Quotations about   silence

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It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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Compare to language he used here.
Added on 23-Feb-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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Everyone stood still, not knowing what to say. Except me. I knew what I should say, which was nothing. And I kept saying it.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Pastime (1991)
Added on 12-Apr-17 | Last updated 12-Apr-17
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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Lao-tzu (604?-531? BC) Chinese philosopher, poet [also Lao-tse, Laozi]
Tao-te Ching, ch. 56 [tr. Wing-Tsit Chan]
Added on 6-Apr-17 | Last updated 6-Apr-17
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I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Essays, First Series, “Self-Reliance” (1841)
Added on 30-Dec-16 | Last updated 30-Dec-16
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Tact teaches you when to be silent.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
Endymion, ch. 61 (1880)
Added on 5-Dec-16 | Last updated 5-Dec-16
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To persevere in one’s duty and be silent is the best answer to calumny.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to William Livingston (7 Dec 1779)
Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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Your silence will not protect you.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” The Cancer Journals (1980)
Added on 7-Mar-16 | Last updated 7-Mar-16
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To avoid dissensions we should ever be on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous.

Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them.

St. Ambrose (339-397) Roman prelate, Bishop of Milan [Aurelius Ambrosius]
De Officiis Ministrorum, ch. 5
Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” speech, Modern Language Association (28 Dec 1977)
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Added on 15-Feb-16 | Last updated 15-Feb-16
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We can sit in our corners, mute forever, while our sisters and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned. We can sit silently in our corners, mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.

Lorde - mute as bottles - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” The Cancer Journals (1980)
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Originally given as a speech at the Modern Language Association meeting (28 Dec 1977).
Added on 18-Jan-16 | Last updated 18-Jan-16
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Silence is the unbearable repartee.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
The Illustrated London News (30 Sep 1933)
Added on 14-Dec-15 | Last updated 14-Dec-15
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And when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcome
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Lorde - still afraid - wist_info

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“A Litany for Survival,” The Black Unicorn (1978)
Added on 1-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Dec-15
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Music and silence — how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell — though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express — no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise — Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile — Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
Added on 18-Nov-15 | Last updated 18-Nov-15
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One must be prepared not to act, but to “stand still in the light,” confident that only such a stillness possesses the eloquence to draw men away from lives we must believe they inwardly loathe.

Roszak - stand still in the light - wist_info

Theodore Roszak (1933-2011) American historian and author
The Making of the Counter Culture, ch. 8 (1969)
Added on 16-Nov-15 | Last updated 3-Jun-16
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Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“Song about my mother [Lied von meiner Mutter],” from “Thirteen Psalms” (1920) [tr. Middleton]
Added on 5-Nov-15 | Last updated 5-Nov-15
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Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) American poet, essayist, feminist
“Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1975)
Added on 21-Oct-15 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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Silence is not always tact and it is tact that is golden, not silence.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Silence and Tact” (1912)
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Added on 13-Apr-15 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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If forty million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one, but the wise man is foolish to give them the lie.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
A Writer’s Notebook (1949)

An entry in 1901. See Anatole France.
Added on 27-Mar-15 | Last updated 27-Mar-15
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How important are free speech and satire? Important enough that people will murder others to silence the kind of speech they don’t like.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Twitter (7 Jan 2014)
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Regarding the mass murder at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
Added on 13-Jan-15 | Last updated 13-Jan-15
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Things cannot always go your way. Learn to accept in silence the minor aggravations, cultivate the gift of taciturnity and consume your own smoke with an extra draught of hard work, so that those about you may not be annoyed with the dust and soot of your complaints.

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician
Counsels and Ideals from the Writings of William Osler (1905)
Added on 17-Nov-14 | Last updated 17-Nov-14
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God gave us teeth to hold back our tongue.

Other Authors and Sources
Greek proverb
Added on 13-Nov-14 | Last updated 13-Nov-14
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There should be a reason for speech but not for silence.

Other Authors and Sources
French proverb
Added on 6-Nov-14 | Last updated 6-Nov-14
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Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Proverbs 17:28
Added on 30-Oct-14 | Last updated 30-Oct-14
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What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. […] Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
Speech, Dominican Monastery of Latour-Maubourg (1948)

Speaking on the Holocaust. In Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death [tr. O'Brien (1961)]
Added on 27-Oct-14 | Last updated 27-Oct-14
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It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

This quotation, and close variants, are frequently attributed to Twain or Abraham Lincoln, but appears to have first been phrased this way by Maurice Switzer, Mrs. Goose, Her Book (1906): "It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it." Another point of origin is in the Bible, Proverbs 17:28: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." See here for more information.
Added on 23-Oct-14 | Last updated 23-Oct-14
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I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Union Meeting, Washington (6 Aug 1862)
Added on 16-Oct-14 | Last updated 16-Oct-14
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If everbuddy thought before they spoke ther wouldn’t be enough noise in this world t’ scare a jaybird.

[If everybody thought before they spoke there wouldn’t be enough noise in this world to scare a jaybird.]

Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) American caricaturist and humorist [Frank McKinney Hubbard]
Abe Martin’s Almanack, “January” (1908)
Added on 2-Oct-14 | Last updated 2-Oct-14
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He cannot speak well that cannot hold his tongue.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #1820 (1732)
Added on 25-Sep-14 | Last updated 25-Sep-14
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To make another person hold his tongue, be you first silent.

