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
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 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 their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone. As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall 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 can never
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
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
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!"