In making the case for civil rights for black Americans in the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often cited not just the founding (and other defining) documents of our country, but also its patriotic hymns.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech spoken almost fifty years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he referenced the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution as well as the Emancipation Proclamation. He recited verses from “My country ‘Tis of Thee.” He did not fault the American ideal, instead wanted to make that ideal real for all citizens of this great republic.
In that great address, he spoke the word, “free” or “freedom” twenty-five times. He knew the word defined as aspect of the American ideal. And he was ever the optimist:
I say to you today, my friends, 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 (Yes) 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.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream (Well)[applause] that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
On Dr. King’s day, let us remember this great man and his patriotic dream.