Martin Luther King Essay
Martin Luther King
America was experiencing a situation of chaos in the 1950s when the African Americans and the people of color began to rise for the fight of equality and freedom, and racial differences were realized. Initially, blacks and colored were widely discriminated. There were separate restaurants for white and the colored; separate educational institutes and likewise, separate hotels and motels and other public places. Blacks were not given employments on the basis of race and color and the ratio of black working men was almost negligible.
They were not even given the right to vote. Cases of police violation on blacks were tremendous. As a result, gradual frustration began bottling up in the blacks. Finally, much to their relief, a decision by the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education was issued in favor of the blacks. This decision given on May 17, 1954, recognized the discrimination against blacks in the field of education and declared that separate educational institutes resulted in unequal educational opportunities. Thus, it ordered all states to combine the blacks and white into same classrooms.
However, the country, particularly the Southern part of America, was reluctant in carrying out the court order and hence, many years passed but the order failed to be put into operation. That is when Martin Luther King Jr. appeared. King had been working for equality and justice of blacks for a long time and was one of the prominent leaders in this movement. In order to spring the court order into action and protest for freedom, King along with other more than 250,000 individuals led a march to Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, also known as the March on Washington.
This rally included many other eminent characters such as actor Sidney Poitier, and labor leader Walter Reuther. All these influential heads addressed the audience and expressed their feelings individually; however, it was King’s speech; ‘I have a dream’ marked a landmark in civil right movement history. (Wikipedia, 1) About Martin Luther King Jr Born in January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Martin Luther King was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and a brother of two siblings. He earned his Bachelors degree in 1948 in sociology and then completed his Bachelor of Divinity degree afterwards.
In 1955, he did his PhD from Boston University. Afterwards, he became a Baptist minister but then turned his focus towards the civil rights movement and fighting for the freedom of the blacks. He contributed to the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and also led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was the orator of the memorial speech ‘I have a dream’. He received Nobel Peace Price for his efforts to eliminate racial discriminations. He was also declared “Man of the Year” by Times Magazine. King was shot dead on April 4, 1968 in Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Martin Luther King Jr.
Day was later established in his memory. (Wikipedia,1) Analysis of the Speech Style There is an element of emotional appeal in King’s speech. Rich in vocabulary, it is drenched in symbolism. The speech begins with an attention-grasping phrase and positive connotations. In fact, in the entire speech, whenever the future of blacks is mentioned, King has used strong and healthy words reflecting hope and an optimist approach. The first half of the speech; however, exposes the horrible reality the blacks faced. It narrates the story of thousands of blacks who were divested of their basic rights because of their coloring.
King has made use of several phrases to describe the gloomy life of African Americans such as “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. ” (Alvarez, 339) King’s background as Baptist also came useful in his speech as it reminds many of the blacks’ Baptist sermons. It contains references from Bible; for example, his sentence, “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity’ in the second stanza indicates to Psalm 30:5. Other allusions are found from Amos 5:24 and Isaiah 40:4.
” (Wikipedia, 1) At the same time, the speech also reflects the Abraham Lincoln’s style in his Gettysburg Address when he uses the term, ‘Five score years ago’. (Public broadcasting service,1) Here again, the purpose of alluding to Lincoln in the commencing lines of speech is symbolic that is, he refers back to a leader who had fought the Southern states over the issue of slavery. In this way, King is reminding the whites that the slaves of in the 19th century and the blacks of 20th century shared a similar tragedy and the same repressive power.
After emptying out his feelings of sorrow and despair for the African Americans, the speech then moves to the phase mirroring hope and about demanding their rights. Here, King uses the term ‘check’ to refer to their rights. (Heath, 146) His expressions such as ‘bank of justice’ and ‘riches of freedom’ compel any man of heart to melt and feel their pain. (Heath, 148) They are also an evident of his literacy exposure and knowledge which was rare in blacks at that time. Plus, these words depict a feeling of hope thriving in the speech.
The way King demands for blacks’ right is purely beautiful and saintly as he says, ‘And so, we’ve come to cash this check’. (Alvarez, 352) Next, the speech emphasizes the significance of democracy and need to work together to achieve that state of democracy. Here, ‘Now is the time’ has been accentuated four times in the entire paragraph to demonstrate the critical requirement of acting promptly, without any further delay. (Alvarez, 355) He then refers this discrimination as a weakness of America that needs to be removed in order to achieve the nation’s mutual objectives.
Here, King has used the technique of reaching the subconscious by using such words such as ‘children of God’ which itself defines that all blacks and whites are brothers. (Wikipedia 1) Hence, in this way, he didn’t have to say it directly and the message was also conveyed. While he talks of brotherhood and the need to put aside the differences and work together, he also issues a warning for the conflicting parties of the consequences if such circumstances failed to occur and promises the nation that they will struggle to fight and rebel until they were not granted their rights.
