Dr. Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech: Full text

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On a hot summer day in 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators calling for civil rights joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The days event's included speeches from the likes of John Lewis, a civil rights activist who currently serves as a U.S. congressman more than 50 years later, Mrs. Medgar Evers, whose husband had been slain by a segregationist only two months prior, union leader Walter Reuther -- and a performance by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. But it was Dr. King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech that immediately took its place as one of the greatest in U.S. history.

SEE MORE: 8 Martin Luther King Jr. quotes that raise eyebrows instead of sanitizing his legacy

But August 28 was not the first time King had uttered the most famous four words from his remarks that day. He had spoken about his dream during speeches in Birmingham and Detroit earlier that year. His initial drafts did not contain any references to a dream at all, according to his closest advisers.

Before the speech, King allegedly told an aide that he wanted the remarks to be "a Gettysburg Address" of sorts.

Read the full text of the speech as he delivered it that day:

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 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.

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March on Washington 1963
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March on Washington 1963
Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Dr Martin Luther King Jr addresses the crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (aka the Freedom March). (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: Civil rights march on Washington, DC, USA. Procession of African Americans carrying placards demanding equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias. 28 August 1963. Photographer: Warren K Leffler. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
August 1963: Some 200,000 protesters gather to demand equal rights for black Americans on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. Among them are Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) (4th L), A. Philip Randolph (2nd R) as well as Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and Rabbi Joachim Prinz. (Photo by MPI/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Overhead view of the massive crowd assembled on the Mall in front of the Reflecting Pool and between the Lincoln and Washington monuments during the civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. It was at this rally that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Crowd of over 200,000 gathered on Washington Monument (rear) mall for March on Wash. for Jobs & Freedom, during which Martin Luther King delivered I have a dream speech. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
African Americans and demonstrators for equal rights waving signs during March on Washington. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Civil rights Leaders hold hands as they lead a crowd of hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. Those in attendance include (front row): James Meredith and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968), left; (L-R) Roy Wilkins (1901 - 1981), light-colored suit, A. Phillip Randolph (1889 - 1979) and Walther Reuther (1907 - 1970). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
African Americans and demonstrators for equal rights waving signs during March on Washington. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NBC News -- MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM 1968 -- Pictured: Civil Rights activists gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom political rally in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (front row, second from right) stands with other civil rights leaders in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. during the Freedom March for civil rights. August 28, 1963. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
28th August 1963: Crowds gathering in Washington DC for the 'march for jobs and freedom' where Martin Luther King delivered his famous 'I have a dream' speech. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1963: In front of 170 W 130 St., March on Washington, l to] r Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director, Cleveland Robinson, Chairman of Administrative Committee (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. August 28, 1963. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The political activist John Lewis, former chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee addressing a crowd at the 1963 March on Washington by black activists for jobs and freedom, Washington, DC, April 4, 1963. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
28th August 1963: A young marcher during the march for jobs and freedom to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, where Martin Luther King made his famous 'I have a dream' speech. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Demonstrators sit near the reflecting pool in Washington DC after participating in the March on Washington. Marchers led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial in support of the Civil Rights Movemen | Location: Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C., USA.
Screen capture from the CBS national broadcast of the 'I Have a Dream' speech of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968), Washington, DC, August 28, 1963. King Jr. delivered his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to over 200,000 supporters at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
380887 25: Thousands of Americans march near the U.S. Capitol August 28, 1963 at a civil rights rally. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968, right) at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, 28th August 1963. King gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech at the event. (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
NBC News -- MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM 1968 -- Pictured: NBC News' Nancy Dickerson at the National Mall during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom political rally in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC News -- MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM 1968 -- Pictured: Young paperboy during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom political rally in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963 -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
American Civil Rights activists actor Sidney Poitier (left) and singer Harry Belafonte talk together during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
View of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968, center) at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he would deliver his 'I Have a Dream' speech, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. (Photo by Rowland Scherman/Getty Images)
View of some of the leaders of March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, among them Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968) (second left) and Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902 - 1988) (in sunglasses), Washington DC, August 28, 1963. The march provided the setting for Dr. King's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr., gives his 'I Have a Dream' speech to a crowd before the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. The widely quoted speech became one of his most famous.
2nd July 1963: L-R: National civil rights leaders John Lewis, Whitney Young Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer and Roy Wilkins pose behind a banquet table at the Hotel Roosevelt as they meet to formulate plans for the March on Washington and to bring about the passage of civil rights legislation, New York City. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
381091 31: President John F. Kennedy meets with civil rights leaders at the White House August 28, 1963. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
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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. 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 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.

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.

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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 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. 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.

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 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.

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 persecution 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.

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Martin Luther King, Jr.
C8MG9A Martin Luther King, Jr.. Image shot 1963. Exact date unknown.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 13: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks with people after delivering a sermon on May 13, 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MAY 1956: Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. relaxes at home with his family in May 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968) sits on a couch and speaks on the telephone after encountering a white mob protesting against the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, May 26, 1961. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
Martin Luther King Jr, at a press conference after meeting with President Johnson at the White House to discuss civil rights, Washington DC, December 3, 1961. (Photo by Warren K. Leffler/Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Civil Rights leaders Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Martin Luther King Jr (center), and Ralph Abernathy (right) attend a funeral for victims of the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. The September 15, 1963 bombing killed four young African-American girls. (Photo by Declan Haun/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)
President Lyndon B Johnson (1908 - 1973) discusses the Voting Rights Act with civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968). The act, part of President Johnson's 'Great Society' program trebled the number of black voters in the south, who had previously been hindered by racially inspired laws, 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY- MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen close from the rear, speaking in front of 25,000 civil rights marchers, at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march in front of Alabama state capital building on March 25, 1965. In Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen Somerstein/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - MARCH 25: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, in front of Montgomery, Alabama state capital building. On March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)
African-American man holding Martin Luther King Jr flag - Washington, DC, USA
The Martin Luther King Jr., memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Rev Al Sharpton speaking at a Dr, Martin Luther King jr Day rally.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office of the White House December 3, 1963 in Washington, DC.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with US President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Cabinet Room of the White House March 18, 1966 in Washington, DC.
Funeral of reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Girl Scouts in Martin Luther King Jr Day Celebration
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Washington DC dc12 national park monument near National Mall
Detroit, Michigan - June 22, 2013 - Thousands of civil rights, labor, and community activists commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Walk to Freedom" with a march that followed the same route down Woodward Avenue. At the 1963 civil rights march, Dr. King previewed his "I Have a Dream" speech which he delivered two months later at the March on Washington. © Jim West/Alamy Live News
Controversial paraphrased quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Martin Luther King, Jr. with wife Coretta Scott King
MLK with Labor Unions
Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington
Martin Luther King Jr. at the 'Pacem in Terris' Peace Conference
Martin Luther King, Jr. arriving at London Airport
Tourists visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., USA
Martin Luther King, Jr., T-Shirt commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., USA
Martin Luther King Jr Day Rally
India Martin Luther King postage stamp, cancelled
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (right), President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Mathew Ahmann (center), Executive Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC.
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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, 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 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 today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, 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 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.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a 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. 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 snowcapped 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!"

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