5 Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes People Think He Said but Actually Didn't

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A great quote can be moving, powerful and inspirational — unless of course, it's misattributed. Then it becomes nothing but a sad, lost string of fraudulent words. The late civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is arguably one of the most common victims for this phenomenon. He's said so many awe-inspiring things — like his "I Have a Dream" speech and a Nobel Peace Prize lecture — that it's inevitable for a few erroneous quotes to be tied to him. 

As a household name, King was pivotal in the American Civil Rights Movement, preaching a nonviolent campaign for 13 years until his assassination in 1968, according to The King Center, which was a nonprofit established by his wife in his dedication. He was gifted in his way with words, his speeches and letters being shared around the nation, and hundreds of thousands of people showing up for his public marches and appearances. His efforts were recognized in 1964 when he won a Nobel Peace Prize. 

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False quotes are usually very dramatic and emotional, giving authority to all of the the fuzzy — albeit fake — feels they emit, according to the Atlantic. King is the perfect candidate for this. Even his real quotes are also often taken out of context and misused. (The internet, with its ease for information regurgitation, may be slightly at fault.) 

Below are some quotes that have been misattributed to MLK:

1. "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy."

In 2011, a woman named Jessica Dovey did an average thing on Facebook: she posted a quote by King straight from his book Strength to Love, according to the Atlantic. But she prefaced it with her own sentence. However, users didn't notice that there weren't any quotation marks before King's quote, and began to tweet and share Dovey's sentence as his. Entertainment duo Penn and Teller's Penn Jillette caught sight and tweeted it out to his 1.6 million followers, the Atlantic reported. Then Osama bin Laden was killed, giving the quote further momentum, NPR reported.

2. "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."  

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After 27 years of discussion, a memorial for King was erected in Washington, D.C. in 2011. The only thing is, one of the quotes on the statue was incorrect, and workers had to carve totally new striations. The original quote was: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter." Unfortunately, it was shortened to fit the statue. 

3. "Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

King actually spoke these words in 1955 at the first Montgomery Improvement Association Mass Meeting, Harper's Magazine reported in 2010. Many trace this quote back to him but it's a little more outdated than they think. It's actually from Amos 5:24 from the Bible.

4. "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."

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This quote was probably not said by King, according to a post by UCLA and UC Berkeley's blog Legal Planet. The quote never appears in the King digital archives, and King has rarely spoken on animal welfare, making it seem unlikely. 

5. "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would still go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."

Close but no cigar. This was said by the religious leader Martin Luther, who actually lived in medieval Europe and founded the Protestant branch of Lutherism.