On August 28, 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial building, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a historical speech about humanity and equality of African Americans citizens. An estimated 250,000 people stood and listened to the civil rights activists as one of the largest civil rights demonstrations took place in America. The civil rights activist’s speech “I have a dream” played a significant role in ending the era of African American’s segregation in the country. Without a doubt, his symbolic language left a mark in the hearts of the American people. Through his appeals for social change and the use of different persuasive technique, he led the American people to believe in the notion of equality.
When he was giving the speech, Martin Luther King was thinking of a future whereby whites and blacks could be free to share the same space and freedom. He wanted a society that was strong and free of discrimination. He used a powerful rhetorical language that made millions of people to become his staunch followers because they needed hope and inspiration from somewhere. King was able to deliver his message using three elements of ethos, logos and pathos. The orator began his historical speech with the lines “I am pleased to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of our nation” (James et al. 544). With this two opening lines King expresses his joy of being part of the process of making history in the country. He also establishes the tone of the speech from the beginning and connects with his audience. His joy is a reflection of the strength of people who were standing there to demand for freedom.
After this opening line, he shifts his focus to the history and foundation of the great nation of America. He asserts that, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” (James et al. 544). This is the part where King uses ethos in the speech to establish his credibility and connection to Lincoln and the history of America. He refers to the goodwill that Lincoln had when he signed the emancipation proclamation to free the black people from slavery. Lincoln’s action was full of hope, but King says that the country never followed his action and goodwill. In a later section of the speech, King refers to the intention that the founding fathers of the America nation had and tries to establish credibility and connection to their intentions and actions. The founding fathers had a dream of a happy and free nation without any discrimination due to color.
However, King laments that the nation has not fulfilled the dream of our founding fathers of an equal and free nation. He continues to say, “When the founders of our nation drafted the brilliant words of the constitution and the Declaration of Independence they were signing a promissory note” (James et al. 544). When he refers to the architect of our republic, he is talking about the founding fathers of our nation. In addition, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are documents that are of great importance to the history of the nation. He therefore refers to these documents to establish credibility of his claims (Zheng 123).
King also uses the Bible to establish connection with the audience. He uses the Bible perfectly because of his upbringing as a Christian and knowledge of the Bible. Many of those in the audience may have read the bible repeatedly. Christians and biblical literate Jews made up a huge percentage of the people in the audience who were listening to the speech. By quoting common bible verses King was able to connect the torment of the populace in the Bible to those of the African America at the time.
People in the audience surely connected with people in the Bible who experienced persecution in the Bible including the Christians and the Jews. He also used the Bible verses to connect with the audience (Martin Luther King 6). King was able to connect the experience of enslaved people in the bible to that of the African Americans. At the same time, King was essentially attempting to expose a section of religious leaders as hypocrites because they did not support black people’s integration and equality. He is also trying to establish similarities between the African American and religious organization that had experienced past injustices. By establishing similarities between the groups, King was able to connect his message with the audience (Johnson and Stone 10).
King also uses pathos in his speech to try to engage the emotions of the audience. He urges his listeners to awake from their lack of knowledge and valley of isolation to light a path of freedom and righteousness. He urges the people to take the opportunity to lift the country from the dragon of racial inequality to a firm ground of unity. Martin Luther King was a brave leader who could use his persuasive power to preach against injustice. He used non-violent means and spoke with passion to urge people to fight for their rights (Duffy and Besel 5).
Through his powerful words, he tried to ignite a passion within the audience and made them believe that they could bring the change they wanted. That is why he used such words such as racial injustice, quick sands and Gods children to try to highlight the magnitude of the problem (Martin Luther King 6). With the use of these words, he was trying help the people realize how powerful they were if only they could overcome their fear and fight for justice as a team. He tried to show the people that there was hope by using such words as, from sweltering summer to invigorating autumn. By using weather comparison, the speaker was trying to say that no matter how hot the sun is the autumn will soon come and people would gain their freedom (Martin Luther King 5).
Again, this was an attempt by King to try to connect with the audience’s emotions and feelings. It was an appeal for African American people to take matters into their own hand and fight for racial justice and freedom. His words were passionate and emotionally charged, however he was careful not to incite the people towards violence or destruction. He was trying to help the people to have a determination and an attitude that could make them unstoppable when it came to fighting for justice. His words were appealing to the whole nation to shun racial inequality and to live as brothers. His words are also full of hope and to bond with the people’s emotions he uses such words as “I have a dream” (James et al, 546).
Kings speech is also full of logos whereby he uses strong logic to pass his message. He is aware that he is talking to people who have faced persecution for a long time. He says in his speech, “I am aware that a number of you in the audience have faced great harm and persecution. Some of you are coming straight from behind bars” (James et al. 546). He is aware that most of his audiences are African American who has suffered the ugly reality of racial injustice. Nevertheless, he gives them hope for the future and he assures them that one day they will have equal status as any white people in the nation.
