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Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2010

Text of the “I Have a Dream Speech,” August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

26 Responses

  1. Use this as an open thread. Feel free to post the latest news links, as always.

    Let’s all take a little time today, though, to remember that Martin Luther King was a radical who was hated and feared by many establishment politicians of his day.

    He opposed the Vietnam war long before that was a popular position, and at the end of his life he was building a poor people’s movement, and planned to lead marches in support of poor people all over the country.

  2. MLK was a true leader. I have often cited the stark contrast between his deeply resonant and powerful speeches and courage to O’s mimicry of that great man. There is absolutely no comparison. He literally died for his principles, after being beaten, and persecuted for his vision. It makes me ache for that kind of beacon. We sorely need it.

    Meanwhile, this is a ludicrous example of what we have instead:

    After Obama Rally, Dems Pin Blame On Bush

    As audience members streamed out of Pres. Obama’s rally on behalf of AG Martha Coakley (D) here tonight, the consensus was that the fault for Coakley’s now-floundering MA SEN bid lies with one person — George W. Bush.

    “People are upset because there’s so many problems,” Rosemary Kverek, 70, a retired Charleston schoolteacher said as tonight’s rally wrapped up. “But the problems came from the previous administration. So we’re blaming poor Obama, who’s working 36 hours a day … to solve these problems that he inherited.”

    (Curiously, Kennedy mentioned Coakley repeatedly during his remarks to reporters, each time referring to her as “Marcia,” not “Martha.”)

    More Kennedy: “One thing the Democrats have done wrong? We haven’t kept the focus on this disaster on the Republicans who brought it upon us. We’ve tried too hard to do that right thing, and that’s to fix it, as opposed to spend more of our time and energy pointing the finger at who got us [here] in the first place.”

    http://hotlineoncall.nationaljournal.com/archives/2010/01/after_obama_ral.php

    Yea, that’s right Patrick—spend less time actually trying to fix the problem, and more time whining and blaming other people (as if they don’t do that enough). Good thing he was out there campaigning for “Marcia.” I’m sure she really appreciated his help. So glad I am an Independent! These people are really embarrassing.

    • If President Obama were working “36 hours a day” to solve the nation’s problems, he would not have already racked up more golfing time that President GW Bush did in two years.

      Martin Luther King was a true leader.

      djmm

  3. What an incredible day out today. A good day to remember MLK. Real leaders that make a difference are few and far between. Let’s appreciate the ones we’ve had that have made this a pretty nice place to be.

    It’s sad to have the machine sponsored, empty suit versions, of which there have been far too many. But they fall by the wayside and are mostly forgotten save for the damage they do, until that damage is corrected.

    Let’s do what we can to expose the machine and make way for a better day tomorrow.

  4. Martin Luther King was the real deal.

    Barak Obama is a bait and switch.

    That simple.

    • Reading this speech this morning, I thought, today it’s about the freedom of all Americans.

  5. Thanks for this, bb. It bodes well to remind us that great change is not necessarily inspired by leaders in office, but by great leaders in any realm.

  6. Martha Coakley, A Democratic Canary in a Coalmine?

    “…in Boston — a fairly hospitable “one end of the country” — the president did not directly mention the health care reform legislation, opposition to which Brown has made one of the signatures of his campaign. He talked about Coakley being on the side of the people, and Brown on the side of the insurance industry, but there was no direct reference to Brown being the key vote against passage of the health care reform bill.

    This was an obvious sign that the White House knows just how unpopular the legislation currently is, regardless of what the president told House Democrats last week.”

    • Well we have been seeing quite a few “coal miners” exiting the door. It appears that the “coal miners” = incumbents and not necessarily Democrats, but Martha is very likely considered guilty by association.

  7. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

  8. His writings are still not publicized – because they would make everyone in power extremely unconfortable.
    One voter sums up the Mass elections, B0bots scramble
    http://edgeoforever.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/mass-voter-why-pay-again-when-we-have-healthcare/

  9. From John Batchelor:

    Mrs. Clinton’s statement to the media as she arrived at the airport at Port Au Prince was excellent and perfectly on message for the scale of the troubles. Everything about her tone, demeanor, pacing and diplomacy suggests that she has long trained for this, long imagined how to carry on in the midst of hemispheric catastrophe.

  10. My favorite Martin Luther King quote:

    The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

    and his Letter from a Birmingham Jail is also very inspirational:
    excerpted

    We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

    • Let that inspire women everywhere to act, not wait.

    • Perfect sentiment that can also be used as a counter to when we hear to give up your liberties for unity, or for some other position. That is, pushing your agenda now wouldn’t be “well timed”. Pushing for more liberty from oppressors is never well timed and never what they want and when they wanted. In other words, party unity my ass.

  11. From MLK’s last speech–

    • All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.”

      It is so simple and beautiful a statement.

    • All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.

      Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

      And I don’t mind.

      Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

      And so I’m happy, tonight.

      I’m not worried about anything.

      I’m not fearing any man!

      Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

      • It’s so sad. We’ve had such leaders in this country. Brave and dedicated to the betterment of others. Now look at what we have.

  12. I have some thoughts on actions & attitudes that I’m trying to pin down — I’ll comment here when I have type them out.

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