There are some notable people from history, who were larger than life — and due to their prolific writings and speeches, over the decades have become magnets for quotations. Martin Luther King, Jr., legendary civil rights activist and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, is one of those individuals, alongside such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson. King’s passionate and eloquent “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered to a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, is perhaps one of the most well-known speeches in American history. It is important for several reasons: it marks the defining moment of the civil rights movement in America and it considered King’s oratory magnum opus — considered by many scholars to be one of the best speeches of the 20th century. The original typewritten speech, easily worth more than $3 million, is owned by George Raveling who was volunteering as a security guard on the day that King delivered the speech. After King waved goodbye to the audience he handed it to Raveling.
There are many wonderful quotable lines from the speech itself, such as: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” He wrote those words, and just as important, he said those very same words. But as a quotation magnet, there are a number of quotes that have been attributed to King that he never said, and most likely, never said. Scholars call these types of quotes apocryphal, thus an apocryphal quotation is purported to be true by way of repeated tellings but has never been verified by the person’s corpus or recordings and thus is more likely not be true. But of course, with the Internet, apocryphal quotes spread like wild fire. Here are some of the quotes mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
This sentence was written by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and Transcendalist; it is found in Ten Sermons of Religion, published in 1853.
Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.
This was written by another Martin Luther, specifically Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
This was written by the aforementioned Martin Luther.
Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
This line is from the Bible, Amos 5:24.
Peace and justice are goals for man.
This was written by another famous quote magnet, Mahatma Gandhi.
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
The first sentence was written by Jessica Dovey, a University of Pennsylvania graduate teaching English in Japan, on her Facebook page. She added the next two sentences that were written by King (from Strength to Love); however, she attributed the entire quotation to King.
Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
(Written by a Usenet user on January 15, 2006)
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For further reading: Hemingway Didn’t Say That by Garson O’Toole