Continue to Dream. Continue the Dream.

(Update: The text of this post is a transcript of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.)

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.

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 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 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 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!”

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51 thoughts on “Continue to Dream. Continue the Dream.

  1. What, in your opinion (this is not just addressed to Kazzy) are the three biggest equality and civil rights challenges the USA faces today? My choices are:

    1. Inequal treatment of racial minorities by the justice system, particularly those who lack English language fluency, and their corresponding distrust of the justice system.

    2. Refusal of legislatures to integrate sexual preference as a protected group or “suspect classification” for existing civil rights laws.

    3. Too-slow progress on integration of the three most socially marginalized groups (gays, Muslims, and nonbelievers) into accepted roles as participants in the culture generally and political decision-making in particular.


    • 4. Getting American-born whites into the NBA and more hispanics into the NFL.

      5. Ending California’s egregious discrimination against ferrets. Ferrets are just as valid a pet as dogs, cats, or rabbits.


    • It’d be hard to argue with these. I would also look at areas other than the justice system as sources of inequality that face people of color and ongoing discrimination that women face. Folks with disabilities and special needs have seen great improvements since the passage of the ADA, but there is still room to improve there, also. It is really hard to say which of these are the “biggest”; “Oppression Olympics” is a tricky game to play. But your acknowledgement that our nation and society still faces equality and civil rights challenges is appreciated and important; a number of folks don’t even recognize that reality.


    • With 1. being far above 2. (which will be solved in our lifetime) and 3. (because hardly any of those are economically marginalized groups – the politics follow easily enough from that).

      And to that end a 1.a (or really, 1. with your statement being 1.a)
      -> the extent that race and class are still correlated and intertwined in the US.

      For 1st generation immigrants, this is probably inevitable. (and may not be the worse thing in the world, as it still generally represents an upswing in economic fortunes).

      But for everyone else? It’s the big intractable problem as yet unsolved by the Civil Rights revolution.


        • Directly addressable, at least. I suspect that there are reforms that could be made on the legislative level that would improve #1 significantly, even if it wouldn’t be possible to completely solve the problem purely legislatively.


    • I’d say the one you’re missing is disparity in how people are treated based on their income (I’d add this one in, and combine your #2, which IMHO is a subset of #3). The political system responds to the rich, much less so to the poor. The tax code is chock-full of preferences that favor the wealthy–non-refundable deductions, mortgage interest tax breaks, dividends and capital gains being taxed at lower rates than labor, and so on. Interactions with the criminal justice system will go much easier for the rich than for the poor; the public defender system is pretty inadequate, and the types of crimes that rich people commit are generally policed less stringently and punished less harshly (cf. stop and frisk, crack vs. cocaine sentencing, and so on).

      Of course, these are all tied up with race and social class as well; but you can’t ignore the disparate treatment of people at different levels of income. It’s fine for rich people to be able to afford nicer cars or fancier vacations, but we’re at the point where they get a better justice system and a more responsive government, and that’s worrisome.


  2. Looking at this paragraph:

    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.

    Some things have changed (I suspect that the problems about finding lodging have mostly been solved, we’ve gotten right of “for whites only” signs, and it’s possible to vote in Mississippi (mostly)).

    Some stuff hasn’t changed: Police brutality (though I suspect it’s much more egalitarian than it used to be), Basic mobility from smaller ghetto to larger one (similarly more egalitarian), and “nothing for which to vote” probably fully remains a problem too.


      • There’s some of that, but mostly it’s due to the fact that, to use police brutality as an example, the beatdowns are no longer likely to be racist police beatdowns. They’re just police beatdowns.


        • I see. I’m sure SOME police beatdowns are still motivated by racism, but they probably aren’t ordered by police and elected leaders.

          I’d be curious (and certainly don’t know) if the types of police beatdowns we see now are a relatively recent phenomenon or they were happening all along.


  3. Interesting side note as I was driving around listening to talk radio. Every talk radio host of the several I heard snippets of (Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, Larson, Taft) were all making the exact claim using identically worded arguments: that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a social conservative fighting for traditional values, and whose main message was a warning to people about liberalism, progressive politics and affirmative action. It appears that the far right has finally embraced Dr. King – albeit in their own wacky, revisionist way.

    Since a decade or so ago all of these exact people used MLK day to say he was Communist, speculate about his extra-marital affairs and claim that his mission was to make sure black people had more “special” rights than white people, I took this new development as a sign of some kind of progress.


      • I had not seen this. It’s an interesting and true argument: If blacks had been given all the same property rights and Constitutional rights on day 1 as whites, slavery would indeed probably not have existed.

        On an equally insightful note, I think if the Seahawks had scored more points than the Falcons last week they probably would have played in this week’s championship game.


