Until Justice Rolls Down…On Martin Luther King Jr.
It was a printer jam that made me realize the full power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.” Growing up in the United States, I had studied Martin Luther King Jr’s outsize impact on civil rights and American history. That said, I had never heard the entire speech he gave in 1963 to 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Then, a few years ago, the printer at work jammed. I pulled out the crumpled paper and power cycled it. While I was waiting, I started reading the poster hanging in the hallway. It was the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech. I was truly moved by the strength of the writing and the ideas it put forth. I couldn’t believe that I had missed out on this powerful work for so long. Kudos to people that put up guerilla art in offices!
Nancy Duarte does a great analysis of why the speech is so powerful. I love her line about the speech “traversing back and forth between what is and what could be, and ending by describing what the new bliss of equality looks like.”
One of my favorite quotes from the speech is this:
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.
but something different stands out to me each time I read it.
Martin Luther King Jr. drafted the speech with the assistance of Stanley Levison and Clarence Benjamin Jones. It was based on a draft of his previous speech: “Normalcy, Never Again.”
On this day, when the United States inaugurated (for the second time) its first African-American president, it’s clear that the nation has made tremendous strides since that day in 1963 when MLK gave this speech. And yet, this excerpt burns as brightly today as before:
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… 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…
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.”
The emphasis, at least for ethnic minorities, has changed from legal rights to social mores. The challenge now is to make sure everyone believes that he or she has something for which to vote and work for.
You can go here to read the entire text of the speech. What lines stand out to you?