Though his voice was silenced nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of nonviolence still resonates and inspires.
Decades ago, the famed civil rights leader – also regarded as one of America’s greatest orators – recalled driving one night from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his brother A.D. at the wheel. Most cars in the opposite lane failed to dim their lights, and his brother angrily vowed to keep his bright lights on in retaliation.
“And I looked at him right quick and said: ‘Oh no, don’t do that. There’d be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway,'” King told the congregation at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama during a 1957 sermon.
“Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights, and that is the trouble, isn’t it?” King told the congregation. “That as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and they decided to refuse to dim theirs.”
More than a half-century later, in a world full of contentious politics, one of King’s memorable quotes remains relevant. It’s from his book “Strength to Love,” first published in 1963:
“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. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
The AP asked a half-dozen people in the cities where he was born and where he died to consider his words and talk about what they mean for today’s world.
Some were interviewed in Atlanta, home to King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation and his office where Xernona Clayton organized protest marches and fundraisers. Others reflected on the quote in Memphis, in front of the Lorraine Motel balcony where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
“When he says ‘hate cannot drive out hate, only light can do that,’ it recognizes that to be bitter about your circumstance is one thing. To retaliate based on your circumstance is quite another,” said Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which is at the site of the old Lorraine Motel. “So, Dr. King reminds us that it is usually through love…