“I have been to the mountain” was Martin Luther King’s last speech before he was assassinated. In this speech, King aims at maintaining action by encouraging the civil rights activists to continue fighting for racial equality. He uses biblical references to pass his message across to the people. He says that just like the biblical Jews who suffered in the wilderness, but their descendants finally reached the Promised Land, so will the descendants of the black people in the United States.
King rallies the people to keep fighting for their rights and never to give up. He refers to the many successes the movements have had so far. He realized that this was the best tactic to encourage the people to make sure that disillusionment does not overwhelm idealism. He compared past events and to make conclusions that all will be well in the future.
On most occasions he uses the bible, for instance, he compares the Jews slaves who were persecuted in Egypt, but due to their perseverance, they lived until they were released and eventually reached the Promised Land, to the black slaves in America whom he believed would also finally be free.
This was his central claim, which actually comes out clearly in this line “I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land” (King 1). This served to encourage the civil rights activists to employ righteousness in their fight for equality.
In this speech King was speaking directly to the sanitation workers who were striking in Memphis, but his intention was to reach all African Americans to encourage them to rally behind the movement so that they can achieve their civil rights. He uses many past events to support this claim.
For instance, he uses past efforts to illustrate some of the civil rights successes. Among them are the sit-ins that happened in North Carolina, the freedom rides that were witnessed in the South, the Negro activism in states like Georgia, Albany, Alabama, and Birmingham, and also the many supporters who trooped to capital in 1963 to participate in the demonstration in which King gave his “I have a dream” speech. He also used those fighting injustice in Memphis, Alabama, and Selma to support his claim (King 1).
King uses his oratory skills in this speech to create a role of activist to be played by his audience by retelling heroism stories in the past and assuring them that they will eventually succeed even without him around. He employs a superior relationship with the audience by using many personal examples in supporting his claim. This made the people realize that he was a very important person to them. The role of prophet that he gives himself makes people believe in every word that come out of his mouth.
When he says “I want to thank God once more for allowing me to be here with you” (King 1), he brings out the idea that he is chosen by God to deliver his people from misery. He uses near death experiences that he has gone through to paint himself as a person who has been tested and chosen. He also emerges as a visionary when he claims that he has been on the top of the mountain and has seen the Promised Land (King 1).
King uses a well organized chronological structure that he strategically embeds in the context of the time. He travels back to refer to the early successes of the movement in the start of the 1960s and works his way systematically to the present and concludes the speech with a visionary look into the future ahead. By using this structure, King was able to rekindle enthusiasm in his audience by reminding them of their circumstances and encouraging them to always keep in mind their current troubles (King 1).
In short, King claims that the efforts of the civil rights movement will come to bear fruit. He proves this by sharing his dream with the people. Having assumed a prophetic figure, he did not need much proof to strengthen his message although he has cited a few. His message was a humble plea for equality not a demand by blacks that could create fear in the white population. This is shown by his contrasting example of the black women who attempted to kill him and that of the small white girl who admired him.
King Martin. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. American Rhetoric, 1968. Web. https://americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm