Martin Luther King Jr.'s name is synonymous with the civil rights movement that swept the nation in the '60s. He fought for equal rights for African-Americans at a time when segregation was prevalent. From his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington in 1963 to his famous Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery, King was a beacon of hope during a dark time in American history. He advocated for non-violence, preaching love, acceptance and equality while pushing for change.
Tragically, his life came to an abrupt end on April 4, 1968. He was assassinated outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, the day after he had delivered what would become his final speech — his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address, in which he discussed the Memphis sanitation workers' strike but also made some references to his own, untimely death. Here's an excerpt:
"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery on March 30,1965. (Photo: William Lovelace/Getty Images)
King's words are as meaningful now as they were during his life, a reminder not just to remember the man who spoke them but to inspire all of us to be better people.
Here are some of his most memorable quotes:
"Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart."
— "The Drum Major Instinct" given on Feb. 4, 1968 in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, was an adaptation of "Drum-Major Instincts" by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known white, liberal Methodist preacher.
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final say in reality. Right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."
— Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech, given in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10, 1964
"The time is always right to do what is right."
— Oberlin College visit on Oct. 22, 1964. This appearance at the small, liberal arts college in Ohio was King's second public appearance after winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
"A riot is the language of the unheard."
— "The Other America" given on April 14, 1967 at Stanford University. King also delivered similar versions of this speech including at Grosse Point High School in Detroit on March 14, 1968 — less than a month before he was assassinated.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
— King's book "Strength to Love" published in 1963. The book was a collection of King's sermons — including "I Have a Dream" and "I've Been to the Mountaintop."
King addresses a crowd in Paris on March 29, 1966. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
"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."
— "Letter from Birmingham Jail" written on April 16, 1963 after King was arrested on April 12 during a nonviolent campaign of organized marches and sit-ins in Birmingham
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
— "I Have a Dream" speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More than 250,000 people were in attendance.
"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."
— "Strength to Love"
Civil rights leaders hold hands as they lead a crowd of hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
— "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
"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."
— "Strength to Love"
"The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others."
— "Strength to Love"
It's fitting that Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, who was with Dr. King when he was assassinated, summed up King's death and legacy best:
"The mortal heart of Martin Luther King was stopped by an assassin’s bullet. But no power on Earth can stop his work."