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Dr. King’s Speech: Home Processes for Deeper Understanding

By January 12, 2022No Comments

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  ~ “I Have a Dream” 

March on Washington, 1963, 


Ethical NYC, January 16, 2022

It’s Justice January  — time to honor Dr. King’s influence and legacy.  

Young Ethical Explorers are diving into Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.  It’s so important to revisit this speech over and over in our lives  —  and also to realize how much MORE Dr. King wrote for us to study!  

It’s important to work out the relevance and meaning of his revolutionary offering, for our own times.  Below, the Dream speech, slightly pared down is presented in a home-workshopping format for all ages.  


Dr. King’s Speech is outlined here with guiding questions (bulleted) to pause and reflect upon as you read.  Try to understand or infer the answers from what he says.  TALK ABOUT IT with your family and friends to digest it, to understand it.

Keep in mind as you read, that this speech was created in 1968 – over 50 years ago. So much has changed, including the actual language we use to talk about race, gender and even humanity at large.  As you read, think about how one might say things differently in the context of today.  

Think about how the problems we currently face are the same and/or different from those of the past.  To offer processes for deeper understanding, Dr. King’s speech is outlined here into sections.  

Section 1: Dr. King starts with giving context,

then Section 2: he diagnoses problems and then… the part most people are most familiar with…. 

Section 3: he  inspires solutions by speaking in 5 poetic litanies of hope for the future. 

Here are HIS words, aimed at inspiring a more ethical future… let us wonder what he would say TODAY…. and take that voice within our own,  with HIM in our hearts as guidance. WE are now the ones who must speak to our ethical future! Have fun with this!  From this, you will be ready to write your own voice for the ethical future! (which you may choose to share on Feb. 6th First Sunday Event… see poster)

Dr. King’s words are in quotes and questions for discussion are bulleted:



“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” 

  • Who is MLK referring to whose shadow he is standing under?
  • MLK gave this speech in 1963.  He is referring to “five score years ago.” Do the math to figure out, what year is he referring to, (when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed)?   And …. What was the Emancipation Proclamation?                          

“This momentous decree (The Emancipation Proclamation) came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.”

  • What historical “long night of their captivity” is MLK speaking of? How long did this “captivity” last?

“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

  • Pick out at least 3 items above which were problems BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) were facing in 1963?  Are these problems solved today?



“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a checkWhen 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. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….

Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” 

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of NOW. ….”

  • Why does Dr. King use this $$$ money metaphor? 

  5 Litanies


“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. 

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation

to the sunlit path of racial justice. 

Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice 

to the solid rock of brotherhood.….”

  • NOW (2022) is the time to…..
  • NOW is the time to….
  • NOW is the time to….


“But there is something that I must say to my people ….

In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us NOT seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.  We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must NOT allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.

Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. …Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

  • What does MLK mean that one person’s freedom is “bound” to another’s freedom?

“As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ “



“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. 

We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. 

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. 

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. 

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…..Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

LITANY # 3:  

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.”

  • What is “the American dream” that Dr. King is referring to?
  • What is Dr. King’s version of an “American dream”?
  • What is your “dream” for America’s ethical future?

“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.”

  • What document is he quoting from?

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.”

  • What does MLK mean by the Content of one’s character?  What do you think is the content of YOUR character?

“I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, …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….This is our HOPE…”.

  • You are “the future” for MLK who made this speech over half a decade ago…. In your view, has his dream come true?


“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.”


  • Why does he refer to going to jail together? Does that feel surprising?

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning:

“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 snow capped 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 (people) 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!”

  • How do WE allow freedom to ring in our daily lives, for ourselves and others? 
  • Are humans responsible for creating and protecting freedom?  How can we do this?

Audrey Kindred

Audrey Kindred leads programming for youth and families at Ethical NYC

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