Martin Luther King on his day: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”


One people, one reality (Photo: Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute)

Today is the day set aside to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  It came upon me quickly – I hadn’t even managed to bake a cake or send cards.  Do I get extra credit for my MLK post of a few days ago about the wording on the civil rights leader’s  memorial?

No matter.  Facebook and Twitter are awash with quotations from King, and somehow that seems a fitter and more dignified way to honor the Baptist preacher on a holiday that falls in bleak mid-January, after post-New Year sobriety has set in.

Two of my favorite newly discovered quotes below (hat tips to Laura Frew and Tess Kincaid):

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace


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

― Martin Luther King, Jr.




12 Responses to “Martin Luther King on his day: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.””

  1. Vicki Says:

    I cannot find that this is a quote of Dr. King’s. Does anyone have the source material for this quote? It does not sound like Dr. King’s voice. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, his letter does contain the phrase “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” He went on to say in this same paragraph “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
    I find it offensive to incorrectly, especially purposely, misattribute a quote. Or use a famous individual for the purpose of spreading something on the internet that we have written ourselves.
    I’d be interested in having information on where the source material is for this quote.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    This isn’t exact, but I know he reworked and reused material from speech to speech (I wrote about that in an earlier Book Haven post). From April 3 1968’s “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” in Memphis, Tennessee:

    “But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, ‘If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.’ Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — ‘We want to be free.'”

    I’ll keep hunting for you.

  3. Vicki Says:

    I’ll be interested in what you find.
    It is important not to mis-attribute quotes. I have a theory and there are people out there who get a kick out of writing something and then attributing it to a famous person. They put it out on the internet and see how much it circulates. I’ve seen this happen with Dr. Maya Angelou.
    It’s important that when when we put a quote out on the internet that we attribute to an individual, it is important to verify the source, and have confirmation from an independent source. This site has “Stanford University” on it, which carries some weight; therefore, there is even more responsibility to insure that quotes are properly attributed.
    Attributing quotes to an individual that were not written by that person does a disservice to famous orators and writers, as well as the public who should be able to rely on accurate attributions. This is becoming very common on the internet. It is best to research anything that we are gong to attribute to someone prior to posting it to insure that it is properly attributed. And it is important to validate any quote by a reputable site.
    We must weed out inaccuracies on the internet wherever we find them, and work to avoiding creating mis-information ourselves.

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I assumed you were querying the second quote until I reread your note. Do you have any reason to believe the first quote was not the 1967 Christmas Sermon on Peace?

  5. Vicki Says:

    Thank you for your patience. I offer my apologies.
    I believe that my misgivings were because it is not his complete text of that section of his sermon. And it affected his written “voice.” In reading the entire section of the sermon from which the quote is extracted, it makes sense.

    I’ve found Dr. King’s entire sermon at

    It’s worth reading.

  6. Rahul Says:

    I too previously misjudged that it’s (“It really boils…) not Dr King’s, but thanks to some friends to clearing that doubt.
    And after reading the two of your favorite quotes from Dr King, I’m up!

  7. Pompy Says:

    Could it have been that Dr King lay the basis for Chaos Theory? 🙂 The first quote and the breakfast metaphore seems very similar to the butterfly and hurricane one.

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  9. Dr Carla Seleme Says:

    Just a clarification. Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. did use that quote re: “darkness–> stars”, and when he used it he attritibuted the phrase to Charles A. Beard (historian, 1909). However, Charles A Beard and others have referenced the originator of the phrase to the scottish philosopher and social commentator, Thomas Carlyle, in the 1843 book, Past and Present. I think the interpretation that QI (quote investigator) gives is an appropriate one, “Carlyle was suggesting important truths emerged during times of tribulation”. This is a classic and eternal idea and that is why it is has been used and paraphrased by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., magazine editor Emily Faithfull, story writer Amelia Edith Barr, questionably by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a myriad of others since 1843. I thought it would be nice for you to know the etiology of one of your favorite quotes. All the best, Carla Seleme

  10. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks for all your homework on this one, Carla!

  11. Dr Carla Seleme Says:

    Thanks Cynthia. In fact, I have always loved this specific quote and as such, have found it entertaining (like a puzzle) and satisfying to learn the aetiology of a phrase, poem, word, etc… Especially if it is meaningful and inspiring as this ideal is to me. Happy to share and I hope it will heighten the special meaning for others who also enjoy it. Cheers, Carla

  12. Delia Mamon Says:

    Very impressed with your homework on the origins of the quote Only in darkness can you see the stars. I was looking for the source before putting it on our website and found it here. And much more! Thank you!

    And then, I remembered that in one of the psalms of David, there is a passage that says that it is at the moment when the night is at its darkest, that the brightest star rises. And this was interpreted by the speaker as the message of hope to those who lived through the darkest of moments such as the holocaust.