Last Updated on March 11, 2024

This speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most recognized speeches of our time, if not the most famous. It was August 28, 1963, when thousands gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to listen. The part most often repeated are the words of King’s hope: “I have a dream …”

But the part of the speech often overlooked is the part of a promise given in the Constitution that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This promise was for all men — yes, black men as well as white men.

“It is obvious today,” King stated confidently, “that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'” The crowd started to get fired up, and his point was well made as he continued. “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are ‘insufficient funds’ in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us, upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

I love the way this is worded because he had hope for those who caused the injustice that still plagued the African American people at that point. Instead of words of condemnation like those of his counterpart, Malcom X, he gives hope to those who were restraining his people from the very freedoms the Constitution promised all men. He believed in America’s ability to do right.

When I dwell on this well-written speech, I am struck by King’s attitude which I myself lack: an attitude of hope — not just hope for things I wish to see come to fruition, but also hope in the people who can accomplish such things. Hope for my children to do the right thing and hope that I would speak words that encourage them. Hope that I will fill their love banks with “sufficient funds” and not bankrupt them with too many lists, disciplines, and most importantly, unfulfilled promises.

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