A SPECIAL PRESENTATION
H i s t o r y.c o m
1. What do you think Dr. King means when he says that time can be used destructively or constructively? Why did he believe that the Civil rights movement was an example of using time constructively? 2. How do you interpret the phrase “human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability”? Can you think of an example to support your answer? 3. Why do you think Dr. King decided to write this letter? Why do you think it is still remembered for being an important document?
The following document is an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. On this day over 250,000 people had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital. This speech, and the March on Washington overall, is considered the high water mark of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrating the incredible momentum for change that was building throughout the United States. Ask students to read the excerpt below and respond to the questions which follow. Students may also want to locate an audio version of this speech online and compare their experience with listening to the speech versus reading it.
I Have a Dream
by Dr. martIn LutHer KIng Jr.
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. when 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 would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the negro people a bad 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.” ©the estate of Martin luther King Jr.
PRIMARY SOURCE QUESTIONS
1. Why do you think mLK decided to reference the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in this speech? 2. What do you think Dr. King means when he says that african americans have been given a check marked “insufficient funds”? What does this metaphor reveal about inequality in 1963? 3. Dr. King references a “sacred obligation” in this paragraph. What do you think this obligation is, in his view? How do you think that obligation could be achieved? 4. Why do you think Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is remembered as one of the most significant speeches in u.S. history? What other quotes or references do you remember from this speech, or another speech by Dr. King?
Branch, taylor. Parting the Waters, America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (Simon & Schuster) 1989. Hampton, Henry. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s (Bantam Books) 1991. King, martin Luther, Jr. and James m. Washington, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (HarperCollins) 1990. Levine, ellen. Freedom’s Children (William morrow & Company) 1993.
Save Our History Voices of Civil Rights website: www.history.com/classroom/voices/ ®
the martin Luther King Jr. research and education Institute: www.stanford.edu/group/King/index.htm a speech archive from the university of California which includes an audio recording of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/historicspeeches.html an mLK site with documents from the national archives: www.archives.gov/education/lessons/memphis-v-mlk/
MATCHIng ACTIvITy AnSWeR Key: 1) C 2) A 3) D 4) F 5) e 6) b
“we MUSt CoMe to See thAt the enD we SeeK IS A...