MLK and the disability rights movement

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The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is well known and extends from the struggle to end racism and segregation in America to the ending of wars between nations. It seems only fitting on the occasion of the dedication of his memorial in Washington DC that we pay tribute to the full extent of his contributions.

A 1966 photograph of Martin Luther King Jr, cropped to include only his head and shoulders

Martin Luther King Jr.

As King learned from Ghandhi’s effort to free India, those in the disability rights movement learned from King how to go about righting wrongs and addressing social injustice. His words, actions and tactics serve as a role model for the broader civil rights movement which includes, but certainly is not limited to, disability rights.

We are all familiar with the most famous quotes from his “I Have A Dream” speech on the Washington Mall. But those words represent only a fraction of that which inspires civil rights activists around the world. His wisdom as expressed in his many speeches and writings gave proof to the interconnectivity of all segments of the civil rights movement.

Here are a few of those words:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

“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 full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“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.”

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ”

“”Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten….America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness–justice.”

“No person has the right to rain on your dreams.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.”

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

“We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”

“Man is man because he is free to operate within the framework of his destiny. He is free to deliberate, to make decisions, and to choose between alternatives. He is distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy.”

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”