I HAVE A DREAM Speech Summary

I HAVE A DREAM Speech Summary, Introduction, Analysis


Historical Speech I HAVE A DREAM -Martin Luther King

An Introduction to Martin Luther King:

 Martin Luther King, Jr., original name Michael King, Jr., (born January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. – died April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee), Baptist minister and social activist who led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968.

His leadership was fundamental to that movement’s success in ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the United States King rose to national prominence as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which promoted nonviolent tactics, such as the massive March on Washington (1963), to achieve civil rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.


The Historical Background of the speech I Have A Dream:


“I Have a Dream” is a public speech that was delivered by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which he called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech was a defining moment of the civil rights movement and among the most iconic speeches in American history.

Beginning with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863, King said “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. Toward the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme “I have a dream”, prompted by Mahalia Jackson’s cry:

“Tell them about the dream, Martin!” In this part of the speech, which most excited the listeners and has now become its most famous, King described his dreams of freedom and equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred. Jon Meacham writes that, “With a single phrase, Martin Luther King Jr. joined Jefferson and Lincoln in the ranks of men who’ve shaped modern America”.

Martin Luther King delivered his most famous speech in 1963 during the March on Washington. King states that this occasion will be remembered as the “greatest demonstration for freedom” in America’s history, a key moment in the Civil Rights movement.


A Summary of I Have A Dream:


King begins by recalling the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. His choice of language here evokes Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, another key moment in American history. However, although it offered hope to many black Americans, there has been less progress than was hoped for because the black man in America is still not free. Instead, discrimination continues; black Americans live in comparative poverty despite the wealth of the nation as a whole and the after-effects of slavery are still felt.

He then evokes the signing of the Declaration of Independence, describing it as a “promissory note” whose promise has not been fulfilled for black men. Therefore, King says he is coming to Washington to chide the United States for “defaulting” on this promise in regard to black Americans who have not been granted life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The bank of justice, King says, surely still has money in it, and black Americans are owed.

King goes on to declare that now is the time to “make justice a reality” for all in the United States. He describes the situation as “urgent,” stating that the growing discontent among black Americans will not just go away. Instead, in order to ensure “tranquility” in America, the black man must be granted his true rights as a citizen of this country. However, King is keen to stress that this revolt should not be violent.

While the struggle must continue, his followers should not allow their protests to become physically violent. Instead, they must make clear to white Americans that the prosperity and freedom of both black and white are bound together. The struggle must continue until police brutality is no longer a concern for negroes, black people are no longer turned away from hotels, ghettos are a thing of the past, and voting rights are universal indeed, until justice is served.

King acknowledges that protesting in this way has been hard for many. Some of those present have been recently in prison, or have come many miles. But he promises that the struggle will be rewarded, and asks his listeners to return to their home states filled with a new hope. He then describes his famous “dream” of the country that will one day emerge.

King’s dream is of a truly free and equal country in which blacks and whites will sit and eat together. It is of a world in which children will no longer be judged by their skin color, but by their character, and where black and white alike will join hands. He calls upon his listeners to have faith that God will make this dream come to pass. King states that when freedom is allowed to “ring” from every part of the nation, eventually America will be what it should have always been and justice will have been achieved.

 The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was projected to be largest civil rights demonstration in the country’s history. King made a statement to reporters in 1963 that the march “will have a two-fold purpose… to arouse the conscience of the nation on the economic plight of the Negro one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation and to demand strong forthright civil rights legislation” (Hansen 16).

Washington itself appeared split of both sides, with some supporting the march and others absolutely against it. In an era where African Americans were seen as uneducated and brutish, many white politicians feared the worst, especially in terms of violence. They feared that thousands of African Americans pouring into the nation’s capital in a demonstration for jobs and freedom might result in a mob-like mentality, and potentially shake the foundation of the government.

One representative from South Carolina, William Jennings Bryan Dorn, compared the march to the “Mussolini Fascist blackshirt march on Rome in 1922. It is reminiscent of the Socialist Hitler’s government-sponsored rallies of Nuremberg” (Hansen 30). At the other end of the spectrum was President John F. Kennedy, who addressed the march as a “peaceful assembly calling for the redress of grievances” (Hansen 30).

