The event, which was sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Martin Luther King III and the NAACP, featured a roster of speakers, including King, Sharpton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. They spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where 50 years ago this month King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Many of the speakers addressed race relations in optimistic terms, describing America’s progress as encouraging but incomplete, but they also delved at times into more controversial fare…
Martin Luther King III paid tribute to his father’s legacy. “Five decades ago my father stood upon this hallowed spot” and “crystallized like never before the painful pilgrimage and aching aspirations of African-Americans yearning to breathe free.”
King’s message was not a “lament” or a “diatribe,” his son said, but a call to action – and a reminder that the work always goes on.
“The task is not done, the journey is not complete,” he said. “The vision preached by my father a half-century ago was that his four little children would no longer live in a nation where they would judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. However, sadly, the tears of Trayvon Martin’s mother and father remind us that, far too frequently, the color of one’s skin remains a license to profile, to arrest and to even murder with no regard for the content of one’s character,” he said, calling for “stand your ground” self-defense laws to be repealed in states where they have been enacted. …
King also slammed the Supreme Court for having “eviscerated” voting rights protections, calling for citizens to “fight back boldly” to restore those rights. …
Rep. Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the original march, urged Saturday’s audience to continue marching on behalf of equality. “Fifty years later, we cannot wait, we cannot be patient,” he said. “We want our jobs and we want our freedom now … we cannot give up. We cannot give out.”
He reserved particular outrage for the recent high court decision on voting rights. “I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for that right to vote,” he said, referencing the police brutality against civil rights demonstrators in Selma in 1965. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”
His message to Congress, which has mulled adjustments to voting laws in the wake of the court decision: “Fix the Voting Rights Act.”
Mayor Booker, a Democrat and rising African-American political star who is seeking a Senate seat in New Jersey, noted that he was not alive during the original march, urging his younger generation to remember that their freedoms were “bought by the struggles and the sacrifices and the work of those who came before.” … He cautioned the audience against becoming “dumb, fat and happy, thinking that we have achieved freedom. There is still work to do,” Booker said, naming gun violence, discrimination in the justice system and the continuing effects of poverty as issues in need of redress.
Eric Holder, whose Justice Department has led the charge against voting restrictions in states across the country, emphasized the need to protect the rights of eligible citizens to vote “unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules or practices.”
Holder, the first African-American attorney general, credited the work of civil rights activists of the past 50 years with President Obama’s election and his own ascension to the top of the Justice Department.
“Those who marched on Washington in 1963 had taken a long and difficult road,” he said. “As we gather today, 50 years later, their march is now our march, and it must go on.”
In today’s America, Holder noted, the march for justice has broadened to include women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and others.
Indeed, despite the abiding focus on race in America, several speakers managed to sneak in a plug on behalf of a variety of progressive [liberal] causes. Women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, climate change, public education, organized labor, gun violence, immigration reform, student loan debt forgiveness – all received an airing during the speeches…
After the speakers concluded, the rally was scheduled march east from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was dedicated in 2011. This is the first memorial on the National Mall dedicated to an individual who wasn’t a former president. From there, the crowd proceeded to the Washington Memorial before dispersing.
Despite the fanfare of Saturday’s rally, which packed the mall from the Lincoln Memorial back to the World War II Memorial, it was only a prelude. The actual anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington will occur on Wednesday, and it will be marked by another rally on the mall, including a speech from President Obama.
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NOTE: Today’s “Daily News Article” is a little unusual in that it does not just provide questions on a news story (the commemorations taking place this week), but requires students to use original source material to gain an understanding of why Dr. King’s speech was so important.
Before answering the questions, read the speech under “Background” AND watch the speech and check out the “Resources” below.
1. What did the observations made by MLK’s son, Rep. John Lewis and Cory Booker about the state of racial equality in America have in common?
2. Do you think Dr. King would share this viewpoint? Why or why not?
3. “Dr. King was a uniter, not a divider.” Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer.
4. What is the most important thing to remember about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech?
5. Toward the end of his speech, Dr. King said: “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.” What bible passage was Dr. King quoting? (Answer found at the bottom of “Resources”)
NOTE: “Answers by Email” will resume September 3rd. Sign-up now.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I HAVE A DREAM” Speech
Delivered August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.
(Text version below transcribed directly from audio.)
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.”
Watch a video of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech below:
View the original program for the 1963 March on Washington: todaysdocument.tumblr.com/post/59192681428/official-program-for-the-march-on-washington-50.
On the 50th anniversary in 2013, the King Center urges all Americans to hold bell ringing events:
For information on the weeklong events commemorating Dr. King’s speech, go to: officialmlkdream50.com.
Learn more about how Dr. King was honored in his lifetime and beyond:
- Read about Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize at: nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-bio.html
- Visit the U.S. National Parks Service website for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, birthplace of Dr. King, in Atlanta, Georgia at: nps.gov/malu/index.htm.
- Have you read about/seen the Martin Luther King Jr. national memorial sculpture that was dedicated in 2011 in Washington D.C.? Visit the website for the memorial at:
- In 2012, all of Dr. King’s papers were made available in digital format. Go to thekingcenter.org/archive to view these over 200,000 documents.
Did you know?…
At the White House Rose Garden on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor Dr. King. Observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, it is called Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Following President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 proclamation, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year, near the time of King’s birthday. On January 17, 2000, for the first time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially observed in all fifty U.S. states. (from wikipedia.org) The National Holiday in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor is celebrated in all 50 states and over 100 countries around the world.
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.
Answer to question #4: Dr. King was quoting Isaiah 40:4, (also referenced in Luke 3:5) which reads:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth;
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”