“The American Dream” July 4th Speech Transcript – Martin Luther King, Jr.
On July 4, 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave an Independence Day speech. Read the full transcript of his speech here.
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Martin Luther King, Jr.: (00:00)
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.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (01:39)
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (02:43)
It says that each individual has certain inherent rights that are neither derived from or 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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (03:54)
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (05:52)
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (06:54)
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (07:51)
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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (08:50)
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 one’s 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 nonstop 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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (09:45)
You know it is possible, because of the time difference, to take a flight from Tokyo on Sunday morning and arrived 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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (10:23)
Now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood, and 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.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (11:26)
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-
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (12:03)
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 start surplus food. And I said to myself, I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of people all over the world who go to bed hungry at night. Maybe we’ve spent far too much of our money establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (13:13)
All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated. We are tied in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. And whatever it affects one directly it affects all indirectly. And as long as there is extreme poverty in this world no one can be totally rich, even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than 28 or 30 years, no one can be totally healthy even if he just got a checkup in the finest clinic of the nation. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (14:10)
John Donne called it years ago and placed it in graphic times, no man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. And he goes on toward the end to say any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. We must come to see this if we are to realize the American dream. Next thing that must be done, we must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. Somehow this notion still lingers with us. We must make it palpably clear that a doctrine of white supremacy is both rationally absurd and morally unjustifiable.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (15:15)
And certainly this has been pointed out by authorities and scholars. It has been pointed out by the anthropological sciences, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Melville Herskovits and others have made it clear that there are no superior races. There may be superior and inferior individuals academically within all races, but no superior or inferior races. That somehow there are four types of blood and they are found in all races, but in spite of this, the notion still lingers. There was a time that people tried to justify racial inferiority on the basis of the Bible and religion.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (16:06)
And so someone could argue that the Negro is inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham. And Paul’s dictum became a watch where [inaudible 00:16:18] be obedient to your master. And then there was one brother who had probably read the logic of Aristotle. Aristotle used to deal with the syllogism, which had a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. And one brother put his argument in the framework of an Aristotelian syllogism. He could say, all men are made in the image of God. This was the major premise. And then came the minor premise, God as everybody knows is not a Negro, therefore the Negro is not a man. This was the type of reasoning that was used at that time to justify the inferiority of the Negro. But now it isn’t done so much on the biblical and religious ground, it’s something else.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (17:12)
It’s argued on subtle sociological and cultural grounds. And so we hear these things from time to time, the Negro is not culturally ready for integration. And of course, if you integrate the schools and if you integrate public facilities the Negro will pull the white race back a generation. And then there are those who gone to argue the Negro is a criminal, he is innately a criminal, they would say. He lags behind in all of his standards. So they use these subtle sociological arguments to say that integration should take place 100 years from now. You must lift these standards, they would argue. Well, the only answer that we can give is that if there are lagging standards in the Negro community, they lag because of segregation and discrimination.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (18:11)
We must say to them that poverty, ignorance and disease breed crime, whatever the racial group may be. These things are environmental and not racial. And it is a torturous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it. The thing to do is to get rid of the causal basis. And so we must get rid of the notion once and for all if we are to realize the American dream, that there are superior and inferior races. And I think we already have numerous and inspiring examples of Negros who have demonstrated that human nature cannot be cataloged and who has successfully refuted the myths of racial inferiority. In spite of the fact that the Negro has had to walk through the long and desolate night of oppression, he has risen up so often to plunge against cloud filled nights of affliction, new and blazing stars of inspiration.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (19:18)
And so from an old slave cabin on Virginia’s Hill, Booker T. Washington rose up to be one of America’s great leaders. He lit a torch in Alabama then darkness fled. From the red Hills of Gordon County, Georgia, an iron foundery of Chattanooga, Tennessee in the arms of a mother who couldn’t either read my write, Roland Hayes rose up to be one of the world’s great singer and carried his melodious voice into the palace of King George the Fifth and the mansion of Queen Mother to Spain. From a poverty stricken area to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marian Anderson rose up to be the world’s greatest contralto so that a Toscanini could say that a voice like this comes only once in a century. And Sibelius of Finland could say, my roof is too low for such a voice. From crippling circumstances, George Washington Carver rose up and carved for himself and imperishable niche in annals of science. And there was a star in the sky to female leadership. And then came Mary McLeod Bethune and she grabbed it and allowed it to shine in her life with all of its radiant beauty. And there was a star in the diplomatic sky. And then came Ralph Bunche, the grandson of a slave preacher and allowed it to shine in his life in beautiful terms. All of these people have revealed the myths of racial inferiority cannot stand. They have justified the conviction of the poy, fleecy locks and black complexion cannot fault that nature’s claim, skin may differ, but affection dwells in black and white the same. And while so tall as to reach the pole, or to grasp at the ocean at a span, I must be measured by my soul and the mind is a standard of the man. And so we are challenged to get rid of the notion once and for all that there are inferior and superior races.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (21:50)
