What is your dream? To become a rich, a doctor, or a celebrity? If someone asks this question, many people would think about their personal success in their lives, not for others’. However, Martin Luther King Jr, the first president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of the notable leader of civil rights movement, had a dream for everyone in the world: the equal rights. On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington D.C., starting from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Over 200,000 people participated in this non-violent civil rights movement to demonstrate for the desegregation of political, civil, and economic aspects for other races, especially for African Americans. For the last event of the day, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the powerful speech, “I Have a Dream” at the Lincoln Memorial.
The speech had a huge impact on society, drawing a great amount of attention to the racial discrimination issues from not only the people in the United States, but also from all over the world. King’s speech impressed on the people by comparing the history of equal rights and fairness to King’s time period, touching the audience to feel sympathy by illustrating the racism that African Americans had to go through. His speech also gives the unity and hope to the African-American population that they can have the equal rights as whites do, using different rhetorical appeals such as logos, ethos, and pathos, and different rhetorical tropes such as metaphor and repetition.
King opens the speech by drawing attention from the crowds and pointing out the history of equal rights of African Americans and whites using ethos and logos. He refers the United States and Lincoln to establish the credibility. He narrates that “Five score years ago,” Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, “signed the Emancipation Proclamation” that declared the freedom of slaves and African Americans were no longer be treated as slaves (King 1). King uses this evidence to show that even Lincoln, historically admired man, supported the freedom of African Americans.
King uses another example and states 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” that indicates the fact 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” (1). Like Lincoln, the founding fathers of the United States also supported the equal rights of all human being. Not only King establishes credibility with these two historical facts, but they also help to make the connection between the audience and the historical figures that they are sharing the same idea, which is the racial equality, and can get support from the great men of hundreds of years ago.
Then, King illustrates the current situation of African Americans by using metaphor. He compares America to the bank and states that “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘Insufficient funds’” (2). Since America achieved the independence from the United Kingdom, America had promised the equal rights of all human beings regarding the race, but the promise was not kept. Blacks have gotten bad checks, living in poverty with the segregation, but whites have gotten good checks, shifting hard works to blacks, having all the wealth and reputations. Comparing the blacks with bad checks, King emphasizes his ultimate goal, which is to “demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice” (2). Using historical facts and metaphor, King contrasts the documented and the real-life equality to alert the current issue of segregation.
Martin Luther King continues the speech by illustrating the miserable situation of African Americans, provoking sympathy from the audience using strong dictions. He juxtaposes the sufferings that people with colored skin have gone through after they got freedom from President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. According to King’s speech, blacks are “the victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality”, their children are “stripped of their adulthood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only””, and “the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negros in New York believe he has nothing for which to vote” (3).
With this juxtaposition, King also uses the tough dictions such as “unspeakable horrors”, “brutality”, and “stripped” to illustrate the horrible situation (3). As King narrates the sufferings, blacks do not have the rights that they ought to have as whites do. Unlike blacks, whites have no fear of police brutality, they can sleep wherever they want during road trips, can move from big city to another big city, can get better service from restaurants with “Whites Only” signs, and can also choose their leaders by voting. Blacks are not accepted as the citizens of the United States. Juxtaposition of the oppressions using tough dictions touches people’s heart to feel kinship and makes whites to have sympathy and guilty for their behaviors on African Americans.
For the last part, King closes the speech by giving hope and solidarity to the African American populations that they can change their life to have the equal rights and real freedom. King uses repetitions and anaphora through his speech. First, he repeats the phrase “Now is the time” for four times (4). By repeating this phrase, he emphasizes the urgency of the situation and encourages people to participate in the civil rights movements with him to pursue the real freedom. In addition to this anaphora, King uses repetition of the word “we” throughout the whole speech (1-6). This constant repetition evokes the solidarity between King and the audience by including King himself with the audience.
It helps the audience to get more power to do the movements with influential sponsor. Lastly, with his deep soulful voice, he repeats “I have a dream”, visualizing the world “that one day sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together”, and “our little children … will not be judged by the color of their skin” (4-5). By repeating “I have a dream” with soulful tone, King emphasizes the fact that he can imagine the world, where blacks and whites, no matter the skin color, can be friends and families. The combination of pathos and repetition makes the bond between the audience and King, motivating people to work with him and other civil rights organizations to get rid of segregation and injustice.
In 1960s, racism and violence to blacks were all over the place. African Americans were terrorized and enslaved by white Americans. However, Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream”, one of the most outstanding speeches in the history, had brought a huge impact on the United States’ society. Even in a life-threatening situation, he could not “be satisfied” and could not stop to work for the equal rights (3). A lot of blacks, who heard the speech directly from him at the Lincoln Memorial or watched the broadcasting through televisions at their homes, took courage from him and started the direct actions to get their rights and freedom back.
His speech finally made the chance to hold meeting between civil rights leaders and the President and succeeded to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 that gave the complete freedom to African Americans as the citizen of the United States. Without Martin Luther King, today’s America would still be heavily segregated depending on the skin color. His use of different rhetorical appeals and tropes ashamed and awakened whites to support blacks and made them not to give up for the equal rights and freedom.