Martin Luther King gave a sermon on July 4, 1965 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His topic was “The American Dream.”
You can read his entire sermon at the Martin Luther King Papers at Stanford. In fact, you can hear it, as well, in the video embedded at the end of this post, though his spoken sermon is somewhat different than the written transcript.
Here is a lengthy excerpt, though I’d encourage you to read or listen to it in its entirety:
This is why we must join the war against poverty (Yes, sir) and believe in the dignity of all work. What makes a job menial? I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don’t pay folk anything. (Yes, sir) Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life. And no matter what the job is it takes on dignity.
I submit to you when I took off on that plane this morning, I saw men go out there in their overalls. (Yes, sir, Every time) I saw them working on things here and there, and saw some more going out there to put the breakfast on there so that we could eat on our way to Atlanta. (Make it plain) And I said to myself that these people who constitute the ground crew are just as significant as the pilot, because this plane couldn’t move if you didn’t have the ground crew. (Amen) I submit to you that in Hugh Spaulding or Grady Hospital, (Preach it) the woman or the man who goes in there to sweep the floor is just as significant as the doctor, (Yes) because if he doesn’t get that dust off the floor germs will begin to circulate. And those same germs can do injury and harm to the human being. I submit to you this morning (Yes) that there is dignity in all work (Have mercy) when we learn to pay people decent wages. Whoever cooks in your house, whoever sweeps the floor in your house is just as significant as anybody who lives in that house. (Amen) And everybody that we call a maid is serving God in a significant way. (Preach it) And I love the maids, I love the people who have been ignored, and I want to see them get the kind of wages that they need. And their job is no longer a menial job, (No, sir) for you come to see its worth and its dignity.
Are we really taking this thing seriously? “All men are created equal.” (Amen) And that means that every man who lives in a slum today (Preach it) is just as significant as John D., Nelson, or any other Rockefeller. Every man who lives in the slum is just as significant as Henry Ford. All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that can’t be separated from you. [clap] Go down and tell them, (No) “You may take my life, but you can’t take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can’t take my right to liberty. You may take from me the desire, you may take from me the propensity to pursue happiness, but you can’t take from me my right to pursue happiness.” (Yes) “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Yes, sir)
Now there’s another thing that we must never forget. If we are going to make the American dream a reality, (Yes) we are challenged to work in an action program to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination. This problem isn’t going to solve itself, however much [word inaudible] people tell us this. However much the Uncle Toms and Nervous Nellies in the Negro communities tell us this, this problem isn’t just going to work itself out. (No, sir) History is the long story of the fact (Yes) that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges without strong resistance, and they seldom do it voluntarily. And so if the American dream is to be a reality, we must work to make it a reality and realize the urgency of the moment.
Frederick Douglass also gave a famous speech on a July 4th, titled “What Is The Slave To The 4th of July?”
I’m adding these resources to The Best Websites For Learning About The Fourth Of July.
the audio of the speech from Stanford is NOT the July 4, 1965 sermon (it is not a sermon) at Ebenezer. That speech was given at Drew Un in Feb 1964. The written text in the book A Knock at Midnight is the correct text. one obvious pt is that his sermon talks of the Selma to Montgomery March and the 3 deaths it took to get to August 6 and the Voting Rts. Act. I am very surprised that a prestigious place like Stanford makes such a sloppy error. thank you for your work. Peace and justice, Ed