Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights activist in America. Were it not for the efforts of martin Luther, it is highly likely that the freedom and equity the black and other minor communities in America enjoy today, would not be as it is (Williams; 1987). During his endeavors, King delivered the widely known “I have a dream” speech on August 28th 1963 during the March on Washington. It is important to note that this march was organized by a group of civil rights, labor and religious organizations promulgating for jobs, freedom and equity (Tuttle; 1999). What relevance did his speech have? This paper seeks to look into this question. The paper will analyze the speech by looking at four key areas; what was the speaker’s goal? What was the main message being conveyed? Why was he delivering the speech and was he addressing the right crowd? Did the achieve speech any objectives?
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Purpose of the speech
Dr. King’s speech, as mentioned, was delivered to an audience which had participated in the Washington march. This march was aimed at advocating for jobs and freedom of the minorities especially the black community. Often, people ask whether the speech was aimed at educating, persuading, motivating or entertaining the crowd. In my view, this speech met all the above mentioned criterions. In as far as educating goes, the speech educated the blacks and other minority groups on their rights of equality and freedom (Voting, 196). This is achieved when Dr. King quotes excerpts from the constitution and the declaration of independence. He asserts that “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Marable & Mullings;201- 209). Many people might not have been familiar with this. They perhaps thought that the constitution and the declaration of independence were designed for the white community in America. This speech also persuaded and motivated the legislation of the civil rights bill and the action of the black community in fighting for their rights respectively.
In 1964, congress passed the civil rights act. An area that might have been used as a motivator for the blacks is during the repetition of the “I have a dream” phrase. A good example is that of, “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” (Marable & Mullings; 200-225). This line was a motivator of action then and is still is a motivator of action today. The racial inequality that was rampant during those times, greatly declined as a result of this speech. This speech entertained the crowd. I, however, do not think that this was in Dr. King’s plan. The speech entertained the crowd then much as it entertains many today. The manner in which the speech was delivered, by great use of stylistic devices made the speech very entertaining. Stylistic devices used in this speech included great use of satire and splendid use of anaphora (repetition). The manner in which the speech is delivered, as though it is a church sermon makes it satirical and rhetoric. Dr. King also borrows from great cultural texts, such as Lincolns Gettysburg address when he uses the phrase “five score years ago…” This is satirical and ironical considering that the period of five years is not the one in question. Repetition is used in most part of the phrase. Major areas where repetition is used include “I have a dream” “free at last” “with this faith” and in many other areas. John Lewis, US representative, asserted that “By speaking the way he did, he educated, he inspired, and he informed not just the people there, but people throughout America and unborn generations”. This was the goal of the speech (American Rhetoric).
What is the main message that was delivered?
It was the aim of the march to advocate and call out for jobs and freedom equality. Dr. King on the other hand, through this speech, advocated for racial equality and an end to discrimination (Tuttle; 109). This might be in line with the main purpose of the march but it is a little bit off track. His message focused on racial equality as well as an end to discrimination. He, however, does not specify the race as being black in this case implying that it was all forms of racial discrimination. “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” (Marable & Mullings; 276). This is the most significant text that passes across this message. America is a great nation and comprises of people of diverse racial backgrounds. It comprises of Negroes, Caucasians and mongoloids. This people have to co-exist with each other in all circumstances and situations. It was (and still is) a religious teaching in America and the rest of the world that all men are equal. Dr. King was a staunch Christian. Christianity advocates for equality of all persons. It was therefore his message, as seen in the phrase, that all people in America should start living as equals and provide equal opportunities to all people regardless of the race of a person. According to Marrable and Mullings, (306) the speech stated, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood” (Marable & Mullings, 306). This is just but another powerful phrase from the speech that indicates the extent to which Dr. King was against racial injustice. He advocated for the coming together of the different people and later on harnessing the spirit of team work.
Why was he delivering the speech and was he addressing the right crowd?
Dr. King was one of the main speakers during the Washington march. He was addressing the crowd as a member of the big six. In attendance were over 500, 000 people. 200,000 of these were the police while the other 300, 000 were civilians. This goes to show the extent in which matters were out of hand in the country. Over 80% of the civilians participating were from the black community. Civil rights activist Medgar Evers had just been assassinated due to racial reasons. This had agitated the black community. They were fed up with the ever increasing cases of assassination of their own by the whites who were pro racial discrimination. Martin Luther King was delivering the speech to put an end to all this. He wanted to urge the white community to embrace racial equality and justice. While he also advocated for tolerance among members of the black community and that they should not take matters in their own hands by revolting through a similar kind of massacre. Martin Luther was indeed addressing the right crowd, owing to the fact that it is the black community that was facing racial discrimination in great extents.
Was the objective of the speech achieved?
In the long run, the objective of the speech was wholly achieved. America today has a black president. Racial discrimination in America is a gone case, though there still exist cases of racial discrimination and inequalities in few other areas. The world has also embraced tendencies that promulgate equality of the races. Through this Act, major changes were made in the country’s history. The act aimed at prohibiting any kind of discrimination in communal facilities and employment in the government. This act was passed in 1964. As a result, the National Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. This act proscribed prejudiced voting practice that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States (voting rights).
The speech by Dr. King changed many lives and shaped the history of America in as far as racial discrimination is concerned. Although he did not live to see his dream, many African Americans are living this dream. As noted, the current president of the US is an African American. It is no surprise; therefore, that Martin Luther king is regarded as one of the most prolific leaders in the history of the United States of America.
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Marable, Manning and Mullings, Leith. Freedom: A Photographic History of the African American Struggle, London: Phaidon, 2002.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, New York: Viking, 1987.
Tuttle,Kate. “March on Washington, 1963”.
Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, New York: Perseus, 1999. “American Rhetoric”.
“Bush signs Voting Rights Act extension: Historic 1965 law renewed for 25 years”. Associated Press. 2006. Web.