New Jersey History: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Discusses the “American Dream,” Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, February 5, 1965

New Jersey History: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Discusses the “American Dream,” Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, February 5, 1965

Source:https://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/king/speech/theamericandream.pdf

An audio of the entire speech is available online at: https://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/King/index.html

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “American Dream” speech to an audience of 5,000 at Drew University. He is with Drew professor Dr. George D. Kelsey and his wife.

A. I would like to use as a subject from which to speak tonight, the American Dream. And I use this subject because America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled. The substance of the dream is expressed in some very familiar words found in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is a dream. Now one of the first things we notice about this dream is an amazing universalism. It does not say some men, it says all men. It does not say all white men, but it says all men which includes black men. It doesn’t say all Protestants, but it says all men which includes Catholics. It doesn’t say all Gentiles, it says all men which includes Jews. And that is something else at the center of the American Dream which is one of the distinguishing points, one of the things that distinguishes it from other forms of government, particularly totalitarian systems. It says that each individual has certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. They are gifts from the hands of the Almighty God. Very seldom if ever in the history of the world has a socio-political document expressed in such profound eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality.

B. But ever since the Founding Fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy. On the other hand we have sadly practiced the very antithesis of those principles. Indeed, slavery and racial segregation are strange paradoxes in the nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal. But now, more than ever before, our nation is challenged to realize this dream. For the shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy, and the price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction. The hour is late and the clock of destiny is ticking out, and we must act now before it is too late.

C. I would like to suggest some of the things that must be done in our nation if this American Dream is to be realized, some of the challenges that we face at this hour; and in facing the challenges we will be able to bring this dream into full realization. I would like to start on the world scale, so to speak, by saying if the American Dream is to be a reality we must develop a world perspective. It goes without saying that the world in which we live is geographically one, and now more than ever before we are challenged to make it one in terms of brotherhood . . . Mrs. King and I had the privilege to journey to that great country known as India. I never will forget the experience of meeting and talking with the great leaders of India, meeting and talking with thousands and thousands of people in the cities and villages all over that vast country. These experiences will remain meaningful and dear to me as long as the chords of memory shall let them. But I must say to you that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of people by the millions going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night, no houses to go in, no beds to sleep in? How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than 400 million people, some 375 million make an annual income of less than $80 a year? And most of these people have never seen a doctor or a dentist. As I noticed these conditions, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came, “Oh, no, because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking about the fact that we spend millions of dollars a day in America to store surplus food. I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia and Africa and in South America.

D. I think this is the first challenge and it is necessary to meet it in order to move on toward the realization of the American Dream, the dream of men of all races, creeds, national backgrounds, living together as brothers. If the American Dream is to be a reality, secondly we must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. This idea still lingers around in some situations and in some circles . . . There may be superior and inferior individuals academically within all races. But there are no superior and inferior races. But in spite of this, the notion still lingers around . . . We have enough evidence in practical experiences and practical accomplishments of individuals in the Negro community and individuals in other minority groups to demonstrate that there is no truth in the idea of the inferiority of the Negro race, of the superiority of any other race.

Questions

  1. According to Dr. King, what is the American Dream?
  2. In your opinion, are any groups missing from the list described in section A. If so, who is missing?
  3. In section B, why does Dr. King call the United States “schizophrenic”?
  4. In section C, why did Dr. King have an extended discussion of conditions in India?

Dr. King delivered this speech in 1965. In your opinion, are the problems he described still present in American society? Explain.

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