These two opposing viewpoints on the march played a critical role in the construction of King’s speech. There was a tightrope King had to traverse: .constructing and delivering a speech conservative enough as to not isolate and validate the fears of many politicians, yet liberal enough to still purport action for change in the economy and social rights.

A Critical Analysis of I Have A Dream:

The composition of this speech began about four days before the address was given. King was a well-traveled and well-versed speaker in 1963, having almost ten years of experience in public speaking. King was given a five-minute time slot for the speech; consequently, this narrowed down the topics about which he could speak (however, the final speech was nearly seventeen minutes).

The time limit resulted in multiple drafts, discussions, and editing to bring the speech to its completed form. It took King and his advisors the full four days before the speech to complete the final draft. “This meticulous process of composition, beginning with the solicitation of drafts from several advisers and culminating in a complete manuscript of the speech, was highly unusual for King at this stage in his career” (Hansen 70). King’s normal style of speech construction was to use pre-adapted material, or what Drew Hansen calls “setpieces.”

“King had collected a repertoire of oratorical fragments—successful passages from his own sermons, sections from other preachers’ works, anecdotes, bible verses, lines from favorite poets — that he could combine to create a sermon” (Hansen 70). Memorizing these set pieces was a common practice for preachers, and this style of speech construction was something with which King was extremely familiar.

Based on composition, these previous speeches differed from his “I Have a Dream” speech. Previous speeches read as sermons, where King would rearrange and draw upon his memorized set-pieces. This contrasted drastically with the four-day construction of the meticulously drafted “I Have a Dream” speech. King’s team submitted a draft of the , proposed speech on the day of the march.

The “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was delivered during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He gave the speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.; this speech expresses King’s notorious hope for America and the need for change. He opens the speech by stating how happy he is to be with the marchers, and emphasizes the historical significance of their march by calling it “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

He talks about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation one hundred years before the march. He calls that proclamation “a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity,” where “their” refers to those who were enslaved. King then comes to the problems faced by African Americans in 1963, saying that one hundred years later, they still are not free. Instead, they are “sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

He also discusses the poverty endured by black Americans. King talks about when the founders of the nation (“the architects of our republic”) wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

He says they were writing a promissory note to every American, that all men were guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that this included black men as well as white. He states that America defaulted on that check where black citizens are concerned by denying them those rights. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds,” he says.

King then adopts a more hopeful tone by adding that the “bank of justice” is not bankrupt. He also states that there is urgency in their cause: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” He uses the seasons as a metaphor to describe this urgency by saying that the legitimate discontent of African Americans is a “sweltering summer,” and that freedom and equality will be an “invigorating autumn.”

He also promises that this protest is not going away. It’s not about voicing grievances and then going back to the status quo: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges,” he states. King then cautions his people not to commit any wrongful deeds. He says, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” This is a crucially important sentiment, as King’s leadership was defined by civil disobedience, not violence.

He proved that real legal change could be made without resorting to violence. Though there was much violence during the Civil Rights movement, he was always for peace, and urged others to protest peacefully, what he calls in his speech “the high plane of dignity and discipline.” He also stresses the importance of recognizing white people who want to protest for this same cause – – those allies that are necessary to its success. King provides some specific goals.

He says they can’t stop marching so long as they suffer police brutality, so long as they’re turned away from hotels, so long as they’re confined to ghettos, so long as they’re subject to segregation, and so long as they do not have the right to vote. He then recognizes the struggles that many of the marchers have already endured, and asks them to undertake that struggle again, and to have hope that their situation can and will change.

Then comes the most famous part of this speech, for which it is titled. King says his dream is “deeply rooted in the American dream.” This reinforces the protestors’ rights to equality in America. He says he dreams that “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” This emphasizes the need for black and white Americans to work together.

Central to the message of this speech, and the Civil Rights movement more generally, is this line: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He talks about the importance of faith, and that “all flesh shall see [the glory of the Lord] together.” That faith, he says, will help them in the struggles they’ve faced, the struggles they still face, and those struggles yet to come as they peacefully fight for liberty and equality.

King then uses a line from the song, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”: “This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, I from every mountainside, let freedom ring!'” Only by realizing this as truth, King says, can America become a great nation.

He begins the next section by mentioning mountainsides throughout the country, repeating “Let freedom ring.” King closes the speech with another iconic line: “When all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!””


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