[Alium silere quod voles, primus sile.]

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Phaedra [Hippolytus], l. 867 (c. AD 50)
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Sometimes given as "Alium silere quod valeas, primus sile."Alt. trans.: "Where thou wouldst have another silence keep, keep silence first thyself." [tr. F Miller (1907)]
Added on 19-Sep-14 | Last updated 19-Sep-14
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If you don’t say anything you won’t be asked to repeat yourself.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) American lawyer, politician, US President (1925-29)
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Sep-14 | Last updated 18-Sep-14
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I will begin to speak, when I have that to say which had not better be unsaid.

Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) Roman politician, statesman, orator [Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, Cato Minor]
In Plutarch, “Cato the Younger,” Parallel Lives [tr. Dryden (1693)]
Added on 11-Sep-14 | Last updated 11-Sep-14
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We who have a voice must speak for the voiceless.

Óscar Romero (1917-1980) El Salvadoran Catholic bishop
(Attributed)
Added on 4-Sep-14 | Last updated 4-Sep-14
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He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.

Charles Péguy (1873-1914) French poet, essayist, editor
“Basic Verities: The Honest People,” Basic Verities: Prose and Poetry [tr. A and J. Green (1943)]
Added on 28-Aug-14 | Last updated 28-Aug-14
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Silence is the first thing within the power of the enslaved to shatter. From that shattering, everything else spills forth.

Robin Morgan (b. 1941) American poet, author, activist, journalist
The Demon Lover, ch. 10 (1989)
Added on 14-Aug-14 | Last updated 14-Aug-14
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Men repent speaking ten times, for once that they repent keeping silence.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 14-Aug-14 | Last updated 14-Aug-14
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It is almost impossible to remain silent in the face of tyranny without, by this very act of silence, becoming an agent of that tyranny.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (b. 1941) American author
Against Therapy, Conclusion (1988)
Added on 7-Aug-14 | Last updated 8-Aug-14
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The true crime, the collective, general crime of almost all Germans of that time was that of lacking the courage to speak.

Primo Levi (1919-1987) Italian Jewish chemist and writer
The Drowned and the Saved, ch. 8 (1986) [tr. Rosenthal (1988)]

Regarding the Third Reich.
Added on 31-Jul-14 | Last updated 31-Jul-14
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Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
De Augmentis Scientiarum [Advancement of Learning], Book 6, ch. 3, Antitheses #31 “Loquacity” (1605)
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Added on 30-Jul-14 | Last updated 30-Jul-14
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I may be arrested, I may be tried and thrown into jail, but I never will be silent.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) Lithuanian-American anarchist, activist
“Address to the Jury,” Mother Earth (Jul 1917)
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Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Harijan (7 Apr 1946)
Added on 3-Jul-14 | Last updated 3-Jul-14
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As we must account for every idle Word, so must we likewise for every idle Silence.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 575 (1731)
Added on 26-Jun-14 | Last updated 26-Jun-14
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For, though the room was silent, the silence of half a hundred cats is a peculiar thing, like fifty individual silences all piled one on top of another.

Susanna Clarke (b. 1949) British author
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)
Added on 25-Jun-14 | Last updated 25-Jun-14
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If Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Speech to the Officers at Newburgh (15 Mar 1783)
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Added on 1-May-14 | Last updated 1-May-14
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A word spoken is past recalling.

John Clarke (d. 1658) British educator
Proverbs: English and Latine [Paroemiologia Anglo-Latina] (1639)
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How often could things be remedied by a word. How often is it left unspoken.

Norman Douglas (1868-1952) Austro-British writer
An Almanac (1945)
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It’s my rule never to lose my temper till it would be detrimental to keep it.

Sean O'Casey (1880-1964) Irish playwright [b. John Casey, a.k.a. Seán O'Cathaseaigh]
“The Plough and the Stars” [1926]
Added on 27-Nov-13 | Last updated 27-Nov-13
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Sir, calumnies are answer’d best with silence.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) English playwright and poet
Volpone, Act 2, sc. 2 (1606)
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Added on 26-Feb-13 | Last updated 2-Aug-17
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Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1965) American politician (US Senator, Maine)
Speech, Westbrook Junior College (7 Jun 1953)
Added on 7-Oct-08 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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The cruelest lies are often told in silence. A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
Virginibus Puerisque, “Virginibus Puerisque,” sec. 4 (1881)
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Added on 2-Oct-08 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 Apr 1963)
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Added on 28-Jan-08 | Last updated 4-Sep-19
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To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) American author and poet.
“Protest,” Poems of Problems (1914)

Mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln by Douglas MacArthur in a 1950 speech, and frequently since then.
Added on 21-Nov-05 | Last updated 25-May-16
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In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Trumpet of Conscience,” Steeler Lecture (Nov 1967)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.

William James (Will) Durant (1885-1981) American historian, teacher, philosopher
NY World-Telegram & Sun (6 Jun 1958)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Sermon, Selma, Alabama (8 Mar 1965)

Possibly the source of the uncited attributions (or variants) "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" and "The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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It may well be that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. It may be that our generation will have repent not only for the diabolical actions and vitriolic words of the children of darkness, but also for the crippling fears and tragic apathy of the children of light.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Christan Way of Life in Human Relations,” speech, General Assembly fo the National Council of Churches, St Louis (4 Dec 1957)
    (Source)

Often paraphrased: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." See also here.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Dec-15
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