33 Inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes!

Originally, for Martin Luther King day, I thought we'd create a quote graphic to share—but I didn't expect to have such a hard time choosing which one! So we created this article instead with 33 Martin Luther King Quotes, and 5 quote graphics that cover a wide range of topics.

Jump straight to the 33 Martin Luther King Quotes here >>

More than just being outspoken about civil rights, love and non-violence, Martin Luther King Jr. was also very aware of the issues with Capitalism, how poverty affects us, blocks to societal change - and human nature. King also talked about civil disobedience (see quote below), and was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent activism.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, along with this collection of quotes, I have pulled together with a brief "history" of Martin Luther King Jr. for people from around the globe who might not know much about him. This plan was slightly hampered because he achieved so much that it's hard to write something short that isn't just a list of facts and dates.

I hope you'll forgive the "potted" history, and if you'd like to know more - I recommend you read a biography! Here's the compiled autobiography I have ordered about Martin Luther King Jr. And if anyone has a better book suggestion, let me know.

A brief history of Martin Luther King Jr., American Baptist minister and Civil Rights Activist

Born Martin King on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, Martin's father was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and his mother, Alberta Williams King. His mother was a talented organ player and choir leader, taking the young Martin Luther King Jr. to many churches to sing - which he was both good at and apparently enjoyed. Martin Luther King Jr. chose to add Luther to his name to honour the German Protestant religious reformer Martin Luther early on in his life.

Martin Luther King's father was outspoken about racial segregation, and led a civil rights march in 1936 to protest discrimination aronund voting rights. He apparently instilled many of the values and ideals that Martin Luther King Jr. carried into his adult life.

Growing up Martin Luther King Jr. experienced many racially-based humiliations. One that is believed to have influenced him heavily is being banned from being friends with a white boy by the friend's father when he was just 6 years old. This led to a discussion with his parents about slavery and African American history.

For much of his life, King experienced depression. Apparently at age 12, believing he was responsible for his grandmother's death (she was just unresponsive) he jumped out of a second-story window, trying to commit suicide. When he heard she was OK, apparently he just got up and walked away.

At high school he was an active debater and honed his public speaking skills. He graduated from college in 1948 with a BA in Sociology. His next step was to enrol in a Seminary, and he graduated with a Bachelors degree in Divinity in 1951.

He married Coretta Scott in 1953 and had four children - two girls and two boys.

EDITORS NOTE: It's reported that King restricted Coretta's role in the civil rights movement, believing she should be a housewife and mother. He was also said to have a number of extra-marital affairs. But—it isn't clear how much of this is invented or exaggerated by the FBI who were monitoring King and trying to discredit him. I would like to know more about King's attitude to women, but I'm not sure it's possible to get a clear picture decades later. I like to think that King wanted to ensure continuity of care for his children, and to protect his wife and children from death threats and the violence that threatened to (and often did) erupt during the marches and speeches.

So, King Jr. became active in the civil rights movement early in his career, initially becoming known  for his role in leading the 1955-56 boycott of the Montgomery public bus system, following the incident where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. During this time, tensions ran extremely high and not only was King's home bombed, but he was also arrested. A ruling was eventually made by the district court that ended segregation on all public buses in Montgomery and it was this that made King famous as a civil rights leader.

King organized the famous March on Washington in 1963 where he gave his famous "I have a Dream" speech. He also helped to organize the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Marches which the 2014 movie "Selma" is based on.

In 1964, he received the Nobel Peace Prize (becoming the youngest recipient) for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance, and mentioned Gandhi and his methods in his acceptance speech.

Other interesting facts are that he supported the use of family planning and was awarded the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Margaret Sanger Award in 1966. He also opposed the Vietnam War and made a speech in 1967 called, "Beyond Vietnam" that alienated many people at the time.

He was sadly assassinated in Memphis Tennessee in April 1968. At the time he was planning a national occupation of Washington DC, which was to be named "The Poor People's Campaign". He was just 39 years old.

After his death, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jimmy Carter said of awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

"Martin Luther King Jr. was the conscience of his generation. He gazed upon the great wall of segregation and saw that the power of love could bring it down. From the pain and exhaustion of his fight to fulfill the promises of our founding fathers for our humblest citizens, he wrung his eloquent statement of his dream for America. He made our nation stronger because he made it better. His dream sustains us yet." Jimmy Carter

Finally, in 1971, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created, becoming a federal holiday in 1986. A memorial was dedicated to King on the National Mall in Washington in 2011.

After King's death, his wife Coretta Scott King (and their children) continued his civil rights legacy, including creating the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

33 Inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes

First, here are 5 Martin Luther King quote graphics you may find inspiring:

NOTE: Just click on the individual Martin Luther King quote images above to see a larger version and save it for sharing!

And here are the 33 Martin Luther King quotes:

  1. Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
  2. That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.
  3. Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That's the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.
  4. 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.
  5. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
  6. In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
  7. We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  8. Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
  9. 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.
  10. Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
  11. Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
  12. Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
  13. I am not interested in power for power's sake, but I'm interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.
  14. There is nothing more tragic than to find an individual bogged down in the length of life, devoid of breadth.
  15. Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul.
  16. The time is always right to do what is right.
  17. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
  18. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
  19. Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'
  20. The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.
  21. I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
  22. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
  23. We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.
  24. A riot is the language of the unheard.
  25. Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
  26. Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.
  27. When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
  28. A right delayed is a right denied.
  29. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.
  30. The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
  31. 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.
  32. Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.
  33. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

If you liked this article with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. you may also like:

And read this for ideas on how to use coaching quotes in your coaching practice - and much more!


  1. Chris Kenber

    Martin Luther King is an inspiration to all, and his power and stance will ensure that he is still looked to for inspiration decades in the future.

  2. Happy Birthday

    Decades after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words about compassion and the fight for justice and equality continue to inspire people.

  3. Jeremiah say

    Martin Luther King Jr. is surely one of the greatest and most respected nonviolent leaders of all time. The world needs more people like him amid the chaos in 2020.

  4. Coach Carla

    Emma-Louise, Last night I could not sleep and checked my emails after 3am in the morning (UK time). One of my goals for 2021 is to invest in personal development in relation to coaching, because I believe that a good coach is always looking to improve on their techniques and good practices.

    With that being said, I become engrossed in all of the AMAZING content that you continuously provide us with in your newsletters, the links that click into links of quality tools and resources, I am grateful...THANK YOU.

    • mturcott

      Dear Carla,

      Thank you for your kind words! You're most welcome and we're always glad to be of service 🙂

      Wishing you all the best in your business this year!

      Warmly, Mary

  5. Tirra Hargrow

    If Dr. King restricted Coretta Scott King, it was due to the times they were living in at the time. As an African American, at this point if he had extramarital affairs, it is inconsequential, because his wife and children have powerfully carryed forth is legacy and focused on the good he brought into the world.
    But make no mistake about it....Dr. King is he was because of Rosa Parks. So in the end, it is largely the women who get the credit for so much of what happened in the civil rights movement.


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