Martin Luther King, Jr., on Feminism

Dr. King, whose birthday we celebrate today, didn’t live long enough to see the flowering of Second Wave feminism—we relied on his widow, Coretta Scott King, to carry the torch for women’s rights and LGBT rights. But we can take heart from so many of the great civil rights leader’s words in our ongoing global struggle against the oppression of women.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in 1964. World Telegram & Sun photo by Herman Hiller / Library of Congress.

Here are just a few.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.


Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.