When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1968, it wasn’t the first time he has used the dream theme.
In fact, one of King’s best speeches was titled “The American Dream.”
It was delivered on Feb. 5, 1964 at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Here are a few of the best quotes along with my commentary.
• King: “America is essentially a dream, a dream unfulfilled. … Slavery and racial segregation are strange paradoxes in the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.”
My comments: King was referring to the Declaration of Independence as Abraham Lincoln did.
“All men are created equal,” the Declaration stated.
Yet for African-Americans it meant slavery followed by the second-class citizenship of Jim Crow.
• King: “In the final analysis we must get rid of segregation because it is sinful. In a real sense it is a new form of slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity.”
My comments: King, a Baptist minister, saw racial injustice as immoral and appealed to Americans’ sense of right and wrong. He used that sense to oppose certain human laws as immoral. Basic rights are gifts of God, King said, quoting the Founders.
• King “For the shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy, the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction.”
My comments: King recognized America is built on the ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence. Slavery and inequality undercut those ideals. Yet America has moved forward in so many respects. Look at the vote. At its founding, most voters were limited to white men of property. African-Americans received the vote, which had to be won again in the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Then women received the right. And 18-year-olds received it during the Vietnam War.
• King: “Through our scientific genius we have made this world a neighborhood, and now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”
My comments: This is one of King’s best-known quotes.
African-Americans have been present throughout American history, at times as unpaid laborers, at other times as willing soldiers in war.
The story of America cannot be segregated any more than our music can be.
• King “I’m sure that everybody assembled here has heard this idea that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. … the people of ill will in our country have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the bitter words and violent actions of the bad people who will bomb a church in Birmingham, Ala., but for the appalling silence of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’ … the time is always right to do right.
“But it is also necessary for a white person of good will to rise up with as much righteous indignation when a Negro cannot live in his neighborhood, or when a Negro cannot get a job in his particular firm or when a Negro cannot join his professional society … there must be something of a divine discontent.”
My comments: With the genius of 20/20 hindsight we can see how right King was.
It can be extremely difficult to change a bad precedent even if it is immoral.
But good people must speak out and act.