Fake MLK quote from bin Laden’s death

Updated
Dr. Martin Luther King, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King, 1965
Associated Press

As the news began to sink in about Osama bin Laden’s death yesterday, a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. went viral:

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

The facts first - this is not a quote from Dr. King.

Yesterday before I knew that fact, I tried to track down the origins of this quote and determine if, in fact, it was said/written by Dr. King. My initial Google search produced hits. Lotsa hits. But all from blogs and aggregated quote sites without any real journalistic credibility. That was a red flag… but I kept searching, and I stumbled upon a longer version of the quote:

“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.”

So at this point I had more of a quote… but based on the websites publishing it, I still could not verify its origin. More red flags. I widened the scope of my search looping in more Last Word staffers and the NBC News research department. What we all begin to notice was that all the online entries of this quote were very young, even for the Internets. At this point, none of us had any confidence that the quote was genuine, but I still wanted to know more.

So I began to parse the quote and search for smaller bits of it. It was then I discovered this quote from a collection of Dr. King’s sermons:

“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. 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 multiples toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

So… that takes care of everything but that 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.” So where did that come from? The Atlantic has tracked down the answer for us. Apparently the passage was originally posted by a user on Facebook with her thoughts leading up to a King quote, like 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.

From there, some copies and pastes and reposts later… those quotation marks somehow disappeared and the entire passage was attributed to Dr. King. The errant first sentence was then used in 140-character tweets, and the rest is viral Internets history.

You may still be saying to yourself, “It does sound like something Martin Luther King, Jr. would have said.” Indeed, I agree. It does. But there’s a reason for that. The sentiment in this remark also appears in a certain text that Dr. King knew rather well.

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

- Ezekiel 33:11

Fake MLK quote from bin Laden's death

Updated