The I Have a Dream Speech – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

The I Have a Dream Speech


In 1950’s America, the equality of man envisioned by the Declaration of Independence was far from a reality.
People of color — blacks, Hispanics, Asians — were discriminated
against in many ways, both overt and covert. The 1950’s were a turbulent time
in America, when racial barriers began to come down due to Supreme Court
decisions, like Brown v. Board of Education; and due to an increase in
the activism of blacks, fighting for equal rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, was a driving force in the push
for racial equality in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. In 1963, King and his staff
focused on Birmingham, Alabama. They marched and protested non-violently,
raising the ire of local officials who sicced water cannon and police dogs on
the marchers, whose ranks included teenagers and children. The bad publicity
and break-down of business forced the white leaders of Birmingham to concede to
some anti-segregation demands.

Thrust into the national spotlight in Birmingham, where he was arrested and
jailed, King helped organize a massive march on Washington, DC, on August 28,
1963. His partners in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom included
other religious leaders, labor leaders, and black organizers. The assembled
masses marched down the Washington Mall from the Washington Monument to the
Lincoln Memorial, heard songs from Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and heard speeches
by actor Charlton Heston, NAACP president Roy Wilkins, and future U.S.
Representative from Georgia John Lewis.

King’s appearance was the last of the event; the closing speech was carried
live on major television networks. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King
evoked the name of Lincoln in his “I Have a Dream” speech, which is credited
with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights
Act. The next year, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The following is the exact text of the spoken speech, transcribed from

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (photo: National Park Service)

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

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

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!”