In 1863 Abraham Lincoln, in whose symbolic
shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This decree came as a great
beacon of light … a great beacon of hope to millions who had been seared in the flames
of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long
night of their captivity. 156 years later, we are still not free. 156
years later, life is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains
of discrimination. 156 years later, too many live on a lonely
island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
156 years later, too many still languish in the corners of society, and find themselves
in exile. We’ve come 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 peoples,
off all colors, would be guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted
on this promissory note insofar as many of her citizens are concerned. Instead of honoring
this sacred obligation, America has given a bad check, a check which has come back marked
insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe that the bank of
justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient
funds in the great vaults of opportunity. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a
check that will give us upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice. 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 justice.
Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of injustice, to the solid rock
of sisterhood and brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality
for all. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook
the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of legitimate discontent will not pass
until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 1963 was not an end, but a beginning.
The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until
the bright day of justice emerges! Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for
freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
Again, and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with SOUL
FORCE. We have come to realize that their destiny
is tied up with OUR destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom
is inextricably bound to OUR freedom. We cannot walk alone. We can never be satisfied as long as our children
are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity. NO — We are not satisfied, and we will not
be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.