Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
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.
This will come as no surprise that I’m a proponent of Affirmative Action. However, lest you think I believe in Affirmative Action because I’m some kind of fuzzy headed 60’s flower child liberal do-gooder with more ideals than sense, be aware that my interest in Affirmative Action is purely selfish in nature.
It is my opinion that while this nation is one where most of the wealth and power is held in the hands of one race, and one race alone, it will never be great. It can never hope to be great. It will always limp along in its own blind self-image of greatness, smug in the belief that great power deserves great respect; yet most of the people of this world, and too many in this country, see the United States as the ultimate hypocrite — the land that calls itself equal when it is anything but.
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 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 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.
I was disappointed but not surprised when President Bush decided to throw the power of the White House against the University of Michigan’s admissions policy, one in which factors such as ethnicity, neighborhood, and economic status can influece a person’s admission into the University. President Bush says using race as a factor in college admissions is unconstitutional.
I agree. But since race has been a factor in college admissions for hundreds of years in this country, I think it’s only fair to continue this practice until everyone has had a chance to play. After all, Bush himself benefited by this unconstitutional application of race, and the connections to power and wealth, in his own entrance to Yale.
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.
My interest in Affirmative Action is purely selfish. I believe that if blacks had been freed when the immortal words, “All men are created equal” were written, we would have a different country today. And if blacks had been treated with respect and given opportunities several hundred years ago, instead of only the last few decades, we would have a better country today.
If blacks had been allowed to become doctors, we might have cures now for cancer. If blacks had been allowed to become scientists, we might have fusion power; harnessing the energy of the sun in a safe manner so that even in the cities amidst all the lights we might still see the stars because the skies are free of smog.
We might have less poverty, less crime, more music and art and literature. What plays were unwritten because blacks were not allowed to read or write? What great books have been lost? If we had not denied equal opportunity to so many in this country for so long, we could truly be great today, and no one, no one could deny this. I believe this.
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 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.
Some people say that Affirmative Action is discrimination, a positive discrimination, and I say so what if it is? If the saw that cut me one day is all I have to save my life against the winter cold, can I be blamed for picking it up again to cut wood?
We must use every weapon in this war against the status quo because those who seek to protect the status quo will use every weapon in their power to resist, up to an including the use of the term “discrimination”. How this word must taste of ashes in their mouths.
Blacks make up 13% of the population of this country — this means that 1 out of about 8 people in this country is black. In a truly equal society, then, every profession in this country should have, at least, one black for every eight people. Stand up the next time you’re at your job and look around you? Do you see one black person for every eight employees? I know that in my computer technology field I don’t see this. In fact, I have been at some conferences and among several hundred people attending I’ve not seen one black face. Not one black face.
Don’t believe me? Next time you attend a technology conference, look around you. What do you see? Are there blacks among the attendees? Among the speakers? Or are the only blacks you see those who bus the tables at lunch.
If blacks had not been denied opportunty all those many years ago, where would my field be today? Would we have had computers earlier? Would we still be using keyboards and monitors or would computers be in the air around us, listening for our spoken words and with the ability to display an image in the air in front of us anywhere we are. What could we do? What couldn’t we do.
I have 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.
If our country had been based on tolerance all those years ago when it was born, how much richer as a people would we be now? Would we have fought the wars we fought? Would we be faced with a war in Iraq now? How different would this world be if we had been the first to show that people of different races, and religions, and beliefs could exist side by side in harmony.
We had a choice then and walked down the wrong path and we’ve paid the price and we continue to pay the price and it is a heavy one. Let’s not continue to walk down that path — it’s time for change, true change. The status quo only benefits a few who ask too many of us to die to defend it. I think its time we stop being the pawns and started thinking for ourselves.
I think it’s time we started living up to the ideals that we put into words and song, “The land of the brave, the home of the free.”
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!”
Martin Luther King, Jr. I have a Dream
Happy birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.