Of what did Martin Luther King, Jr. believe African-Americans were deprived?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that African-Americans had been denied their Constitutional rights.

Dr. King contended that the Declaration of Independence promised all men the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. King claimed all African Americans actually received was a "promissory note." 

So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Further, Dr. King pointed to the "fierce urgency of Now" to make good on these promises of democracy that African Americans had been denied for nearly two centuries. Now, he declared, was the time to end "the quicksands of racial injustice."

Still, in adherence to his philosophy of non-violence, Dr. King urged the quarter of a million people present not to "allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence;" instead, they must carry on the struggle for Constitutional rights with "dignity and discipline." Finally, Dr. King urged the crowd not to "wallow in despair" because he had a dream that one day freedom would be given to all people in America.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. King returns repeatedly to the word "justice" in his speech. He begins by referencing the Emancipation Proclamation, stating that it was the "joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity." The problem, however, is that 100 years after it had been signed, African Americans were still not free. They had not received the justice that the law, both of the Constitution and the Proclamation, had granted them. He uses the metaphor of the "bank of justice" to highlight his point. Dr. King claims that "America [had] given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'" America had denied the Negro people the justice that they deserved. With justice would come freedom and equality, all the inalienable rights that were promised to Americans in the Constitution.