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I Have a Dream Speech Analysis revised

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Analysis of the “I Have a Dream” Speech
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech which gained
recognition as one of the greatest statements in the world. It was given in Lincoln Memorial
steps on 28
th
August 1963 with the aim of convincing the nation to bring to an end the
rampant racial discrimination against the African Americans (McGill 1). The speech
electrified America by demanding for racial justice and encouraged the audience to stand
together in the fight for the rights of African Americans that were denied by the constitution.
The speech used several rhetorical devices such as metaphors, repetition, imagery, and modes
of persuasion to convince the audience of the need for urgent interventions to end racial
segregation. The speech led to the great crusade for civil rights in the 1960’s that saw an end
to the racial injustices committed against the African Americans. Therefore, it marks the
epitome of the civil rights movement era. This paper provides an analysis of this speech and
its significance in the civil rights era.
The civil rights era saw mass protests led by leaders such as Dr. King to fight against
racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. The period has its roots in the uprising by
African slaves to resist racial oppression and abolish slavery (Carson). After the American
civil war of 1861 to 1865 which saw the Northern Union States fight the Southern
Confederate States to end slavery, African Americans got the right to citizenship. They also
acquired the right to vote. However, notwithstanding that, they continued to face several
forms of discrimination from the white Americans (Carson). The whites ignored the laws put
in place after the civil war and continued to uphold the segregation laws. This led to the
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formation of the civil rights movements to advocate for the rights of African Americans
(Donaldson 38). This lead to the reconstruction period which entailed making constitutional
amendments to secure the rights of African Americans.
Reconstruction failed to ensure that the rights of African Americans after the critical
changes on the 13
th
, 14
th,
and the 15
th
amendments (Carson). The reconstruction period
intended to ensure that the black and white Americans had equal rights and opportunities
(Donaldson 45). However, irrespective of the various amendments during this period, African
Americans were still being subjected to discrimination and violation of their rights. The right
to vote and hold political office was upheld for a short time until the introduction of Jim
Crow Laws. States and local departments enacted these laws and enforced racial segregation
in all public facilities (Carson). The mantra “separate but equal” saw African Americans
share the same facilities that were inferior to those of the whites. Public education, transport,
and hospitals were some of the constitutionally segregated facilities with those of the blacks
being inferior and sometimes non-existent.
Such legal segregation created several social, educational, and economic
disadvantages for the African Americans leading to the creation of the civil rights movement
ensured upholding of the rights of black Americans as per the constitution (Donaldson 57).
The campaign entailed non-violent protests that took place in the 1950s to 60s to break the
pattern of segregation due to race. Militant African American activists came up to join the
struggle for not just civil rights but also freedom and liberation (Carson). Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. was one of the activists who confronted the enduring education, economic, cultural
and political discrimination. Dr. King led the civil rights crusade from the mid-1950s to 1968
when he got assassinated. His actions played a huge role in African Americans getting their
constitutionally denied rights. They enjoyed the right to vote, equal opportunities for
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employment, and access to education, just like their white counterparts (Donaldson 66). The
African Americans also achieved freedom from all forms of discrimination and segregation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15
th
January 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia and grew
up surrounded by activists such as his grandfather, Adam Daniel Williams who fought for the
establishment of public schools for the blacks (McGill 1). He experienced racism in his daily
life from childhood to adulthood which led him to fight for the rights of African Americans.
He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta where he trained to be a minister and got ordained
in 1948. He then joined Crozer Theological Seminary and graduated in 1951 (Sundquist 12).
After his graduation, he enrolled for a doctorate program in Boston University where he
learned about the use of non-violent protests to push for civil rights. He married in 1953 and
moved to Montgomery, Alabama to pastor the Dexter Avenue Church (McGill 1).
In 1959, King organized a bus boycott to fight for equality after an African American;
Rosa Parks had to give up her seat to a white man (McGill 2). She got arrested for violating
the segregation laws which made King push for a boycott of using public buses. After one
year, the Supreme Court declared the separation laws to be unlawful which energized many
blacks to stand up against discrimination. In 1963, King led protests in Birmingham to push
for equal employment rights and desegregation of rest and dressing rooms (McGill 2). He got
imprisoned where he wrote a famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to push for equality.
