On August 28th 1963, Martin Luther King Jnr. delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.


The speech took place during a pro-civil rights rally in Washington. Approximately a quarter of a million people attended. King, the best known voice in the civil rights movement, was the main speaker.

The event was held to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the wording of the speech was aimed to follow the style of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.


Civil rights were already a major issue in America; however, there was some divide between peaceful means for change, and civil disobedience.

The rally was aimed to promote a peaceful change in law. John F Kennedy, the President at the time, supported this peaceful change.

Making the Speech

Although the ideas of the speech were written before, the most famous part (repeating ‘I have a dream’) is said to have been adlibbed (made up on the spot). Towards the end of the speech a shout from the crowd (from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson) told King to ‘tell them about the dream, Martin’. King paused, and decided to add the ‘I have a dream line’ before each new section.

Also, such was the number of people who were due to attend, it is said that the speech was not the main priority. The most important thing was to ensure a peaceful protest.

The Speech

In the speech, King alludes to many of America’s most famous documents: the Emancipation Declaration, the Declaration of Independence, and the US Constitution. These make the speech more powerful, and less an opinion.


The speech was a success. It helped push the Kennedy administration towards making political change. It also helped make King one of the star speakers in America.

He was named Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in both 1963 and 1964, and (in 1964) became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

‘I Have a Dream’ has been named the greatest American speech of the 20th century.

Section of the Speech

The following is the last part of the speech:

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!”