“…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.”
50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered a speech at what he correctly called “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” It’s fitting that today, on the day set aside to honor Martin Luther King Jr., our first African-American president will begin his second term. It’s one more step toward the realization of Dr. King’s dream, a realization that’s drawn ever closer but is still very much a work in progress.
Since that August day in 1963 when 300,000 people gathered on the National Mall for the March on Washington, the “I Have A Dream” speech has entered our country’s literary canon. It’s become a part of America’s collective memory. We’ve read the quotes often, heard the soundbites repeated. Today, take a moment to watch the speech in its entirety.
Speaking 100 years (“Five score years ago”) after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. King builds on that and a series of other timeless documents.
He references the Gettysburg address, and in turn quotes from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal” and “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
He revisits Shakespeare: “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent”
He cites verses from the Bible: “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain”
Dr. King’s speech ends with the words of two songs representing America’s shared history, both white and black.
From Samuel Francis Smith’s patriotic anthem “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee“ he proclaims “Let freedom ring!”
From the refrain of an old Negro spiritual he shouts “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
The weight of all this history combines to create something greater, something lasting. Spoken with an unwavering strength of oration, the phrases King repeats encapsulate the meaning of his speech. One hundred years later. Now is the time. We cannot be satisfied. We can never be satisfied. Go back. I have a dream. With this faith. Let freedom ring. Free at last.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 84 last week. Today, his speech remains as applicable as it did 50 years ago. Now in a country where great progress has been made, racial and economic inequality still exists. Take a moment to remember Dr. King’s words and reflect on them.
“If America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”