The Story Behind the MLK Misquote

Added on by Alex Koehne.

After the news broke that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, a quote attributed to Martin Luthor King Jr. went viral on facebook. It was in status updates and twitter feeds en masse, all over the world. In case you missed it, this was the quote:

"I will 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." MLK Jr.

Interestingly, the first sentence, the one that everyone was quoting most, was not MLK at all. You can read all about it at The Atlantic but the gist is that a 24 year old woman teaching English in Japan wrote this:

I will 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." MLK Jr.

A few extra quotation marks make all the difference. Somewhere in an epic game of telephone (what a dated game... do kids play text message now?) someone removed the quotation marks and thus a meme of a misquote was born. All in all, very interesting read. You can read an interview with the girl here and an article about how to spot these sorts of things in the future here.