Nearly 45 years after his assassination, activist’s words lay out direction for today
As Americans continue to grapple with last month’s school shooting tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and the resulting whirl of debate over whether and how our nation ought to do more to keep guns from the hands of madmen, we prepare to mark another Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
It’s the perfect time to review some of the wisdom shared by King, the Noble Peace Prize winner born in Atlanta 84 years ago this week.
King, a minister and father of four who devoted his life to employing Christian love and nonviolence to make needed social change, himself died at the hands of gun violence at age 39 on April 4, 1968.
His life ended on the balcony outside Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., where he’d come to lend support to 1,300 city sanitation workers striking over discrimination, low pay and job conditions that were dangerous, and at times, deadly.
“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for,” King once said, “he isn’t fit to live.”
Were King alive today, there is little doubt he’d be speaking out on how to balance Americans’ Second Amendment rights with the essential need to safeguard schoolchildren and other innocents made victims of senseless gun violence.
A look at 10 other quotes from King, all timely thoughts for a country at a crossroads:
1) “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.”
2) “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
3) “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”
4) “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.”
5) “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
6) “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
7) “The time is always right to do the right thing.”
8) “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
9) “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
10) “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
— Compiled by Christine Miller Ford