After a series of marches following and police brutality on blacks which broadcasted on
national television after King’s arrest, there was the formation of a committee which saw the
integration of Birmingham schools and department stores leading to King’s second victory
(History.com Staff).
The unrest in Birmingham led President John F. Kennedy to introduce the Civil
Rights Bill for debate by the Congress. It aimed at preventing permitted discrimination in
public places throughout the U.S. This saw several rallies in support for the bill with the
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largest one occurring on August 28, 1963, in Washington where King gave the famous “I
Have a Dream” address in front of 250,000 people (McGill 2). The speech inspired the
supporters to work towards an equal society which forced Congress to pass the Civil Rights
Act in 1964. King also conducted a campaign against poverty by joining striking workers in
Memphis, Tennessee but was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in a hotel in Memphis (McGill
2). However, despite living for less than forty years, King had a tremendous impact by using
non-violent resistance to push for a change in the legislature to end legal segregation in the
United States. In 1964, he was bestowed with the Nobel peace prize.
The “I have a dream” speech marked the peak of King’s involvement in civil rights
movement to push for racial justice. It argued against racial segregation and profiling by
pushing for equality, justice, and freedom (Manfredonia). The key message in the speech is
that all people are created equal to counteract the 100 years of segregation of African
Americans. It has two distinct parts using the literary technique of grouping ideas. In the first
category, he talks about racial discrimination as the problem of the day; the rampant
segregation and discrimination of African Americans since the abolishment of slavery. He
then inspires the audience to action by pushing for equality and freedom. King uses themed
paragraphs to inspire his audience into ending racial segregation. First, he used the “now is
the time” mantra to remind his supporters of the sense of urgency (King 545). According to
King, there was no time for gradualism as there has been in the past 100 years. However,
King appealed to his supporters to uphold unity and non-violent means of meeting their push
for racial justice. He shuns physical violence and distrust of all whites by the blacks but sees
them as allies in the push for justice.
Second, King uses the “we can never be satisfied” (King 545) statement to set the
expectations of the movement. These include bringing to an end of police brutality, racial
segregation in public amenities, poverty leading to deplorable living conditions, and allowing
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the blacks their right to vote (Manfredonia). The right to vote was only for the whites
excluding the African Americans from the critical decision-making process. After portraying
the state of racial injustice, King uses the other part of the speech to represent an idealized
state of racial equality. He presents his dream scenario of racial cooperation between the
African Americans and the whites to end racial discrimination in the United States.
Therefore, the speech marked the beginning of a better and fairer America with the
harmonious integration of all the races. He states that he still has a dream of equality among
all men, brotherhood between slaves and their owners, the end of injustice and oppression,
freedom, peaceful co-existence between the blacks and the whites, and faith in the Lord. This
inspires the supporters towards a peaceful revolution.
King used several rhetorical strategies in his speech. He applied anaphora to stress the
importance of several points (Manfredonia). He consistently repeated the phrase “one
hundred years later, the negro is still…” (King 544). The words emphasize the calamities
plaguing the African American community over the course of time. The African Americans
suffered segregation with their facilities being inferior to those of the whites and sometimes
non-existent. King dramatized the shameful living conditions of the blacks and the lack of
proper initiatives to improve them over the course of time. He also used repetition to stress on
the discontentment of the African American community with the state of affairs in the
country. The speech repeated the phrases “we can never be satisfied as long as” and “we
cannot be satisfied as long as” in alternation to push for justice (King 544). This encouraged
the audience to persevere by sticking to the long-term struggle until they achieve equality.
King used the all-inclusive word “we” throughout the speech to show that he visualized his
audience as a whole and symbolized brotherhood.
The repetition of the word “now” got the audience into a sense of urgency to rectify
the discrimination of African American society. King also repeated the phrase “I have a
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dream” and “with this faith” severally in the speech to inspire the audience (Manfredonia).
This helped him to introduce two major themes of interracial cooperation and social equality
in the speech. The “I have a dream” mantra conveyed his eloquent view of an American
future devoid of any racial divisions. It detailed the different aspects of his vision for the
country (Sundquist 38). This was followed by the phrase “with this faith” to articulate his
belief in the American people to bring about the desired transformation (King 546). The
conclusion also bore the rhetorical strategy of repetition by mentioning places and ending
with the line “let freedom ring” (King 547). This statement showed that King desired to see
liberty spread to all the corners of the nation.