      • But it’s also true that slavery wouldn’t have worked with armed blacks, and was in part ended by armed blacks. Southern legislatures and judges had to dance around the 2nd Amendment and argue that blacks weren’t “people” and thus could be disarmed, and the entire South went nuts after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the point of which was to provide blacks with military arms.

        The Civil Rights movement itself may well have failed if the blacks hadn’t shown sufficient defensive firepower down South. An oral history of Mississippi’s struggle mentioned a Klan attack with a couple of avenues of approach against a gathering place, and after being driven back under heavy fire they returned to town and said, “We not going to go back out there no more. Them n****rs got all kinds of machine guns out there.” Non-violence meant no retributions, it didn’t mean being unarmed victims of Klansmen and law enforcement run amok.


        • The “armed blacks” were called the Union Army.
          The South didn’t have to dance around squat. They didn’t see blacks as people in any way. They were open about. They were proud of White Supremacy.
          The South had been terrified about armed blacks since at least Nat Turner.
          Do you have a cite for that history in Miss?
          Being armed didn’t help blacks at the Colfax massacre.


          • Yeah, I agree. I’m not sure that actually armed blacks were a significant factor in the resolution of these conflicts. But potentially armed “slaves” certainly seemed like a constitutive part of perpetuating the conflicts.


          • Cite.

            Plenty of black civil rights leaders talk about their riflemen who stayed in the background at the marches, staying in the distance to provide overwatch, obvious to the police but not in any way providing a provocation. Non-violent didn’t mean unarmed, and the arms were there to make sure a massacre or some selected killings didn’t take place as soon as the cameras disappeared.


    • Every talk radio host of the several I heard snippets of (Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, Larson, Taft) were all making the exact claim using identically worded arguments

      Whoever writes their stuff must be the most frustrated ghostwriter in the world.


    • People tend to forget MLK’s stance against the Vietnam War or his Poor People’s Campaign. It’s almost endearing, to see the right wing gasbags now attempt to embrace Dr. King as one of their own. Dr. King read Karl Marx and was never a big capitalist.

      Karl Marx, the German philosopher, once stated that capitalism carries the seed of its own destruction. There is an obvious fallacy in that statement. The fallacy lies in its own limitation. He speaks of capitalism as if it is the only social institution that carries the seed of its own destruction. The actual fact is that every social institution carries the seed of its own destruction, its survival depends on the way the seed is nourished. Therefore, just as every social institution carries the seed of its own destruction it also carries the seed of its own perpetuation.

      Now after admitting that there is a definite fallacy in Marx’ statement, do we find any truth therein? It is my opinion that we do. I am convinced that capitalism has seen its best days in America and not only America but in the entire world. It is a well-known fact that not social institution can survive after it has outlived its usefulness. This capitalism has failed to do. It has failed to meet the needs of the masses.

      Strikes and labor troubles are but surface indications of the deep dissatisfaction and distress in this country. There is a definite revolt by, what Marx calls, “the proletariat” against “the bourgeoisie”. Every where we turn we hear the demand for socialized medicine. In fact, what is more socialistic than the income tax, the TVA or the NRB? What will eventually happen is this: labor will become so powerful (that was certainly evinced in the recent election) that she will be able to place a president in the White House. This will in all probability bring about a nationalization of industry. This will be the end of capitalism.

      What will the new movement be called in America? I must admit I don’t know. It might well be called socialism, communism or socialist democracy. But what does it matter anyway, “a rose called by a different name smells just as sweet.” The point is that we will have a definite change. Capitalism finds herself like a losing football team in the last quarter trying all types of tactics to survive. We are losing because we failed to check our weaknesses at the beginning of the game.

      [signed] M L King

      It’s horribly amusing, in a way, to see the Conservatives try to embrace Dr. King. If they had the foggiest idea what he really stood for, they’d shoot him again, given half a chance.


      • If you read his actual speech, you’d see that it’s about defeating communism, and the people it outraged were liberals. LBJ disinvited him to the White House because of it.


        • Well, there’s your problem. His famous speech “Beyond Vietnam” is very, very long, both a call to action against communism, yet a call to fight it effectively with offensive action on other fronts, recapturing our revolutionary spirit instead of blowing stuff up and antagonizing people. He could’ve been a speechwriter for George W Bush, and during the period when he was questioning the war, it was his fellow Southerners, right-wing Jacksonians, who were also questioning it, as it seemed to have no strategy and no real objectives.


          • George, first, Blaise’s quote is not from “Beyond Vietnam.” Second, I find it almost painfully inconceivable that anyone would read “Beyond Vietnam” as a call to action against communism. It is not, quite obviously, a call to action ?towards communism, and it does say, towards the end, that if we want to avoid communism there is a better way to do it than with mines, napalm, and the cheapening of the lives of the American, and the Vietnamese, and the Cambodian, and the Peruvian, and the Venezuelan, and the Laotian poor. But it is not an anti-communist speech, it is an anti-war speech, and calling it a “call to action against communism” is so to miss the point by such a wide margin that you can’t possibly have read it. It’s no wonder, then, that you’d mistake the words Blaise quoted for words from that speech.


