This quote went viral on the internet, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden:
”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 citation was attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., but a number of people came forward to debunk it. A Salon article attributed the quote to famous magician Penn Jillette. Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wrote, “Out of Osama’s Death, a Fake Quotation is Born.” But when I (silly me) posted the quotation on my Facebook page and heard about kerfuffle, I found someone who indeed attributed the quote to MLK’s 1963 Strength to Love.
Who better to ask than Clay Carson and the folks at Stanford’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, home of the King Papers Project? The crackerjack editorial team responded within minutes.
Here’s the real quote, from “Loving Your Enemies,” in Strength to Love:
“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.”
“Mangled to a meme in less than two days,” concludes McArdle in a follow up piece. Ground Zero for the brouhaha is Jessica Dovey, a 24-year old Penn State graduate who now teaches English to kids in Kobe, Japan. Her Facebook page had the King citation, introduced with her own musings. The quotation marks got lost in a tweet.
But thanks, Jessica, we like the thought.
Postscript: Just got an email of clarification from Tenisha Armstrong of the King Institute:
Just to follow up: I have not been able to substantiate the first part of the quote, but that doesn’t mean King did not say it. I did find a King quote that expresses a similar sentiment:
“This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It’s meaning is not found in the drowning of a few men, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being.” King, draft of Chapter VIII in Strength to Love, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore,” in Papers 6:507.
The published version of the quote was a little different: “The meaning of this story is not found in the drowning of Egyptian soldiers, for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being.” King, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore,” in Strength to Love.
Postscript on 3/5: The previously unknown Jessica Dovey, with a photo taken from her Facebook page, gets a Q&A in The Atlantic here. Of all things.
Postscript on 3/5: Stan Szczesny commented on John Donne‘s famous “No Man Is an Island” passage from his sermons in the comments section below. Tenisha Armstrong of the MLK Institute’s editorial team replied with the following:
Thanks, Stan. Your rememberance of this apt quote by John Donne reminds me of how frequently King quoted from Donne’s work. The Donne quote you posted is from “Meditations XVII” (1624). In King’s 1960 sermon, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” a version of which King had preached as early as 1954, he discusses how everybody is “tied in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, where what affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Of Donne, King says:
“Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made; I didn’t make it that way, but it’s like that. And John Donne recorded it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ And then he goes on toward the end to say: ‘Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ Only by discovering this are we able to master the breadth of life.”
Quote from Volume 5 of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Threshold of a New Decade,” January 1959-December 1960, p. 577.