Women’s March Day
I (Martin Luther King Jr.) am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
One hundred fifty four years ago, a great American, Abraham Lincoln, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation (that changed the legal status of slaves to free). This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of African American 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 fifty four years later, the African American still is not free. One hundred fifty four years later, the life of the African American is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred fifty four years later, the African American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred fifty four years later, the African American 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 a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital (Washington, DC) to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, 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 and women, yes, black men and women and other genders as well as white men and women and other genders, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (from the Declaration of Independence).
It is obvious today, as it was fifty four years ago, that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the African American people a bad cheque, a cheque 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 of America. So we have come to cash this cheque — a cheque 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 segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This frigid winter of the African American’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating spring of freedom and equality.Two Thousand Seventeen is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the African American 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 African American is granted his or her or their 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 (Martin Luther King’s) 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 the African American community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers and sisters and other gendered persons, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
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 African American is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. 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 African American’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”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a African American in Mississippi cannot vote and a African American 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.
I (Martin Luther King Jr.) 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 of America. 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) say to you today, fifty four years ago, my (Martin Luther King Jr.’s) friends, 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons and daughters and other gendered people of former slaves and the sons and daughters and other gendered people of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brother and sisterhood and other gender people’s hoods.
I (Martin Luther King Jr.) have a dream 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) have a dream that my (Martin Luther King Jr.’s) four grown up 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) have a dream today, fifty four years ago.
I (Martin Luther King Jr.) 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 (Martin Luther King Jr.) have a dream today, fifty four years ago.
I (Martin Luther King Jr.) 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 and other religious deities shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I (Martin Luther King Jr.) 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 and do other things that makes us calm and uplifted together, to struggle together, to go to jail in America together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all 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 slopes 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 molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, 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 children, black men and women and other gendered people and white men and women and other gendered people, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, non-religious and religious people will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old African American spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”