Another rhetorical effect used by King to great effect is imagery. He used the
metaphor of an uncashed cheque to compare the current state of affairs about race. King
referred to the Declaration of Independence as a promissory note and the push for equality
and freedom as a check that they had come to cash (King 545). Despite the check having the
mark of “insufficient funds,” King awakened the passions of his audience by “refusing to
believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt” (King 545). He also used imagery by referring to
the current state as the “dark valley of segregation” (King 546). This referenced the famous
biblical motif in Christianity of the valley of death. The speech also applied similes to
compare several objects. King says that “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like
waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” (King 545). This comparison inspired the
audience not to tire before they achieve racial equality in the country.
King also used several modes of persuasion such as ethos, pathos, and logos in his
speech. He plays to the emotions of the the audience by making a plea for children in the
famous line, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they
will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” (King
546). This placed an emotional responsibility on parents to not only push for racial equality
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for themselves but also for their children to enjoy. The speech also presented the deplorable
state of the African Americans to evoke pity among the audience. Additionally, the address
has a logical organization. It begins by articulating the history of African Americans, then
goes on to retaliate the current nightmare in the country for upholding racial inequality and
later concluded with a dramatic portrayal of a better future of equality, justice, and freedom.
The structure of the speech also makes it unique and worthwhile for the American
society. King used short sentences severally in the address to convey his ideas to the audience
effortlessly. For example, he says “this is our hope” (King 546) as a complete sentence for
emphasis. King also uses the length of the paragraphs to persuade the audience. There are
recurrent ideas in the beginning and end of the paragraphs to stress their importance. For
instance, he used the words ‘I have a dream’ at the beginning of 8 consecutive sections to
help articulate his ideas one by one. As a result, the audience got to understand the different
points he wanted to pass across separately. Dividing the speech into two distinct ideas also
made its easy for the audience to follow. Therefore, these structural modifications made it
easy for the audience to understand the points being put across and thus inspire them to
action.
The speech also employed religious optimism as a motif to inspire the audience into
taking various actions to end racial injustice for the African American population. King did
not tell his supporters that they will achieve this quickly. Instead, he alluded to the existence
of persistent racism and violence. However, at the end of the speech, King explodes with
optimism to inspire the audience about a better future despite the strenuous circumstances. He
states that “this is our hope” (King 546) to signify his faith in the dream of a justice society.
This was an essential ending as it gave the audience some religious belief to make a
difference. This coupled with the idealized American dream created in the speech served a
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huge motivation to the audience to change their fate in the face of the seething American
nightmare of racial segregation.
In conclusion, King delivered one of the greatest speeches in the world. It demanded
racial justice for the oppressed black community in America. The key message in the speech
was that all men are created equal thus should be the case in the United States. The speech
was carefully crafted to reach to the entire American population with facts and ideas. Its
structure is in two distinct parts. The first one addressed the racial injustices facing the
African American population. The second part idealized an American future full of racial
cooperation and freedom to stir the audience to action. The speech also utilized multiple
literary techniques. These include metaphors, repetition, imagery, a grouping of ideas, and
several modes of persuasion to inspire the audience into action. As a result, the speech set a
precedent for the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts bringing an end to racial segregation.
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Works Cited
Carson, Clayborne. "American Civil Rights Movement | Definition, Events, History, &
Facts." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018. Web.
Donaldson, Gary. The Second Reconstruction: A History of the Modern Civil Rights
Movement. Malabar, Fla: Krieger, 2000. Print.
History.com Staff. "Martin Luther King, Jr." History.com. 2009. Web.
James, Missy et al. Reading Literature, and Writing Argument. 6th ed., Pearson, 2016, pp.
544-547
Manfredonia, John. "Rhetorical Analysis: I Have A Dream | Work, and
Progress." Sites.psu.edu. 2012. Web.
McGill, Sarah Ann. “Martin Luther King, Jr.” [“Martin Luther King, Jr.”]. Martin Luther
King, Jr, 8/1/2017, pp. 1-2. EBSCOhost.
Sundquist, Eric J. King's Dream. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.

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