Martin Luther King (3)



Photos: Wikipedia, public domain.

The text of this speech has been simplified for English Language Learners.


“I Have a Dream”

First read this famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King and then write down the sentences that mean the most to you.

I am happy to join with you today in what will be one of the greatest days for freedom in the history of our nation.

     One hundred ago, a great American, President Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation [the law that gave Negro slaves freedom]. This important decree [official order] came as a great light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been burned in the fire of injustice [no justice; not fair or right]. The law that gave Negroes freedom came as a joyous new day to end the long night of their captivity [slavery].

     But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly hurt and held back by the chains of segregation [laws that kept black and white people separate] and the chains of discrimination [treating people badly because of their race, age, religion, or sex]. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty [an island where everyone is poor], an island in the middle of a huge ocean of material riches. One hundred years later, the Negro is still put in the corners of American society and finds himself not wanted in his own land.

     So we’ve come here today to make clear a shameful [full of shame] condition. We’ve come to our nation’s capital to be given what we were told was ours. When the builders of our country wrote the magnificent [wonderful, strong, beautiful] words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they promised every American, black men and white men, that we would have rights that could not be taken from us or changed: life, liberty, and happiness.

     It is clear today that America has not given these rights to her citizens of color. America has given the Negro people a bad check [a piece of paper that says it is worth so much money; but it is worth nothing]. You have told us that you don’t have enough money or enough opportunities for us; only for white people. But we will not believe that the “bank” of justice [justice: doing what is right and fair] is bankrupt [empty; does not have enough rights for all people]. We will not believe that there is not enough opportunity in this nation for everyone. And so we have come to ask for what is ours; to demand the riches of freedom and justice.

     We have also come to this holy place [the Lincoln memorial] to remind America of the great need to act now. This is no time to think change can come slowly. Now is the time to make the promises of democracy real for all people. Now is the time to rise from the dark and lonely valley of separation between white people and black people to the path where we can all walk in the sunlight of justice. Now is the time to keep our nation from being pulled down by its unfair laws and to stand together the solid rock of being brothers. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It means death for our nation to go on like it is now. This hot summer of the Negro’s unhappiness will not pass until there is a fresh autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three (the year 1963) is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro just wanted to complain and will now be happy, they will shocked if the nation goes on like before. There will not be rest or peace and calm in America until the Negro is given his citizenship rights. The storms of revolt [actions against the government] will continue until the bright day of justice comes.


Minnesota Historical Society

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society



1) Dr. King used the words “I have a dream” in many speeches.

2) One of Dr. King’s top advisors (who helped him with his speeches) told him that his “I have a dream” speech was not at all good and that he should write a new speech.

3) The original [1st] title to the talk was, “Normalcy — Never Again.” 

4) There were 9 speakers who gave speeches before Dr. King. It was so late by the time  he spoke that many people had already left.

5) President Kennedy was amazed at how good the speech was, but the director of the FBI said two days later that Dr. king was the most dangerous Negro in America and a threat to the country’s safety.

6) The speech is now taught in almost all U.S. history classes and there is now a national holiday celebrating Dr. King’s life.

BUT there is something that I must say to my people, who wait at the door that leads into the house of justice. In the process of gaining our rights, we must not be found doing bad and wrong things. Let us not try to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever struggle [work for] justice on the high ground of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our protests to fall into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the high ground of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy [fighting for justice], that has come to the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. Many of our white brothers, as you can see by their presence here today, have come to understand that their future is part of our future. Our white brothers have come to see that their freedom can never be separated from our freedom. We cannot walk alone. We must walk together. We cannot turn back.

     There are people who are asking us who are devoted to Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied [happy]?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as we are not allowed to travel and stay in motels along the road. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s hope of progress is only from a small ghetto [the poorest, worst part of a city] to a larger ghetto. We can never be satisfied as long as our children’s selfhood and dignity are stolen by signs that say, “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing to vote for. No! no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice and righteousness [right doing] are like a mighty stream [strong, full river of water].”

     I know that some of you have come here because your lives are very, very difficult.  Some of you have come from jail cells. Some of you have come because your hope for freedom has left you hit hard by the storms of persecution [harmed because of your race].  You have been blown over by the winds of police brutality [terrible physical harm done to black people by white police]. You have been the victims of great suffering. Continue to work with the faith [hope] that unjust suffering has its reward. 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 remain in the valley of despair [a place with no hope].

     I say to you today, my friends, 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 promise, “We hold these truths to be self-evident [completely clear], that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day the sons of slaves and the sons of slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table like brothers. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state dying in the heat of injustice, dying in the heat of oppression [being kept down], will be changed into a beautiful garden 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 that one day down in Alabama — with its violent racists [people who hate people of a different race or color], with its Governor whose mouth is full of words of hatred — that 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 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 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.”  [Here Dr. King is quoting words from the Bible that say, “People who are humble and low will be lifted up. People who are strong and proud will be put down. Places that are rocky and not straight, will be made smooth and straight; easy to walk on. And the glory [goodness] of God will be shown to everyone together.”]

     This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to make out of the mountain of despair [hopelessness] a strong place of hope.  With this faith we will be able to change the awful sounds of hatred into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood [living like brothers]. 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 when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every small town, 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.”

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World, ed. James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: Harper, 1986), 102-106.


Before we finish this lesson, let’s think about what these words mean: 

Again and again we must rise to the high ground of meeting physical force with soul force.

     Not only great leaders, but many ordinary people, have wanted to change their country peacefully, without using physical force [fighting people, using guns, or destroying homes and cities]. But when someone wants to hurt you physically [when they want to harm your body, or kill you] it is very, very hard not to fight back.  Dr. King said that the only way to meet physical force was to be stronger than it. But he did not mean physically stronger. He meant that people had to be stronger inside. 

     There are many examples of this. Mahatma Gandhi’s life and Nelson Mandela’s life. But there are also examples of the actions of ordinary people:  People standing along the main street of their city and singing their country’s songs when foreign tanks arrive.  //  People going up to soldiers occupying [living in] their cities and putting a flower in the end of their guns.  //  Grandmothers going up to soldiers and scolding them [like when a mother tells her child to stop doing something wrong]. Many times in history simple grandmothers have stopped the action of soldiers by speaking to them like their mothers and telling them to act like human beings and go home!  

      One of the most famous examples of moral courage [the strong love of truth a person uses to fight against what is wrong] is the example of a Chinese man.  He walked out in front of four huge tanks as they were going to the main square [center] in Beijing, China to fire on students who were standing peacefully in the square demanding more freedom for their country. The young man was only able to stop the tanks for a very short time, but he did something much more that day. No has ever been able to forget the “soul force” [his moral courage] that stopped the tanks.  The young man proved that “soul force” will never stop. Nothing can kill it.  There will be more and more people who use this force until physical force comes to an end.  


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