In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we asked SPA faculty to share their favorite quote from Dr. King. Here are some of their thoughts:
I grew up in a small town in South Carolina that was majority African-American, and the local public elementary school only desegregated two years before I enrolled in first grade. Three of my older siblings went to segregated public schools for part of their education; we all went to a private all-white kindergarten before entering the public school system as there was no public or integrated kindergarten option in my hometown. I remember my hometown’s public swimming pool being filled in and converted to tennis courts when forced to allow non-whites to attend. The controversial history of the Civil Rights Movement was so recent that I never learned anything about Dr. King in school until I went to college, and only a little bit there. It is only as an adult that I’ve learned about his courage and his legacy. Given the challenges that this country faces now, I can’t think of a better quote to steel us for the struggles ahead and to encourage us when we might despair in those struggles:
Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even through their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.
I visited the MLK Jr. Memorial in D.C. this past November and am including a photo. One of my favorite quotes is engraved in a wall at the memorial:
We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.
In the midst of trying times (which is to say, all the time), this view provides both perspective on how far we have come and a statement of hope about where we are heading:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
How to pick just one? Many of them have been inspirational over the years. Here is one that seems poignant for those of us who teach and work in public service:
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
And another one that is more helpful at particular points in time where we might seem to lose faith in our humanity, or institutions, or life circumstances:
Only in the darkness can you see the stars.
I think MLK’s words and actions have always been a powerful reminder for me of why we need leaders who can tap deeply into our emotions and fundamental moral obligations to keep society on course and steer us in new directions when we are off course.
One of my favorite Dr. King quotes is from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In this, Dr. King is responding to fellow clergy who have criticized his activism, and in particular, that he is an “interloper” in another community:
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Lisa shared these beautiful photos that she took of the King Memorial: