The Emancipation Proclamation established that all slaves could enjoy new freedom. The Declaration of Independence guarantees unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people in America. Yet King states that when African Americans have shown up to cash in this metaphorical check guaranteed to them through those foundational documents, they have been told that there are "insufficient funds" available.
An Urgent Need for Action
King responds to those who say that he needs to take a less direct approach in his methods and that gradual progress is good progress. King refutes this idea, stating:
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
King asserts that these long-awaited freedoms can wait no longer.
The Need for Unity with the White Community
King weaves the importance of a supportive white community into his message. He states that they must learn to walk this journey together and that African Americans cannot walk alone. This builds to a powerful image later in the speech: "One day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." He realizes that if adults lead effectively, younger generations will greatly benefit.
The Importance of Not Meeting Evil with Evil
King was a firm believer in nonviolent protests and in general Christian principles. Therefore, he states that "in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds." King realizes that in order for their fight to be seen as worthy and in order to make progress, their actions had to be above reproach, always showing dignity and discipline.
The Power of Hope
King looks at some serious injustices in places like Mississippi and Georgia and asks his audience to dream of freedom and justice, even in places of historically significant injustices. And he also asks his audience to go back to these places, all over the country, and instigate the change needed to make those dreams a reality. Thus, each audience member becomes a beacon of hope in their own communities all over the nation, furthering King's message.