Eminent civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the largest civil rights rally ever assembled in Washington, DC in 1963. The march came to a stop in front of the Lincoln Memorial and it was here that King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He could not have chosen an appropriate place to do it for it had a symbolic value. He gave his speech before the monument of a President who, through his speech Gettysburg and his Emancipation Proclamation, stated that all men are created equal, something King echoed in his speech.
He reminded his audience about it when he made mention of Lincoln as “a great American. ” In preparing his speech, he derived his thoughts and ideas from the Bible, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. His audience was not only the black people present but also the whites as well. But King also addressed his speech not only to them but to anyone else who were considered marginalized in American society, not only by race but by creed, namely Jews, (other) Protestants and Catholics whose differing beliefs were considered “alien” if not “hostile” by mainstream American society.
He made mention of them at the end of his speech. His speech is divided into two parts. The first part served more of a history lesson to the blacks and to the whites whom he felt neglected or pretended not to know. Using repetition, he recited the litany of the oppression and discrimination the Negro people had to endure. He used such phrases as “hundred years later” to enumerate these offenses committed against the Negroes by segregation and the Jim Crow Laws, highlighting the logos of the speech.
He would further add more of their grievances through the repeated use of other phrases “now is the time” and “we can never be satisfied” to drive home the points he raised. He would employ repetition again at the second part of his speech. This was something King wished to remind the black folk. The latter paragraph was intended for both blacks and whites alike. Furthermore, using metaphor, he likened Washington, DC to a bank (of justice) and the reason for coming here was to cash the proverbial check issued to them by the Founding Fathers.
It was during these parts ot the speech that underscore his use of ethos which he used effectively and he had the advantage owing to his racial background which enabled him to speak with conviction (King). Furthermore, being a preacher and a man of God, he also made use of biblical passages to drive home his point, quoting passages from the Old Testament prophets Amos, “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream”(New American Bible, Amos 5:24) and from Isiah, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isiah 40:4-5).
The second part of the speech evokes a sense of hope which served as the pathos of the speech. While King painted a rather dark picture of American society in the first part, one might get the impresson he was encouraging revolution or civil war. But King dispelled any of these false notion by saying “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline” (King). He exhorted blacks to prove their worth as citizens of the United States by conducting themselves in a civilized manner to prove their detractors wrong.
Even though he was exhorting blacks to rise up to the occasion, he was also inviting the whites, as well as other racial or ethnic group to enjoin them in the pursuit of real unity and he punctuated this in the part when he would repeatedly use the sentence “I have a dream. ” He further reaffirmed his message by enjoining all people of all backgrounds to join hands and come together, stating they are all God’s children and as such are equal in His eyes (King).
In conclusion, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is not only a significant historical speech, but is something rich in literary detail as King made judicious use of various literary devices, in addition to his background and training, to drive home his points. While on one hand, he revealed the truth of American society, he also gave it hope and that it is possible to change American society for the better. As an epilogue, the events that followed his speech validated everything he said though he did not live to see it.