Not so many 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 human 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 human being is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the human being is still sadly crippled by the manacles of corporations and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the human being lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, we are still languishing in the corners of society and find ourselves an exile on our own planet.
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. And so, we’ve 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 materialism, to the sunlit path of social justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of societies injustices to the solid rock of freedom. 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 Americans legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Two thousand and eleven is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that we human beings needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until we are given back our 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 our nation must not lead us to a distrust of all corporations, for many of our corporate friends, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their 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 human rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as we human beings are the victim of the unspeakable horrors of corporate brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of work, cannot gain suitable lodgings in which to house our families, living without fear of re possession.
We cannot be satisfied as long as our basic mobility is from a smaller place to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “No Work Here.” We cannot be satisfied as long as an American in Mississippi no longer wishes to vote, and an American in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote for. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹
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. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of corporate injustice. You have been the veterans of great suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And 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 human beings are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day all over the world, people of all races and cultures will be able to sit down together at the table and be as one.
I have a dream that one day even China, a country 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 our little children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the money that they have but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
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.”2
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back into the world 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.
And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of earths 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 father’s 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 China.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of Russia.
Let freedom ring from the heightening aspirations of all Malaysians.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the sweeping deserts of Saudi Arabia.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from the Stony Mountains of Afghanistan.
Let freedom ring from poverty stricken hearts of Africa.
Let freedom ring from every company, country, and mind.
From every human being, let freedom ring.