Martin Luther King’s famous speech ‘I have a
dream’, was delivered to 250,000 civil rights supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, at the culmination of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’, in August 1963. The speech is credited with mobilising supporters of desegregation and prompting the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The event that is credited with starting King on his civil rights crusade occurred in 1955. Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, took a seat in the section of a Montgomery bus reserved for whites. When the driver asked her to move to the back under the state’s segregation law, she refused and was arrested. Shortly after this, King arrived in town and launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After deliberating for over a year, the Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery’s segregation laws were unconstitutional and ordered the integration of the city’s buses.
Martin Luther King Jr was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to the Reverend and Mrs Martin Luther King. In 1947 he decided to follow his father and become a Baptist minister, delivering his first sermon in his father’s church in the summer of that year. The following year he was ordained as a Baptist minister and received his BA degree in sociology from Moorhouse College.
The Lincoln Memorial crowd, and the country, were already in ferment because of the issue of the bus ruling so King’s speech was bound to stoke the fires of opposition further. Whether he understood this and had a sense of his place in history is something that later commentators would speculate about. What is clear is that his speech was timely, adding exactly the right note to the debate at the right time. Sadly, his blend of moral indignation and Christian values was soon to cost him his life.
Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 14 October 1964 in recognition of his status as both a symbol of the civil rights movement and of America itself.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came a beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in 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 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 years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.
‘One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a cheque. When architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution 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, in so far as her citizens of colour are concerned.
Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad cheque, a cheque 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. And so we have come to cash this cheque, a cheque 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 tranquillising drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the pror of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our from the nation quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
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 tranquillity 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 ever 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 marvellous 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 realise that their destiny: tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And 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 right, 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 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 persecutions 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 say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
‘I have a dream today.’
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
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 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 colour of their skin but by the content of the 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 down 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, and 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 will 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.
this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into 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 stan.