8 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes to Teach Our Children How Radical He Was

MLK was a progressive activist who was being surveilled by the FBI, not simply an image of nonviolence.

Martin Luther King Jr. with his family.

Bettman/ Contributor

Martin Luther King Jr. is heralded as a selfless martyr and national hero. But the story that is upheld about his life couldn’t be further from the truth. The world indeed witnessed the relentless violence of racism on the day King was assassinated. Still, the nation has often settled for an image of a one-dimensional freedom fighter with a watered-down message instead of honoring the true progressive activist that he was. For Black families, seeing King honestly is vital. 

The real Martin Luther King Jr. was a Black radical, husband, and father who was robbed of the opportunity to age and see his loved ones grow. And now we know that the FBI may have been involved in his assassination, it’s easy to see his murder—and life—as another example of state-sanctioned violence, removing a Black father from his family.

Decades later, we can only make assumptions about what he would have taught his children had he lived by remembering what he left behind, honestly.

01 of 04

On mutual and collective responsibility:

  • "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

  • "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

  • "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."
02 of 04

On the importance of having equal access to education:

  • "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits."

  • " I said to my children, ‘I’m going to work and do everything that I can do to see that you get a good education. I don’t ever want you to forget that there are millions of God’s children who will not and cannot get a good education, and I don’t want you feeling that you are better than they are. For you will never be what you ought to be until they are what they ought to be.”
03 of 04

On the evils of capitalism and the importance of redistributing wealth:

  • “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic... [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive... but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness."

  • “We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power... this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together... you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others... the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order."
04 of 04

On fighting for change:

  • “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
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