" I have a dream...
I have a dream that one day 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"
On January 20th Americans
across the country will celebrate the national holiday honoring the life
and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As they have since 1994,
thousands of Americans remembered Dr. King by serving in their
communities-- by making the holiday "a day ON, not a day off."
During his lifetime, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to forge the common ground on which people from all walks of life could join together as equals to address important community issues. Service, he realized, was the great equalizer. As he once said, "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."
This January you can be great because you can serve! Join thousands of Americans across the country who are honoring the life and work of Dr. King by serving their community on the King holiday.
Martin Luther King, Jr.Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta Georgia. His father was the minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, as was his father before him
"M.L.," as he was called, lived with his parents, his sister and brother in Atlanta Ga. Their home was not far from the church his father preached at
M.L.'s mother and father taught their children what would become an important part of M.L.'s life - to treat all people with respect. Martin's father worked hard to break down the barriers between the races. His father believed African-Americans should register their complaints by voting
As M.L. grew up he found that not everyone followed his parents principles. He noticed that "black" people and white people where treated differently. He saw that he and his white friends could not drink from the same water fountains and could not use the same restrooms
M.L.'s best friend as a child was a white boy and as children they played happily together. But when they reached school age the friends found that even though they lived in the same neighborhood, they could not go to the same school. M.L.'s friend would go to a school for white children only and M.L. was sent to a school for "black" children. After the first day of school M.L. and his friend were never allowed to play together again
When M.L. was ready for college he decided to follow his father and become a minister. While attending the Crozer Theological seminary in Pennsylvania he became familiar with Mahatma Gandhi, who had struggled to free the people of India from British rule by "peaceful revolution"
M.L. was also inspired by the work of Henry David Thoreau, particularly his essay called "Civil Disobedience." It stated that if enough people would follow their conscience and disobey unjust laws, they could bring about a peaceful revolution
It was also at college that M.L. met a young woman named Coretta Scott and they would eventually marry. In 1954 M.L. received his PhD. and accepted the job of pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama
Martin Luther King, Jr. would now be addressed as "Dr. King"
Dr. King's involvement with the civil rights movement began with the arrest of Mrs. Rosa Parks on December 1st , 1955. Mrs. Parks, a African-American seamstress on her way home from work, was arrested for not giving a white bus rider her seat. Mrs. Parks was not the first African-American to be arrested for this "crime", but she was well known in the Montgomery African-American community
Dr. King and the other African-American community leaders felt a protest was needed. The African-American residents of the city were asked to boycott the bus company by walking and driving instead. The United States Supreme Court would end the boycott, which lasted 381 days, by declaring that Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on buses were illegal. The boycott was a success and Dr. King had showed that peaceful mass action could bring about change
In January 1957 the Souther Christian Leadership Conference (SCLSC) was formed with Dr. King as their president. The following May 17, Dr. King would lead a mass march of 37,000 people to the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC
Dr. King had become the undisputed leader of the civil rights movement
Partly in response to the march, on September 9, 1957, the US Congress created the Civil Rights Commission and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, an official body with the authority to investigate voting irregularities
Dr. King and the SCLC organized drives for African-American voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. Dr. King continued to speak. He went to many cities and towns. He was greeted by crowds of people who wanted to hear him speak. He said all people have the right to equal treatment under the law. Many people believed in these civil rights and worked hard for them
Dr. King was asked constantly to speak. So in order to spend more time with his family he wrote his first book, Stride Toward Freedom which was a success. While signing copies of his book in Harlem, NY an African-American woman stepped forward and plunged a letter opener into Dr. King's chest. Dr. King recovered from his wound and the woman was eventually declared insane
In February 1959 Dr. and Mrs. King went to India, the homeland of Mahatma Ghandi,. In India Dr. King studied Satyagraha, Gandhi's principle of nonviolent persuasion. Dr. King was determined to use Satyagraha as his main instrument of social protest
After his return to America, Dr. King returned home to Atlanta, Ga. where he shared the ministerial duties of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father. The move also brought Dr. King closer to the center of the growing civil rights movement
In January 1963 Dr. King announced he and the Freedom Fighters would go to Birmingham to fight the segregation laws. An injunction was issued forbidding any demonstrations and Dr. King and the others were arrested
Upon his release there were more peaceful demonstrations. The police retaliated with water hoses, tear gas and dogs. All this happened in the presence of television news cameras. It would be the first time the world would see the brutality that the southern African-Americans endured. The news coverage would help bring about changes as many Americans were disgusted and ashamed by the cruelty and hatred
Continuing the fight for civil rights and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, on August 28, 1963 200,000 people gathered in the front to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a peaceful protest, made up of African-Americans and whites, young and old. Most had come to hear Dr. King deliver his famous "I have a dream" speech
1964 would be a good year for Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Dr. King was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as someone who "had contributed the most to the furtherance of peace among men." Dr. King would divide the prize money, $54,000, among various civil rights organizations
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. It guaranteed that "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination"
In the winter of 1965 Dr. King lead a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery to demand voting reforms. 600 marchers would begin the march but after 6 blocks the marchers were met by a wall of state troupers. When the troopers with clubs, whips and tear gas advanced on the marchers it was described "as a battle zone." The marchers were driven back while on the sidewalks whites cheered. 2 ministers, 1 white and 1 African-American, were killed and over 70 were injured with 17 hospitalized. It was the most violent confrontation Dr. King had experienced
A court order overturning the injunction against the march was issued and the marchers were allowed to proceed. When they arrived in Montgomery the marchers were greeted by 25,00 supporters singing 'We Shall Overcome." On August 6, 1965 a voting rights bill was passed allowing African-Americans to vote
Dr. King believed that poverty caused much of the unrest in America. Not only poverty for African-Americans, but poor whites, Hispanics and Asians. Dr. King believed that the United States involvement in Vietnam was also a factor and that the war poisoned the atmosphere of the whole country and made the solution of local problems of human relations unrealistic
This caused friction between King and the African-American leaders who felt that their problems deserved priority and that the African-American leadership should concentrate on fighting racial injustice at home. But by early 1967 Dr. King had become associated with the antiwar movement
Dr. King continued his campaign for world peace. He traveled across America to support and speak out about civil rights and the rights of the underprivileged
In April 1968 Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee to help the sanitation workers who were on strike. On April 3rd Dr. King would give what would be his last speech:
"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I have been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord"
The following day, April 4 1968, as he was leaving his motel room Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed.
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 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 one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacle 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.
In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great 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 to 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, a check that 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 security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not 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 promise 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 quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of it's colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three 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.
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 there 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. We must ever 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. 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 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 white 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.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions 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 modern 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, that 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.
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 that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
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.
I have a dream today.
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; that one day right down 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.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains 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 will 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 climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
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 father's 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 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 snow-capped 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 every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
And when this happens, when we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement 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 spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
Each year on the third Monday of January schools, federal offices, post office and banks across America close as we celebrate the birth, the life and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is a time for the nation to remember the injustices that Dr. King fought. A time to remember his fight for the freedom, equality, and dignity of all races and peoples. A time to remember the message of change through nonviolence.
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