I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. And in the final analysis, a riot is the Language of the Unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last few years; it has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met; and it has failed to hear that large segments of of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense, our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity, has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land!
There is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of Justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for Freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will, and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policeman curse, kick and even kill your Black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted, and your speech stammering, as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park, and see her developing an unconscious bitterness toward White people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking 'Daddy, why do White people treat Colored people so mean?'; when you are humiliated day-in and day-out by nagging signs reading 'White' and 'Colored'; when your first name becomes 'Nigger', your middle name becomes 'Boy', however old you are, and your last name becomes 'John', and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Missus'; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degrading and degenerating sense of nobodiness – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning 'My country 'tis of thee/Sweet land of Liberty/Of thee I sing/Land where my fathers died/Land of the Pilgrim's Pride/From every mountainside/Let freedom ring.' And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghanies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California, but not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.'