Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses
Martin Luther King
“I Have a Dream”
at the March on Washington
(28 August 1963)
This speech is the greatest expression of the African American “Dream”
narrative, which, as King implies, is related to but distinct from “the American
Dream.” This "Dream” story appears in other African
American texts, both before and after King’s speech.
What is the relationship between “the Dream” and “the American
Dream?” How do their narratives and values compare and contrast?
How does this relationship parallel the relationship between the African
American people as a minority culture and the American people as a
Minority Literature Objective
American alternative narrative: “The Dream”
resembles but is not identical to "The American Dream." Whereas the
American Dream emphasizes immediate individual success, "the Dream"
factors in setbacks, the need to rise again, and group dignity.)
"I Have a Dream"
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
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. So we've 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 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, 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
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. . . .
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
awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is
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 ever 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
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,
will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro
is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. . . .
No, no, we are not satisfied and
we will not be satisfied until justice rolls
down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. . . .
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that
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
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 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
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.
This is our hope. . . . 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, 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 to ring, when we let it ring from
every tenement 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."