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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” (1963)

In this legendary speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. discussed the liberty and equality guaranteed in the Founding documents, and how America was committed to extend those promises to all Americans, including blacks. King gave this speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in August of 1963, where a quarter of a million people had gathered, exercising their right to peaceably assemble.

He observed that he and his fellow Americans stood in the “symbolic shadow” of Abraham Lincoln and referenced the Emancipation Proclamation, issued a century earlier, and its promise of freedom for slaves. “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.” He continued, “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.” But the country had defaulted on the promissory note, and freedom and equality were not yet a reality. Again citing the Declaration of Independence, King proclaimed, “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.’”