A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is recognized internationally for his peaceful fight for racial equality. He not only fought for the rights of African-Americans; he spoke out against poverty, inequality, and injustice all over the world. At a time when the movement for civil rights was becoming increasingly radical and leaders were calling for more aggressive tactics, King held fast to the use of passive resistance. Like his influence, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. will always be remembered for his courage and commitment to peace.
Origins of Martin Luther King
Michael King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929. He and his father would later adopt the name Martin Luther after the founder of the Lutheran religion. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother was a schoolteacher. Both parents instilled in him the values of spirituality and education. In his early school years, King proved to be a gifted student and enjoyed sports.
After graduating Morehouse college in 1948 with a B.A. in Sociology, King enrolled in the Crozer Theological Seminary and became an ordained minister in the same year. He was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1953. In addition to studying at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, he eventually earned a Doctorate of Philosophy. He would go on to be awarded several different honorary doctorates by colleges and universities in several different countries just after the answering service became popular.
In 1953 King married Coretta Scott. The couple had four children together. It was also around this time that King became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He was heavily influenced by Ghandi’s ideas passive resistance and first came to national attention during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Despite violence directed toward him, he continued to lead peaceful protests in the fight for civil rights.
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. led 250,000 people of all races in the March on Washington. It was a peaceful demonstration and the site of Martin Luther King’s speech for his dream of racial equality.
- A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. – A fairly extensive biography from the Biography Channel
- Martin Luther King, Jr. for Kids – A biography written for children
“I 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.
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 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 their captivity.
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 languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve 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 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 the unalienable 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 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. And 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 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 quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. 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. And 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 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 great 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 the 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 northern 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. And 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 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 injustice, 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; 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 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 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 stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the 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 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.
And 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 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 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 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!”
- I Have a Dream Speech: Text, audio, and video of the speech
Impact of the Speech
As a quarter million people stood riveted by his words, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of optimistic peace, while demanding justice and equality. He delivered the speech powerfully and with passion. For the United States Civil Rights Movement, the speech was a turning point. It refreshed the movement and gave it a stronger focus. The speech itself became the summation of the March on Washington. Prior to the March, officials were nervous about the potential violence a march on such a grand scale could bring. The feeling was that racial tensions might be heightened and public support for the Civil Rights Movements might be harmed. Instead, King delivered a speech about hope for the races standing together in peace. As the multiracial crowd stood before him, it seemed like those dreams might one day become a reality. For the rest of the world, the speech is considered a rhetorical masterpiece, considered one of the most important speeches of the 20th century.
- Memories of the Speech: Recollections of people on hearing the speech for the first time
- The Dream of Equality: The impact of the speech inside and outside the US
Martin Luther King Jr. was a great orator and left a legacy of memorable and inspirational writings and speeches. The speech in which he shared his dream of a racially harmonious future is the one that is studied all over the world, and continues to inspire new generations.