Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Osama Bin Laden, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Fake (?) Viral Quote

After the first wave of celebratory bin Laden Tweets crested yesterday came a small but notable countermovement. On Twitter, Facebook and blogs, people began expressing ambivalence about the news, by quoting this ode to non-violence from Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

You can debate the sentiment, but it’s a resonant one. And Google searches will turn up lots of examples of people citing it since Sunday night.

The problem is that the first sentence–“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy”–doesn’t appear to come from King himself.

[UPDATE: We now have at least two competing claims of authorship for the sentence–one from Penn Jillette, and another from Jessica Dovey. I’ve asked both for comment.]

Or, at least: I can’t find anything online that explains where or when King said or wrote that. Neither can The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle, The Detroit Free Press’ Mark W. Smith, or blogger David Nishimura.

Smith was able to find the rest of the quote in Strength To Love; a collection of the civil rights leader’s sermons.

And it’s possible that King is responsible for the first sentence, and that it’s just not accessible through Google for some reason. I can’t imagine what that would be.

Then again, I can’t imagine why someone would take an existing quote from King and tack on a sentence that wasn’t his. Perhaps there’s an MLK historian out there who can clear this up.

For now, though, we’ll add it to the long list of reminders that not everything you see on the Internet may be true–even if you’d like it to be.

[Image credit: Library of Congress via Wikipedia]