You’ve likely heard or read this phrase before, especially if you’ve read Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail. Still, you might not get exactly what he meant or was trying to prove. Here’s the full quote:
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s anti-religious laws.
In the letter, which was a response to public claims that his actions were “unwise and untimely,” King was serving an analogy on a silver platter. At the very least it’s a reminder that what is right isn’t always legal or sanctioned under the law and that the law isn’t always right. I also read it as ‘either help us or go sit down.’