Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”

Never forget these words:

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 languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve 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. And so, we’ve 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 quicksands 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. And 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. And 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. And they have come to realize 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 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 self-hood 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.”¹

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. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — 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.

And 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, 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.”2

This is our hope, and 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.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with 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.

And 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 snow-capped 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 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!3

For more information on Martin Luther King, Jr, along with teaching tools visit

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7 Responses to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”

  1. We also have to be mindful of how other minority groups are treated. In DeKalb, we 11% of our school system is Hispanic and we have many, many immigrants.

    Now, the New York Times is reporting that some of Georgia’s tax credit program is going to support schools that do not allow gay students to attend.

    Backed by State Money, Georgia Scholarships Go to Schools Barring Gays

    There is still much work to be done to create the world Dr. King dreamed of.

  2. Kim says:

    You are right to remind folks of the undone. Most remember how bad it was for African-Americans in this country and focus on how it has improved. Too few reflect on how much farther we have to go in this regard. Also, over forty years later we need to consider that we now are divided along more dimensions of race/ethnicity, dogma and faith than before. No time to rest on the laurels of Dr. King’s generation and their accomplishments! Honor the challenges of their time by fighting vigorously those of ours …

  3. Thank you for the Article- and yes, we must now let freedom ring for everyone despite race or gender preference, AMEN AMEN and AMEN!

  4. One of the worst things we have seen in DeKalb County is how we can all treat each other with respect, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, etc. and work together, live in the same communities and function without any regard to race as an issue or point of conflict, yet in the rhetoric surrounding the downfall of our school system, race almost always comes up as a part of the “divide” creating the problems. Now, admittedly, I haven’t visited every school in the county, but I have been to quite a few and I have been to every corner and district to have some sense of what I am talking about and this great conflict that is supposedly holding back the children is not there. We have mixed races for teachers, students, parents and everyone in between. The kids are just kids. They pick and choose their friends based on similar interests, just like they would anywhere else. The discipline problems are more a factor of kids attending schools that are outside their comfort zone, not fitting in and feeling like they have something to prove or simply just being able to get away with it. And, the trouble makers are also across races. The race issue is hard for people to discuss because we are sensitive to it for good reason and because we do not understand what we do not feel ourselves. But, race is a way to divide people and that is sometimes a hidden agenda among politicians. When you feel you belong to one group and it’s being threatened by another, you will look for leaders who can help protect your “interests” in the face of such conflict. So, don’t believe everything you read, people. Dr. King taught us to accept each man, woman and child as the individuals that they are. He wanted us to raise our standards for how we treat all people regardless of the things that might ordinarily stand in our way or seem to divide us. And, he wanted a better future for our children. It breaks my heart to be celebrating this day today and knowing how disappointed he would be to see the progress our schools have made. I have no tolerance for those who want to reopen wounds to keep this county divided. I hope everyone will try to work together because we will truly endure more harm if we remain divided. We cannot afford to think only of ourselves, but must insist that the best choices be made in light of our circumstances that will bring about a better system for all the children. They all deserve the best our money can buy and, more than that, they need adults who will stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about a way to reverse the downward spiral we have been in for some time now.

  5. Ella says:

    Amen, getthecelloutatlanta.

  6. Steve Smith says:

    Amazing how people can be up in arms over Ralph Taylor’s plagarism and Cheryl Atkinson’s reaction to its public disclosure, yet they are ignorant of, consciously downplay or omit Martin Luther King’s serial plagarism — including his “I Have A Dream” speech — from public discourse.

    Maybe some brave teachers could use this article as a starting point for a class discussion:

    However, I imagine most people will remain — oh, what was it Attorney General Holder said…ah yes — cowards when it comes to talking about race and the truth.

    See if you can handle this truth from Gary North:

    “King was right about Rosa Parks. He was right about non-violence. But what he did to other men’s wives, and to his own wife, was unconscionable. Also unconscionable was his career-long theft of the words that he stole for public use. But the liberals who dismiss all of this are worse, for they seek to make intellectual theft and adultery seem irrelevant. They prefer to undermine the ethics of civilization for the sake of politics and race.”

  7. dekalbite2 says:

    Thank you for posting this great speech by Dr. King. It’s thrilling every time I hear it or read it. I own a cassette tape of Dr. King giving this speech that I purchased many years ago when I was visiting the King Center. It never grows old.

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