I Have a Dream

I Have a Dream

“I Have a Dream,” delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is one of the most iconic and impactful speeches in American history.

The speech, set against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, begins with King’s acknowledgment of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had freed millions of slaves a century earlier. However, he quickly points out that African Americans were still not free from segregation, discrimination, and poverty. King’s speech is a vivid portrayal of the struggles faced by Black Americans and a call for an end to racial injustice.

King employs the metaphor of a “bad check,” saying that America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” However, he refuses to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. This metaphor underlines the broken promises made to African Americans.

Central to his speech is the famous refrain, “I have a dream,” which he uses to express his vision of a future where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character. He dreams of a day when his children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by their race. King’s dream extends to different aspects of life, including freedom, justice, and brotherhood.

The speech is also notable for its hopeful tone. King talks about his belief that one day, freedom and equality will be a reality in America. He urges the audience to continue to fight for a just future but to do so with dignity and discipline, avoiding physical violence.

He concludes by looking forward to a day when all Americans can join together as equals, singing the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Key quotations from the speech include:

  1. “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.”
  2. “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
  3. “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low…and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

These excerpts and the speech as a whole have continued to resonate throughout the decades, symbolizing a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing struggle for racial equality in America.

“I Have a Dream” Rhetorical Review


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a masterful example of various rhetorical devices that enhance its persuasive power and enduring impact. Here are some key rhetorical devices used in the speech:

  1. **Repetition**: King uses repetition for emphasis and to reinforce his message. The most famous example is the repeated phrase “I have a dream,” which helps to create a rhythmic pattern and reinforces the central theme of his vision for America.
  1. **Anaphora**: This is a specific type of repetition where the same phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. King uses this effectively with phrases like “Now is the time” and “I have a dream.” This technique builds momentum and helps to underline important ideas.
  1. **Allusion**: King alludes to numerous historical documents and events, such as the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation, to strengthen his argument by reminding his audience of these foundational promises of freedom and equality.
  1. **Metaphor**: Throughout the speech, King uses metaphors to illustrate complex ideas. For instance, he compares segregation to a “dark and desolate valley” and racial justice to a “sunlit path.” He also uses the metaphor of a “bad check” to describe the unfulfilled promises of freedom and rights for African Americans.
  1. **Pathos**: King appeals to the emotions of his audience, using vivid imagery and expressive language to evoke feelings of injustice and the potential for a better future. This emotional appeal is crucial for inspiring his audience and garnering support for the civil rights movement.
  1. **Ethos**: King establishes his credibility through his status as a minister and a civil rights leader, and by aligning his arguments with widely respected texts and ideals, like the Bible and American democratic principles.
  1. **Imagery**: The speech is rich with vivid imagery, which helps to paint a clear picture in the minds of the listeners. Examples include the “red hills of Georgia” and the imagery associated with the dream segments.
  1. **Parallelism**: King employs parallel structure in his sentences, which adds rhythm and makes his arguments more compelling and easier to follow.

These rhetorical devices are skillfully woven throughout King’s speech, contributing to its powerful impact and its status as one of the most influential speeches in American history.

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