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On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to a large crowd gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. King’s speech came as a part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an organized demonstration that sought to bring awareness to the civil, labor, and economic rights of minorities in the United States. However, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was more than the headlining event of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. King’s most famous speech came because of years of hard work and civil rights progress. This paper will analyze Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, exploring the background of the speech, strategies used in the speech, and the success of the speech.
First, it is important to understand that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was in some ways the culmination of years of civil rights work. Thus, the language used in the speech and the overall effectiveness of the speech relied on the social climate of the time. Next, King’s speech was directed at two main audiences. The primary audience of the speech was the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. The secondary audience of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was the whole of the United States at the time. In attempts to reach these audiences, King references Abraham Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, and even the Bible. King mostly uses opinions and inferences to reach his audiences. King also uses finely tuned strategies to meet the needs of his audience in his “I Have a Dream” speech. For example, King uses pathos when he repeats “now is the time” (King, 1963). These words appeal to the emotions of the audience. Next, King uses logos when he describes the reality of life for minorities in the United States. King describes the bad deal minorities have received, which persuades the audience to his side. Finally, King uses his own character as a strategy to meet the needs of the audience. King is aware that his words have the ability to sway the masses and his strong voice captivates and motivates.
Ultimately, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will be remembered as one of the most successful speeches in United States history. One of the main reasons “I Have a Dream” was so successful is because of the impact it had on the civil rights movement in the United States at the time. The 1950s and early 1960s saw a United States that was still working on overcoming widespread, institutional racial injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. had already given years of his life to the civil rights movement, working to end racism in America, and it was King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that brought the reality of widespread, institutional racial injustice to the forefront of America’s conscious. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, with references to the Emancipation Proclamation and visions of an equal America, was successful in the immediate, energizing the nearly 250,000 attendees in the crowd and educating the world about what widespread, institutional racial injustice looks like (History, 2018). King used charged language and spiritual metaphors to reach his in-person attendees. However, it was in King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the success of “I Have a Dream” was truly realized. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is about equality and ending racism in the United States. King’s Nobel Peace Prize showed his effectiveness as an agent of social change and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 moved the United States closer than ever to true racial equality. Today, due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the success of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still lives on in everyday America.

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