But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact thatthe Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of theNegro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and thechains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives ona lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of materialprosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishingin the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in hisown land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appallingcondition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash acheck. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificentwords of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, theywere signing a promissory note to which every American was to fallheir. This note was a promise that all men would be guarranteed theinalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on thispromissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given theNegro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficientfunds. ” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the greatvaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash thischeck — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedomand the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spotto remind America of the fierce urgency of now.
This is no time toengage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drugof gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolatevalley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now isthe time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racialinjustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency ofthe moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro.
Thissweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not passuntil there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hopethat the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content willhave a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negrois granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt willcontinue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright dayof justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who standon the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In theprocess of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty ofwrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom bydrinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane ofdignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest todegenerate into physical violence.
Again and again we must rise tothe majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. Themarvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community mustnot lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our whitebrothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come torealize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and theirfreedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall marchahead. We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking thedevotees of civil rights, “When will .