Essays on Moral Courage
"I Have a Dream"
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,
Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28,1963.
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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 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 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

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 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

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.

Iam 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 dream.

Ihave 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.

Ihave 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!"