Despite their tribulations, King’s speech urges people to remain united since a united nation is a strong nation. His speech urges the country not to do injustice to the African American because it was the same as doing it to itself. The speech tries to point out at the important role the African American has played in the building of the nation. The African American people are an important part of the nation’s cultural fabric. Hence, if the country was to be free in real sense, it had to give each citizen their deserved rights and freedom regardless of their color. With these words, the speech carries a passionate and long lasting appeal to the whole nation and not only to the African American people (James et al. 546).
Martin Luther King also employs the use of metaphor to pass his message to the audience. He states, “In a sense we are here in the city to cash a check” (James et al. 544). King uses the metaphor that relates to money to show that the country owes the African America some kind of freedom and racial equality. The speaker continues, “They signed a promissory note in which every American was a beneficiary” (James et al. 544). What King means by these words is that the founders of the nation gave the people a promise. What this means is that the Declaration of Independence had promised equality to every citizen of the nation.
However, King follows these lines with another saying, “it is obvious that the country has defaulted on its promises to the African American” (James et al. 544). He uses the word default to show that the country has failed to meet its promise of giving freedom and equality to everybody. Because of the failure to meet its end of the bargain, the people of black decent have become frustrated. The lines stresses that the promissory note has not met its end of the bargain only where the African American is concerned. This has resulted to the government becoming bias and discriminating against the black people (Duffy and Besel 5). The author continues saying that the country has given the black people a bouncing check, which has no value.
A bouncing check in this instance extends the metaphor related to money to show that the country has failed to fulfill its promises. This statement is powerful because the act of financial transaction, such as bouncing checks has legal holding behind. Any failure of a check means that a person has broken the law and there are fines to pay for such an action. This means that the country has broken the law by providing African American with a bouncing check. In short, the country has shortchanged the black people by promising freedom but failing to give them actual freedom (Zheng 7).
In his spirit of a never say die attitude, King refuses to believe that American cannot offer justice and equality to the black people. He says, “but we cannot accept that the bank of justice is empty” (James et al. 545). He uses the metaphor bank of justice to show that justice is not a right to a few people but the government should serve it to all regardless of color. He refuses to believe that there is no more justice enough for every citizen in the country. He make the point to the government that the African American has come to claim for justice despite the fact that no one has provided justice (King, Jr 2). The ultimate dream for the African American is to live as an equal, which is the ultimate goal of the speech. King says, “So we are here to cash this check, a check that we believe will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice” (King, Jr 2).
Another metaphor that King uses is the weather whereby he says, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate Discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality” (James et al. 545). King likens the agony of the black people and their annoyance to the scorching heat in the summer and impartiality and liberty to refreshing autumn. The use of sweltering summer is important since he uses it twice to compare it to African American injustice and oppression and anger (Zheng 7). He also uses the word oasis to illustrate the acquisition of justice and freedom. He also uses the word sweltering heat to illustrate the injustices and oppression in different states such as Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee (James et al. 546).
King uses the metaphor of scorching heat to refer to some of the places where some of the worst cases of injustices against the black community have occurred. He mentions that although there is a serious breach of law in these states, an oasis still awaits where there will be no injustice and oppressions in these places. By using the metaphor of weather, King passes his message of hope to people who are suffering the most from injustices.
In addition, to increase the effect of his speech, King uses other devices such as anaphora. With this device, King repeats words at the beginning of each neighboring clauses. He set a pattern by repeating the words a couple of times, which illustrates a sequence and hence an increased effect. For example, King repeats the phrase “I have a dream” in successive sentences and the phrase is the title of the speech (Zheng 7). Through this phrase repetition, King is able to portray his vision for the country, which is an equal and free country. He dreams that someday Americas black people will be free and will live in an equal and just society. He believes that the country will one day abide by the saying that all people are equal and they can live as brother and sisters. He dreams that one day everybody will get along despite being black or white or a former slave or slave owner (James et al. 546). The reason why King repeats the phrase “I have a dream” is that the words are convincing since everyone has a dream. All a person need is a determination to follow through with the dream. Hence, King presents the people with a very powerful and inspiring dream and the repetition makes people to think about a future without oppression.
Despite all the devices that King have used to pass his message, what make his speech memorable is that he has focused on the problems he want to confront. The speech focuses on injustices, separation, barbarism and discrimination, which he wishes the government, could abolish. He left nothing to chance when it came to tackling the problems that African Americans were facing at the time. In addition, the strength of his speech lay in his captivating vision for a just and equal society (James et al. 547). The power of the speech also lies on his resolve not to use violence. King remained unmoved on his vision for a nonviolent change despite the fact that he and other African American faced a serious injustice. With a careful choice of language and structure of the speech, King left no room for speculation and weaknesses. Although his message focused on the black community, he appealed to all people in the country to live in harmony.
To sum up, I have a dream is one of the most memorable speeches that a leader has given in the country’s history. Martin Luther King delivered the speech in front of the memorial building on the memorial of the founding father Abraham Lincolns. The speech deals with the issue of injustice against the black people and King delivered it at a very momentous period in the history of the country. King intention was to let people know that God created them equally and hence they must live in harmony as brothers and sisters. He used different persuasive technique such the use ethos, pathos, logos, metaphors and anaphora to pass his message. Because of his persuasive skills he gave hope to many and made people believe in the power of equality.