Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s American Dream

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich and Speaker Newt Gingrich

On August 28, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The triumph of the March on Washington and the exposure it brought to the civil rights movement contributed to the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For nearly six decades, Reverend King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has remained one of the most impactful orations in history. 

Throughout the speech, Reverend King looked to America’s core principles to address the challenges of his time.  Citing America’s founding documents, he reasserted that freedom and equal opportunity are the foundation of America.

As Reverend King said, “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 – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

There have been times throughout history when Americans have not lived up to this promise.  Yet, during one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history, Reverend King stood before 250,000 people and expressed his belief in America and the principles upon which our nation was founded.

“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” Reverend King said.  “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”

Reverend King was not calling for a rewriting of history, for the denial of American exceptionalism, or for the abandonment of the truths enshrined in our founding documents. 

Rather, Reverend King recognized that the American principles of freedom, individual liberty, and equal opportunity were the keys to a better future for Black Americans.

According to Reverend King, “So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Though the challenges and adversaries facing the United States are different today, the lessons of Reverend King’s “I Have a Dream” speech are of the utmost importance.

We learn from Reverend King that America is a nation founded on principles that are worth preserving, fighting for, and defending.  America was built by the determination and dreams of many and can’t be defined by the incompetent – or at times, corrupt – decisions of few.

Over the past 245 years, the American dream has fostered generations of discovery, creativity, and innovation.  American pioneers have unlocked the mysteries of our universe while exploring the depths of the ocean and the frontiers of space.  American visionaries have brought beauty into the world through masterful works of art, prose, and music.  And American innovators have given us the ability to fly, cure diseases, and communicate with one another from virtually anywhere in the world.

As we commemorate the 58th anniversary of Reverend King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we must work to ensure the American dream is preserved for future generations.