Posted by: twotrees | January 17, 2012

Breaking Down ‘I Have a Dream”

  Every January, I revisit the written and spoke words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King, who changed the landscape of human rights in the United States, accomplished much during his brief arc of life, which ended in assassination at a hotel in Memphis, 1968.

Today I revisit his most famous public address, the “I have a Dream’ speech, given in August of 1063.  At that time, the United States was wrestling with the notion of equality for all.   Many in the land wold not, could not accept such thinking.  Some brave men and women, would not rest until a major change occurred.  A leader in that struggle, Dr. King was a powerful voice, but more than that, he was a man of action, organizing  marches, leading boycotts and experiencing incarceration all following a nonviolent methods borrowed from India’s spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi.

I Have A Dream speech

In this speech, King prepared roughly 2/3 of the text, the last five minutes appear to be freeform rhetoric.  Some of my favorite passages include:

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER EMANCIPATION

But one hundred 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, the Negro 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.

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

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.” 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.

THE URGENCY OF NOW

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 of God’s children.

THE HIGH PLANE OF DIGNITY

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.

WHEN WILL YOU BE SATISFIED?

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, 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 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 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.

THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER

I have a dream 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.

Today we honor this ordinary man who did great things.  All the other days, let’s honor ourselves by living in the spirit of his words and actions, so as to make a better world for everyone.

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