Martin Luther King (birthday today):
'The American Dream'
Sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 4, 1965.
Why it's important: We've heard about King's dream. But just two years later he told an audience that his dream had turned into a nightmare. King's sermon addresses questions that could have been snatched from today's headlines: What is a living wage for workers in menial jobs? Is income inequality as corrosive as racial injustice? What are the challenges of preserving a multicultural democracy?
What he said: King said that class divisions within the United States "can be as vicious and evil as a system based on racial injustice." King also talked about the dignity of all work, saying that even menial workers should make enough "so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life."
Signature lines: "About two years ago now, I stood with many of you who stood there in person and all of you who were there in spirit before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. As I came to the end of my speech there, I tried to tell the nation about a dream I had. I must confess to you this morning that since that sweltering August afternoon in 1963, my dream has often turned into a nightmare.
I must confess to you this morning that ... my dream has often turned into a nightmare
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"I've seen my dream shattered as I've walked the streets of Chicago and see Negroes, young men and women, with a sense of utter hopelessness because they can't find any jobs. ... I've seen my dream shattered as I've been through Appalachia, and I've seen my white brothers along with Negroes living in poverty. And I'm concerned about white poverty as much as I'm concerned about Negro poverty."
What others say: "The dream is now clearly tied to equal job opportunities and decent wages," says Thomas Jackson, author of "From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice."
"King asks: How are you going to have a multiracial democracy if inequality makes life is so harsh and competitive at the bottom, where society is most multiracial and multinational?"