This is evident from this sentence, ‘The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. ’ (Alvarez, 338) Nevertheless, King was against violence and sermonized the message of peace. Hence, the main objective of King in this rally was also to communicate his message in a non-violent manner. After encouraging the blacks to continue the fight, the speech moves to its second half – the part about his dream –an American dream.
Here, ‘I have a dream today! ’ is repeated at intervals to indicate that the dream must be accomplished immediately and not in some future time. The most popular phrase of this speech ‘I have a dream’ is repeated eight times. (Wikipedia, 1) In this part of the speech that is about his dream, he has offered the image of a united country; a country free of discrimination and hatred; a liberal state. This part is highly rhetorical and lulls the audience into another world the world he yearns to create.
His words carry such weight that the audience is bound to share his dream even if they deny it. At the end of the speech, he has named several different states of America. The reason was to make it clear that they want respect, dignity and equality in not just some parts of America but in fact, the entire country. This point was explicitly a clear indication for the Southern states. The concluding stanzas contain a stimulating phrase, ‘Let freedom ring! ’ and ‘Free at last! ’ (Alvarez, 351) The absorbing aspect of this speech is its rhythmical flow.
The speech begins with a background of the black citizens’ existing situation and the crisis they are facing. It then proposes the solution to their dilemma; followed by the explanation of the reason of why this solution should be implemented. For this part, King uses number of tools such as facts and emotional appeal. At the end, in order to provoke the feeling of urgent execution of his solution, he shares with the audience a stirring dream i. e. his vision of the ideal situation that would prevail if his proposed solution was put into practice.
Techniques Used The climax of the speech is distressing yet uplifting. The beginning stanzas reveal the sad state of blacks in America but the approach of the speech is highly optimistic and inspires the blacks to continue their struggle and the whites to bury their axes and embrace their black brothers. The technique of anaphora has been widely employed. Anaphora is the repetition of same word or phrase again and again at the beginning of sentences. For example, the most extensively used anaphora, also the title of this speech, is ‘I have a dream’.
Similarly, other examples of this tool are ‘One hundred years ago’, ‘Let freedom ring’, and ‘With this faith’, along with many others. (Wikipedia, 1) The speech is filled with metaphors. For instance, ‘long night of their captivity’ refers to their sufferings and ‘nation’s capital to cash a check’ points to their purpose of protest. At the same time, ‘this nation will rise up’ is again an indication of the coming revolution. Similarly, ‘I have a dream that my four children’ refers to the black community in reality and the word my gives it a personal touch.
(Heath, 160) In fact, King has personalized the entire message by using the words you, my and me. The wealth of this speech is its exquisite vocabulary. Words are skillfully manipulated in such a way that they attach a new meaning to every phrase. The popularity of this speech also owns to this factor. In addition, the quantity and quality of information and words reveal King’s extensive research done before delivering the speech, plus his vast knowledge since it contains references from the Bible, The Gettysburg Address and the US Declaration of Independence.
(Public broadcasting service,1) Hence, King has used various techniques and tools in this address including facts, anaphora, metaphors, motivation, visualization, arguments and persuasion. The entire speech is highly figurative and symbolic. In fact, the rally outside the Lincoln’s Memorial is symbolic in itself: they were standing outside the steps of Lincoln Memorial i. e. the memorial of a leader who abolished slavery in the Southern states. (Wikipedia, 1) Conclusion The most distinguished fact about this march was its non-violent approach and this speech is its leading example.
While its majority of audience was black; its main target was the white people. While he talked of revolution; his speech contained a message of peace. It was able to answer the meaningless questions of the opposing parties and warn them of the consequences of denying the blacks their rights without any form of hostility. In other words, it instilled in the whites a feeling of guilt and humbleness which proved to be enough to achieve their objective. At the same time, it prodded the colored citizens to keep their hopes high and not to rest until they were ‘free at last!
It also motivated President Kennedy to extend his support for this issue. The context of the speech and of the surroundings also became one of the reasons for the popularity of the speech. His speech articulated the feelings of all colored citizens and his voice became the voice of all black citizens. To sum up, King’s speech ‘I have a dream’ touches the depth of the hearts and captures the minds. Its words were able to bring tears in the eyes at that time and carry a captivating effect on the readers even today.
With tools such as anaphora and metaphors employed, the speech holds an air of charisma. It shakes the souls of the slumbering and the unjust alike. All in all, the linguistic power of the speech is what makes it stand out from the rest and gain the status of one of the most influential speeches ever delivered.
Alvarez, Alexandra. “Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’: The Speech Event as Metaphor,” Journal of Black Studies 18 1988: 337-57.
Heath, Robert. “Black Rhetoric: An Example of the Poverty of Values” Southern Speech Communication Journal 39 1973: 145-60