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U.S. HISTORY
 
On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (AP Photo/File)

Famous Speeches: Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream"

Editor's Note: This speech is often thought of as one of the greatest in American history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the speech to more than 200,000 civil rights supporters during the March on Washington. It was a march for jobs and freedom. The huge rally was held in support of civil and economic rights for black Americans. The march was an important moment for the civil rights movement and is thought to have helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the speech, King begins by talking of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and continues to describe the rights that black Americans were still not given, even 100 years later.

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 president, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This remarkable decree came as a great light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been burned by the flames of injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of slavery.

But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by handcuffs of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty surrounded by a vast ocean of material wealth. One hundred years later, the Negro is still wasting away 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 check that every American was able to cash. This check was a promise to 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 check when it comes to her citizens of color. Instead of honoring this promise, America has given the Negro people a bad check. The check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is broke and we refuse to believe that there are no funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and justice.

"We Seek The Sunlit Path Of Racial Justice"

We have also come to this holy spot to remind America of the importance of now. This is no time for cooling off or to take the calming drug of going slowly. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark valley of segregation. We seek 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 desire for more will not pass until there is refreshing autumn of freedom and equality.

The year 1963 is not an end. It is but a beginning. Some have hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content. They will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor peace in America until the Negro is given his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation. We seek the bright day when justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand in the warm doorway which leads into the palace of justice. In seeking 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 be changed by physical violence. Again and again we must rise to great heights meeting physical force with soul force. A marvelous new militancy has engulfed the Negro community. This must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as seen by their presence here today, have come to realize that their future is tied up with our future. They have come to realize that their freedom is most surely 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 those pledged to 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, tired from travel, cannot get rooms in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities, we cannot be satisfied. We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is merely moved from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their pride. We can never be satisfied when we are robbed of our 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 there's nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

"You Have Been The Veterans Of Great Suffering"

I know that some of you have come here from 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 great suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unfair suffering makes one stronger. 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. Know 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 cruelty, 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 that block and try to cancel our rights; 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 down low shall be exalted and every hill and mountain up high shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. 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 mold from the mountain of sadness, a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to change the upsetting sounds 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 wonderful 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 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!”

© 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; © renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King

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1
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the selection below from the introduction [paragraphs 1-6].

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this check when it comes to her citizens of color. Instead of honoring this promise, America has given the Negro people a bad check.

Which of the following answer choices provides the BEST definition for the word "defaulted" as it is used in this selection?

A

kept one's word

B

failed to pay

C

chose automatically

D

started over

2
Anchor 4: Word Meaning & Choice

Read the selection below from the section "You Have Been The Veterans Of Great Suffering."

I know that some of you have come here from 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.

Based on this excerpt, which of the following choices is the BEST definition of the word "tribulations"?

A

a cause of suffering

B

a physical illness

C

a broken promise

D

an unrealistic desire

3
Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

Based on the introduction [paragraphs 1-6], how does Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regard Abraham Lincoln?

A

He criticizes Lincoln because black Americans were still discriminated against.

B

He blames Lincoln for failing to enforce equal rights for black Americans.

C

He praises Lincoln in pioneering justice for black Americans.

D

He honors Lincoln for his service during the Civil War.

4
Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

Read the selection below from the section "You Have Been The Veterans Of Great Suffering."

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.

What is the MAIN reason Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. included this section in his speech?

A

to show that his children have been discriminated against

B

to show that he has hope things will improve in the future

C

to show that segregation will never be eliminated

D

to show that people will always be judged by others

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