Full text of Martin Luther King Jr. speech: “The American Dream” delivered on July 4th, 1965
Martin Luther King Jr.
I would like to discuss some of the problems that we confront in the world today, and some of the problems that we confront in our own nation by using as a subject: The American Dream.
I choose this subject because America is essentially a dream. It is a dream of a land where men of all races, of all nationalities, and of all creeds, can live together as brothers.
The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words:
“We hold these truths to be self- evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Now, we notice in the very beginning that at the center of this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, but it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men, which includes black men.
It does not say all Gentiles, but it says all men, which includes Jews. It does not say all Protestants, but it says all men, which includes Catholics.
That is something else that we notice in this American Dream, which is one of the things that distinguishes our form of government with some of the other totalitarian systems.
It says that each individual has certain inherent rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God.
Very seldom, if ever, in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language, the dignity and the worth of human personality. While the American Dream reminds us that every man is a heir of a legacy of worthfullness.
But ever since the Founding Fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality. On the one hand, we have proudly professed the noble principles of democracy. On the other hand, we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles.
Indeed, slavery and segregation have been strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But now more than ever before, America is challenged to realize its noble dream, for the shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of an anemic democracy.
And the price that the United States must pay for the continued exploitation and oppression of the Negro and other minority groups, is the price of its own destruction.
There are approximately 2 billion 700 million people in the world, and the vast majority of these people live in Asia and Africa. For years most of these people have been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated, and humiliated by some foreign power.
Today, they are gaining that independence. More than 1 billion 600 million of the former of 1 billion 900 million colonial subjects have their independence today, and they are saying in no uncertain terms that racism and colonialism must go.
So in a real sense our hour is late, and the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late. It is trite but urgently true that if America is to remain a first-class nation, she can no longer have second-class citizens.
I must rush on to say that we must not seek to solve this problem merely to meet the Communist challenge. We must not seek to do it merely to appeal to Asian and African peoples.
In the final analysis, racial discrimination must be uprooted from our society because it is morally wrong. It must be done because segregation stands against all of the noble precepts of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
It must be done because segregation substitutes an I-It relationship for the I-Thou relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. And so this problem must be solved not merely because it is diplomatically expedient, but because it is morally compelling.
So every person of goodwill in this nation is called upon to work passionately and unrelentingly to realize the American Dream. And the persons who are working to do this are not dangerous agitators, they are not dangerous rabble-rousers, but they are the persons working to save the soul of America.
I would like to suggest some things that we must do in order to realize this great dream:
First, we must begin with a world perspective. For we will not be able to realize the American Dream until we work to realize a world dream. A world dream for peace, and brotherhood, and goodwill. The world in which we live is geographically one, and now we are challenged to make it spiritually one.
Now, it is true that the geographical oneness of this age in which we live was brought into being to a large extent through man’s scientific ingenuity. Man, through his scientific genius, has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains.
Yes, he’s been able to carve highways through the stratosphere, and our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took days.
I think Bob Hope has adequately described this new jet age in which we live, and it is not the usual thing for a preacher to be quoting Bob Hope, but I think he has adequately described this new jet age.
He said it is an age in which it is possible to take a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to New York, and if on taking off in Los Angeles, you develop hiccups, you will hic in Los Angeles and cup in New York City.
You know it is possible, because of the time difference, to take a flight from Tokyo on Sunday morning and arrive in Seattle, Washington on the preceding Saturday night. And when your friends meet you at the airport and ask when you left Tokyo, you would have to say, “I left tomorrow.” That’s the kind of age in which we live.
Now, this is a bit humorous, but I’m trying to laugh a basic fact into all of us. And it is simply this, that through our scientific genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood.
Now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We, me must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools. Every individual must learn this. Every nation must learn this.
Every nation must realize its dependence on other nations.
Some months ago, Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India, and I never will forget the experience. I never will forget many of the conversations, experience to talk with the great leaders of India, and to meet people in the cities and the villages throughout that nation will remain dear to me as long as the chords of memory shall let them.
I must say to you this evening that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes millions of people going to bed hungry at night?
How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes, millions of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night?
In Calcutta alone, more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in. They have no houses to go in.
How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of 400 million people, more than 370 million make an annual income of less than $60 a year.
Most of these people have never seen a doctor or dentist. And as I noticed these conditions something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?”
An answer came, “Oh, no, because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India.” And I started thinking of the fact that here in America we spend more than $1 million a day to store surplus food.