A Return To King's 'I Have A Dream' Speech

As the nation marks the 80th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth, hear the entire "I Have a Dream" speech.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Many of us are accustomed to hearing clips from Martin Luther King Jr.'s most famous speech on this holiday every January, but this year, we may listen with new ears. The day after observing what would have been Dr. King's 80th birthday, an African-American will take the oath of office as president of the United States. So, let's listen again. On August 28, 1963, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and took the microphone before a crowd of more than 200,000.

(Soundbite of speech, "I Have a Dream," August 28, 1963)

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (Civil Rights Leader): 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 100 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...

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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've 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."

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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...

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: To lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time...

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Dr. KING: 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. 1963 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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 that 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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 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...

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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."

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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 men are created equal.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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...

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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...

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

Dr. KING: 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. 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.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. KING: 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 pilgrims' 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.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Dr. KING: Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Dr. KING: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Dr. KING: From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens...

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Dr. KING: 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!

(Soundbite of crowd cheering, applause)

CONAN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington. Tomorrow on the other end of the National Mall, Barack Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States. Join us tomorrow for a special coverage of the inauguration and the day's events, and we'll get back to our original Opinion Page segment next Monday in this hour. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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