Although the holiday commemorating his life and work will not be celebrated until next Monday (to give government and bank employees a three-day weekend), the actual birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is today. Had he lived, he would now be 80 years old, celebrating his birthday on January 15. (As it happens, my father was born on the same day five years later. He would have been 75 years old this year.)
While many people remember the words Dr. King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or on the night before his death in Memphis, he was a prolific writer and speaker and many of his pertinent and poignant quotations have come down to us.
For instance, courtesy of Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists (compiled by James Geary), we have:
"The time is always right to do what is right."And, from a useful book of quotations compiled by George Seldes called The Great Thoughts:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."
"Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."
"In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
"A riot is the language of the unheard."
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."Finally, from 20,000 Quips & Quotes, compiled by Evan Esar, we have these two nuggets:
"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."
"The choice today is not between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence" [from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 11, 1964].
"The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt."
"I want to be the white man's brother, but not his brother-in-law."
"Segregation is the offspring of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality."