5 Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream Speech' to Remember

August 28th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Fifty-two years ago today, on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he addressed a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters and called for an end to the systemic racism that had become endemic to the country. It was one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights movement, a climactic point of the 1960s, when racial segregation and discrimination had left the country divided over its future.

On this anniversary of the March on Washington, we commemorate the life and legacy of King as well as other leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Our minds turn to the famous speech, marked by the repeated use of the phrase, "I have a dream." The "I Have a Dream" speech has remained with us for decades—studied and written about by students throughout the U.S., conjured up in incidents of racial injustice, and revered for the sense of timeless, social relevance that it evokes.

"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation," King began, entering into a profound narrative about the history of slavery, discrimination, protest, democracy, and liberation in America.

We may all recall that opening statement, but between the lines that are most referenced in classrooms and lecture halls, there are moments in the "I Have a Dream Speech" that have evaded our collective memory. It is not that they are any less important or compelling, however; and so as we look back on King's legacy, there should be an effort to see beyond the lines we all have known growing up.

Here are five parts from King's speech that you might not remember—but that you probably should:

1. "One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity."


In large part, the Civil Rights supporters who attended the March on Washington aimed to call attention to the economic struggles of Black people in the U.S., many of whom had faced discrimination by prospective employers, realtors, government agencies, and business in the era of Jim Crow laws.

2. "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."

March on Washington 2

"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism."

King's speech moved the country—continues to move the country—and it is also thought to have played a pivotal role in the advancement of civil rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

3. "Go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."

March on Wash

The Civil Rights movement could not stop with the March on Washington. It had to push advocates to take the mission to the frontline—to address the problem head on through peaceful protest. That is exactly what happened, and across the country, a surge of activism lifted the movement to a level that had never been seen before.

4. "You have been the veterans of creative suffering."

Police brutality

"Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality."

Police brutality affected the lives of countless Black people, with law enforcement using fire hoses and police dogs to disrupt protests. Violent conflicts between Black Panther Party members and police departments left 34 Black people and 15 police officers dead, according to PBS.

5. "With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

King White House

1963, the year of the March on Washington and King's "I Have a Dream" speech, also marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which effectively freed Black slaves in the country. Now, 52 years later, we remember these hallmarks of racial justice and hope that King's legacy will remain with us in heart and practice for centuries to come.