“I Have a Dream” is widely regarded as the most memorable speech delivered by the American clergyman and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King. This address was made on August 28, 1963, to a gathering of two hundred and fifty thousand people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In the speech, King inspired the people to be steadfast in their fight for civil rights in the country.
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Many historians agree that this speech was instrumental in the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an act that guaranteed equality among the races in the previously segregated America. In this speech, King addressed three major points on freedom, oppression, and nonviolent protest.
The first major point made by King through his speech was that the freedom and equality of all Americans were guaranteed. The speech referenced the abolition of slavery when it stated that “Fivescore years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” (King 1).
Through the proclamation, the African Americans who had been held as slaves for centuries were freed. As free citizens, King believed that they were entitled to the same rights as the white citizens. King noted that the constitution and the Declaration of Independence guaranteed the freedom and equality of all the citizens of the country. He maintained that the documents were a promise that all men “black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The speech highlighted King’s hope and aspirations that the African Americans would one day gain freedom in the country. It confirmed that King was confident that the American people would one day honor the declaration that everyone was created equal. King declared that “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’” (4).
Another point made in the speech is that discrimination and racial injustices were prevalent in the country. This discrimination was undertaken based on the race of an individual. The speech highlighted that while America was a prosperous nation, the people of color continued to live in poverty. King declared that one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity (1).
The speech demonstrated that people of color were faced with racial injustices every day. That segregation was prevalent in America with some places designated “for whites only”. In addition to this, the speech documented the violent injustices that racial discrimination resulted in. These injustices had necessitated the civil protests such as the one King was addressing.
King stated that the African Americans “can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality” (3). The speech also acknowledged that the Blacks were undergoing great tribulation in the country. In his speech, he revealed said “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations” (King 4). King implored the people not to despair even when faced with this discrimination and mistreatment.
The third major point raised in the speech was that nonviolence would be used to achieve the goals of civil rights. At a time when some African American Civil Rights Activist leaders were calling for violence, King emphasized on the need to engage in peaceful protest.
He stated, “in the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds” (King 3). According to him, protest could be made in a peaceful and dignified manner. The speech asserted that even when faced with violent opposition, the followers of Martin Luther King would not respond with force. King declared, “Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force” (3).
The speech affirmed that all the citizens of the nation should coexist peacefully as brothers. King was keen to point out that in spite of the struggles that the people of color faced, the African American community should not distrust all white people. He explained that there were many white people who supported the struggle for civil rights by the black community. King declared, “Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny” (3).
The “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King proved to be a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement and it accelerated the move to achieving civil rights for African Americans. The speech highlighted the aspirations of the African American community and their conviction to keep struggling until their achieved their goals. The points made in the speech inspired millions in the country and they were able to steer the American nation out of racial oppression and into an era of freedom and justice for all.
King, Luther. I Have a Dream. August 1963. Web. <https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf>.