And if the American dream is to be a reality, we must continue to engage in creative protests in order to break down those barriers which make it impossible for us to realize the American dream. Now we must get rid of two false ideas in order to continue to engage in creative protests. One idea is the myth of time. There are those people who argue that time alone will solve this problem. And so they say, you must not push things. You must be patient. You must sit down and wait. And sometimes they’ve decorate it in even larger terms, they say cool off for a while and slow up for a while. Time is the only thing that can solve this problem. What we must come to see is that evolution is true in the biological realm.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (22:58)
And so Darwin is right at that point, but when a Herbert Spencer seeks to apply to the whole of society, that is little evidence for it. Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work, time itself becomes the ally insurgent and primitive forces of rational, emotionalism and social stagnation so that we must somehow get rid of this idea that time alone will solve the problem. We must use time. Another idea is idea the myth of what I call educational determinism. It is idea that only education will solve this problem. I’m sure you’ve heard this, that you’ve got to change the hearts of people and people must be educated to the point that-
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (24:03)
And people must be educated to the point that they will change their attitudes, now there’s some truth in this. But to say, this is the only thing is where we developed the myth. It is not either education or legislation. It is both education and legislation. Now it may be true that you cannot legislate morality. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me. And I think that’s pretty important also. This is what we seek to do through the law, to control the external effects of bad internal feelings. Religion and education would have to change the attitudes but legislation, executive orders, judicial decrees will have to control the external effects of bad internal attitudes. Therefore, if we are to realize the American dream, we must continue to work through legislation.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (25:15)
So it is necessary for Congress to pass meaningful legislation. It is needed at this present hour, even though the president of our nation does not feel that additional legislation is needed in civil rights, I must respectfully disagree with him. There is need this year, at this hour for stronger civil rights legislation. Then we must continue to urge the president of the nation to issue executive orders to do away with these barriers. Then we must continue to work through the courts to gain judicial decrees so that these things will be changed. And added to this must be the method of nonviolent direct action. And I am more convinced every day that the most potent weapon available to oppress people in that struggle for freedom and human dignity is this weapon of nonviolent resistance. It brings with it many important aspects. It has certain practical consequences, which are very important. It has a way of disarming the opponent, exposing his moral defenses, weakening his morale, and at the same time working on his conscience. So he doesn’t know exactly how to handle this method. If he puts you in jail, that’s all right. If he doesn’t put you in jail, that’s all right. If he beats you, you accept that. If he doesn’t beat you, you accept that. If he tries to kill you, you develop the quiet courage of dying if necessary, without killing. And so he soon discovers that that is no answer for it.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (27:14)
And also it has with a certain moral aspects, it makes it possible for the individuals or the group to secure a moral ends through moral means. One of the big problems in history has been in this discussion of ends and means. There have been those who argued that the end justifies the means. So they have the idea that sometime, the somehow destructive means can bring about constructive ends. Systems of government have come into being with this theory. Sometimes they would argue that the end of the classless society justified using violence and defeat and any other method and nonviolent resistance breaks with communism or any other methods that would say the end justifies the means.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (28:10)
In the long run, the history of destructive means cannot justify constructive ends because the end is preexistent in the means. And so this method has certain moral aspects that go along with the practical. Then it is based on the great ethical principle of love. Now people ask me so often, what in the world do you mean when you say to us love these people who are trying to destroy us and these people who are trying to defeat us, what do you mean? How can you love people like this?
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (28:50)
Now I always have to pause and try to give the meaning of love in the area of human relations. And fortunately the Greek language comes to our aid at this point, there are three words in the Greek language for love. There’s the word eros. This is the sort of aesthetic love. Plato talks about it a great deal in his dialogues, a yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of a romantic love. Romantic love is a phase of eros.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (29:25)
And so we all know about eros. We’ve experienced it. We live with it. We read about it in all of the beauties of literature. In a sense Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when he talked to his beautiful Annabel Lee with the love surrounded by the halo of eternity. In a sense, Shakespeare was speaking of eros when he said love is not love which alters, when it’s alteration finds the bins with the remover to remove it. Isn’t ever fixed Mark that looks on Tempus and is never shaken. It is a start to every wandering bark. You know, I can remember that because I used to quote it to my wife when we were courting. That’s eros.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (30:07)
The Greek language talks about phileo, which is a sort of a reciprocal love. It is a love, an intimate affection between personal friends and so on this level you love because you are loved. You love people that you like. This is friendship.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (30:27)
Then the Greek language comes out with another word. It is a word agape. Agape is more than romantic love. Agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. At any rate when one arises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him. But he loves everyman, because God loves him and he rises to the point of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I believe that this is a type of expression of love that can guide us through this period of transition. This is a part of the nonviolent resistance approach. It has practical consequences and is based on high and noble moral and ethical principles. So the individual who follows this method stands up before the opponent and says we will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (31:58)
We can not, not in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. So do to us what you will, and we will still love you. Put us in jail and we will go in with humble smiles on our faces. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours, drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead and we will still love you. Threaten our children, bomb our homes and do all of the things of violence that you think we’ll defeat our movement and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit morally, culturally or otherwise for integration and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day, we will win our freedom. But we will not only win freedom for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. Therefore our victory will be a double victory.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (33:15)
Seems to me that this is the way and this approach to the problem is not without successful precedent. Mohandas Gandhi used it in India in a magnificent manner to free his people from the political domination and the economic exploitation that had been inflicted upon them for years. He achieved this victory by using only the weapons of soul force, non-injury courage and moral principals.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (33:49)
Negro students of the south have used it in a marvelous manner to stand up against the principalities of segregation to let them know that the hundreds of people who’ve gone into jail in Jackson, Mississippi have gone into jail in order to get America out of the dilemma that she finds herself in as a result of the continued existence of segregation and discrimination. And also let them know at end, anybody who lives in the United States must be concerned about this problem. And so people who live in New York or in California or in Illinois, have an obligation to be concerned about this problem. And whoever lives inside the United States cannot be considered an outside agitator because this problem is the concern of every individual in this nation and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Therefore this method has worked in many dimensions in our day, and in our generation, this method of nonviolent resistance. God grant that as we go on with this struggle, working with determination to realize the American dream, that we will delve deeper into the meaning of nonviolence. I believe firmly that it will help us to go into the new age with the right attitude. We will not seek to rise from a position of disadvantage to one of advantage thus abrading justice. By adhering to this method, all of the Negro people in the United States, all of the colored people of the world will seek democracy for everybody. They will not to seek to substitute one tyranny for another. But I am convinced that black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of a whole human race and the creation of a society where all men.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (36:03)
… the race, the creation of a society where all men can live together as brothers, and every man will respect the dignity and the worth of human personality. And also following this method, we may be able to teach this world something that it so desperately needs to learn and resolve when in a day when Sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space, and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence, it is now either nonviolence or nonexistence. And By following this method right here in this nation, maybe somehow Russia then the United States will come to see this and move on toward disarmament and suspension of nuclear tests on a permanent basis. And the setting up of an international police force through the UN and thereby make brotherhood and peace a reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (37:10)
This is what we must do in order to realize the American dream. I believe if we would follow these things, we will be able to bring that day into being. But it will not come until every individual in our nation develops this type of concern. And may I say, as I move toward my conclusion, that this is not just a local problem. People who live in New York and California, and Illinois have an obligation to be concerned about this problem and whoever lives in-
Speaker 1: (37:52)
This recording is briefly interrupted at this point.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (37:55)
…host of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. We still confront segregation in its glaring and conspicuous forms in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and all over the South. We still confront it in it’s hidden and subtle forms in Illinois, in California, in Pennsylvania, and even in New York. And if democracy is to live, segregation must die. And we need people all over America who are genuine liberals. It is one thing to rise up with righteous indignation, when a Negro is lynched in Mississippi, or when a bus is burned in Anniston, Alabama, but if the person of goodwill were to rise up with as much righteous indignation when a Negro cannot live in his neighborhood, because he’s a Negro, when a Negro cannot join his professional society, or cannot be a member of this fraternity or sorority, or when a Negro cannot get position in his firm because he happens to be a Negro. In other words, there must be a concern on the part of people all over this country, and this is the way we will solve this problem.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (39:13)
There are words that we use in every academic discipline, and pretty soon, these words become a part of the technical nomenclature to these particular disciplines. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word than psychology, it is a word maladjusted. Maladjusted. And certainly we all want to live the well adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic personalities.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (39:48)
And I say to you this evening that there are some things in our social order to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. I call upon men of goodwill all over the nation to be maladjusted until the good society is a reality. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism, and the self defeating effects of physical violence.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (40:36)
And I think now it has come for men all over the nation and all over the world be maladjusted to all of these things. For it may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted. And so if you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, let us be maladjusted.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (40:58)
As maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echoed across the centuries, “Let justice run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (41:13)
As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (41:23)
As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could cry out in words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (41:40)
As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that spitefully use you.” And I believe that the world is in desperate need of such maladjustment. And with such maladjustment we would be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (42:10)
And as we struggle to realize the American dream, let us realize that we do not struggle alone. Even though there are the difficult days ahead, even though before the victory’s won, somebody else will have to get scarred up, somebody else will to have to go to jail, maybe someone will have to face physical death. For the victories won, some will be misunderstood, called bad names, be dismissed as dangerous rabble-rousers and agitators. Even in the midst of that, the struggle must go on. Knowing that the victory can be won because the odds of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (42:55)
And I am convinced that that is something in this universe, which justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” There is something in the very court of the cosmos which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying “Truth, cursed to earth, will rise again.” There is something in this universe which justifies James Russell Lowell, in saying, “Truth, forever on the scaffold, wrong, forever on the throne.” Yet that scaffold sways the future. And so with this faith in the future, we will be able to adjourn the counsels of the staff rise from the fatigue of darkness, to the buoyancy of hope. And we will be able bring into being this new society and realize the American dream.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: (43:48)
This will be the day when all of the chosen 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.”