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    A History and Analysis of Martin Luther King’s Speech I Have a Dream

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    Elements of “I Have a Dream”

    Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. begins his “I Have a Dream” speech by identifying his subject, calling the event surrounding it a “demonstration for freedom.” He mentions “freedom” throughout the speech, especially in the several “let freedom ring’s of his conclusion, which double as lyrics from an old American anthem. King chooses to mention such lyrics, themes, and the American dream to help characterize his logos, utilizes several pathetic appeals to his audience to create pathos, and recalls historical knowledge to emphasize ethos. These rhetorical techniques combine with events surrounding the second reading of King’s speech to create an effective oration.

    King tends toward the statement “the Negro” in the first half of his speech, implying through logos that “his” struggle is not everyone’s struggle. However, he later explains that freedom for “the Negro” becomes “our freedom,” and that he and his audience “cannot walk alone,” meaning that black citizens of the United States cannot “walk” to freedom without “our white brothers.” In his thesis King claims that “we are not satisfied…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” The image of a stream evokes nature’s power, an image he returns to in his conclusion through geographic features such as “the mighty mountains of New York.”

    Through emphatic words, King not only suggests but directly states a connection between his goals and those of his audience. He explains that “the Negro is still sadly crippled” and “in an appalling condition,” as if all listeners should agree with his sentiments. Later, he calls his dreams of equality between black and white people “our hope.” During the March on

    Washington in 1963, where King famously delivered this speech, his direct audience likely supported similar causes to those mentioned in “I Have a Dream”; they endured heat and crowding to hear it, without protest. Because King appeals to a direct audience inclined to share his opinions regarding racism, his pathos gains effectiveness.

    From the start of his speech, King maintains a strong ethos; as a prominent civil rights activist and reverend, he seems qualified to discuss discrimination and God. As a black male, he would know firsthand the struggles of “the Negro” in America circa 1963. King establishes greater ethos as the speech progresses through knowledge of United States historical documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation.

    The occasion on which King spoke lie in the midst of the American civil rights movement, and events related to this movement influenced “I Have a Dream.” Medgar Evers, a fellow civil rights activist, had been killed just months before. A New Yorker article detailing a fictionalized account of his murder portrays Evers’ murderer as a southern white supremacist who, through killing Evers’ fictional stand-in for his own satisfaction, is shown to have little regard for human life. Whereas this article highlights differences in peoples’ ways of thinking, King “unites” people through his syntax; while the article emphasizes potential for violence, King desires peaceful action. This different yet acceptable viewpoint gives “I Have a Dream” staying power.

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    A History and Analysis of Martin Luther King’s Speech I Have a Dream. (2022, Dec 15). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/a-history-and-analysis-of-martin-luther-kings-speech-i-have-a-dream/

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