Let us not Wallow in the Valley of Despair

The Content of Our Character

This week we celebrate the 59th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his immortal “I have a dream” speech.

In a time of deep division and violence, Dr. King rallied the American people around shared aspirations rooted in our founding principles.

Dr. King purposefully channeled the words of the founders to challenge Americans to eliminate racial discrimination. He urged Americans to come together in pursuit of their founding principles and create “a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“At the bus station in Durham, North Carolina”, May 1940. Photo by Jack Delano.

Dr. King knew that America had fallen short of the principles laid out in our founding documents. Black Americans, he noted, endured an “unearned suffering,” from slavery through the Jim Crow South.
In spite of these painful realities, Dr. King saw the strength in reunifying the people. He saw how much progress Americans could make by coming together behind the vision of the Declaration of Independence. In his words,

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Charles Willson Peale


Dr. King used the founders’ words, knowing that they were flawed figures, but also revolutionaries whose words and actions established a free nation.
He quoted Jefferson in his speech to move Americans closer to fulfilling the self-evident truth of equality among all people.


Through hope, faith, and perseverance, Americans would “let freedom ring” and make good on the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Dr. King made it clear that Equality is our Founding Ideal.

Backlit American flag


America is not and has never been a perfect nation and many people have suffered. Yet we have made great progress in trying to make our nation a “more perfect union.” From abolitionists to women’s suffragists to civil rights leaders like Dr. King, Americans who unify behind the country’s founding ideals make revolutionary strides.


If we are to continue to make such strides and build upon our progress toward achieving equality, Americans must unify behind our founding ideals. To ignore our achievements and “wallow” in distorted history will only halt our progress by sharpening divides and stopping us from working together.

There is a bright future for America, and that future begins with teaching our young people about the founders’ vision enshrined in the Declaration.

We strive for that vision by passing the American dream to the Next Generation

Our mission at the Jack Miller Center is to revitalize the teaching of American civics and history in an honest and responsible manner.

We support K-12 teachers and college professors through rich, content-based programs and resources that help them bring the American political tradition to life in their classrooms.

Together we are creating a movement of civic educators, scholars, and concerned citizens who seek to pass along America’s story and founding principles to the next generation.

Dr. King’s dream is the American dream, a dream toward realizing our ideals, one we will continue to pursue with your support.


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Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.