reverend that still resonate in society today.
Jobs and Poverty
In 1967, Dr. King announced a plan to bring jobs and economic justice to those trapped in poverty through the Poor People’s Campaign. He was also planning to galvanize impoverished Americans for another March on Washington to demand the government combat poverty before his untimely death. Just four days before he was assassinated, he delivered a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. in 1968, where he said:
“If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”
Dr. King avidly opposed the Vietnam War and the execution of aggressive foreign interventionism. According to him, the cost of war put a heavy burden on our economy and moral authority. King’s criticisms of the war in his famous April 1967 speech at Riverside Church in Harlem are still very true today.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
King took up the mantle to eliminate economic inequality long before Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president on the promise to eliminate the budding gap between the haves and the have-nots. In a November 1956 sermon, King said:
“Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes… God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
As an organizer, the religious leader understood that change does not happen overnight. Instead, it takes years of work. He made this universal point during his “I See the Promised Land,” speech in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, when he said:
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so, we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
Love Conquers All
As a Baptist minister, Dr. King lived by the Biblical teaching that love—not hate, spite, or vengeance—conquers all. This is still just as applicable and powerful in our world today. In a 1957 essay, Dr. King explained how love could be used as a tactical strategy in the fight against hate and oppression.