            • Also, from another great speech by Martin Luther King Jr.:

              What I’m saying to you this morning is that Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the Kingdom of Brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of Communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.

              Not a communist? Not a capitalist? It’s no wonder, George, that people in this country can’t wrap their minds around his politics. He doesn’t fit into either of the two categories that, for all too many of us, define the entire political universe.

              Dr. King was, to me, of the best political bent: an anti-materialist. One can’t be a capitalist or a communist without being a materialist.


            • Oh, I’d venture that most people in this country wrapped their minds around his politics quite easily, since it was the same politics they heard from the pulpit every Sunday, talk about the kingdom of God that generally goes in one ear and out the other. Finding a minister who supported dropping fire on villagers, well, now that would be hard.

              Before the anti-war protests got massive and expanded to include free-love, free-drugs, and pictures of Mao and Uncle Ho, the people questioning the war tended to be the Jacksonians (Southerners), who looked at the reports coming out of Vietnam and didn’t see any viable war-fighting method, strategy, or goal. What they saw was Johnson mucking around, using our military to make some sort of social statement, as if fighting was far more important than winning, so much so that “winning” wasn’t even a word in their lexicon.

              To people who’d seen WW-I, WW-II, and Korea, what was going on in Vietnam was both confusing and disturbing. We weren’t liberating people, weren’t rolling into Hanoi to put a stop to the nonsense, and nobody seemed to be able to say exactly what it was that we were trying to accomplish. Their position toward the war shifted once the protests got massive, willing to support almost anything the hippies opposed.

              The Army War College and Marine Corps University both agree that the Vietnam War was a screw-up from top to bottom, and Harry Summers’ “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War” became required reading.

              In light of all that, Dr. King wasn’t really saying anything that almost every Southern minister wasn’t already in part thinking. Capitalism isn’t in the gospels, but totalitarian communism certainly isn’t God’s plan, either, and oh, by the way our team sucks and we need to fire the coach if we’re going to beat Auburn.


              • In light of all that, Dr. King wasn’t really saying anything that almost every Southern minister wasn’t already in part thinking.

                Something he basically says at the beginning of the speech you reference. His point is that it’s time to stop thinking and start speaking, and acting (e.g., his call for ministers to become contentious objectors).

                I reread the speech for the first time in I don’t know how many years, today as I was eating lunch. I have to admit, having now reread it, I find your initial statements about it even more baffling than I did when I was just trying to remember what it said.


              • Let me try to unbaffle my statement a little bit. What Dr. King urged for defeating communism was what actually ended up working. They had to all realize that under our system, people were both wealthy and free, while under their system they stayed poor and oppressed. It’s the same basic approach that Reagan took to defeat Soviet communism and win the Cold War. Dr. King made plain that the Vietnam War was making us appear neither wealthy or free, nor appear to be a country anyone would want to be associated with, much less aspire to emulate.

                During a time when many radicals were pushing communism, Dr. King not only didn’t endorse it in his speech, he said such people were the result of allowing social inequalities to fester. He argued that we had to understand their perspective. Reagan took the same approach.

                Martin Luther King talked about communism quite a lot. Here are some things he said:

                Man becomes hardly more, in communism, than a depersonalized cog in the turning wheel of the state. This deprecation of individual freedom was objectionable to me. I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God.

                Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Man must never be treated as a means to the end of the state, but always as an end within himself.

                As he told Dan Rather while on Front Line, “Communism is based on an ethical relativism, a metaphysical materialism, a denial of human freedom and a crippling totalitarianism that I could never accept. The only person that they identified that had any connection with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was removed. He’s been off of my staff a long long time.”

                Rather: “Well this places you in the direct opposite position of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, who gave testimony recently to the contrary.”

                MLK: “I would hope that the FBI would come out and say something that I think is much more significant, and that is that it is amazing that so few negroes have turned to communism in the light of their desperate plight. I think it is one of the amazing developments of the 20th century, how loyal the negro has remained to America in spite of his long night of oppression and discrimination.”


                • You’re not quite out of the weeds yet. I only said Dr. King wasn’t so big on capitalism. Dr. King didn’t think the Vietnam War would defeat Communism. Here’s what he said, every word of which was God’s honest truth, April 4, 1967:

                  Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the NLF, but rather to my fellow Americans, who, with me, bear the greatest responsibility in ending a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

                  The Importance of Vietnam
                  Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

                  Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.


                • George, if you’re going to quote from his autobiography, you should probably include the rest of the paragraph that you only started with your last sentence there.

                  And again, to read “Beyond Vietnam” as a call to action against communism is absurd. He was opposed to communism, and materialism generally. Big surprise.


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