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Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration: History, Biography, Life, and Best Quotes in 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'

( [email protected] ) Jan 16, 2015 06:15 PM EST
This upcoming holiday, reflect on the incredible life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech established his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential orators in history.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Baptist minister, activist and proponent of racial reconciliation, has served as an inspiration for millions around the world through his speeches, sermons and letters.

During the 1960's, Dr. King emerged as a key figure in the civil rights movement, encouraging the masses to use nonviolent methods, based on Christian principles, to change American society split by racial and economic segregation.

He is credited for his role in many pivotal moments such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered in 1963, established his reputation as one of the greatest and most influential orators in American history. Because contributions to the civil rights movement, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Although assassinated in April of 1968, the legacy of Dr. King continues to live on. In 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a federal holiday, and was first celebrated three years later on the third Monday in January, to celebrate King's birthday, Jan. 15.

One particularly important text addressing racial inequality, the role of the Church and moral responsibility is Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which he penned after being imprisoned for leading coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation.

This upcoming holiday, those who wish to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King may read the ten inspirational quotes below, still relevant today, taken from his iconic "Letter from Birmingham."

On Justice

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

"Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

On Moral Responsibility

"I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends."

"One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

"So I have tried to make it clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. "

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

On the Role of the Church

"The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

"Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators.' But they went on with the conviction that they were a 'colony of heaven' and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be 'astronomically intimidated.' They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the archsupporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."

On Hope

"Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."