Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr. The
Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose
symbolic shadow we stand 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 captivity. But one hundred
years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not
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 an appalling
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 would be guaranteed
the inalienable 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 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 rise from
the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial
justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's
children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial
injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency
of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. 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
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. And 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 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 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
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
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, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the
moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American
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 slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of
brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a
desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will
be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that
my four 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 the state of Alabama, whose
governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and
nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black
boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and
white girls and walk together 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 with which I return to the South. 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.
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 peaks 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
every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let 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!"