7 July 2023
Speech writing is an important aspect of persuading people. Although some people state that they can persuade everyone in everything, these individuals use specific techniques. For instance, Martin Luther King in his speech, “I have a dream,” implements examples, thematic words, common language, similes, and metaphors to persuade his audience. In this case, the use of these persuasive techniques helped King to get the desired response in the hearts of his audience. Therefore, speech writing is a powerful tool to influence others.
Speeches and writings are a means of objectively presenting a particular message to a given audience. Basically, speech writing of one of the types of papers that people use when they want to influence others. For example, speech writing by King includes some exceptional works, which have a profound impact on American society. In particular, King’s speech, “I have a dream,” employs specific examples, repetition, common words, and similes and metaphors, which are crucial elements that can be replicated in writing an exemplary speech.
Writing Speech and Examples
Firstly, specific examples are useful in establishing convincing justifications for the arguments presented in speech writing. For instance, King provided specific geographic references to demonstrate the underlying theoretical and logical concepts that explained and defended the message of the speech (Rohaniyah, 2013, p. 38). Basically, King’s speech addresses the social injustice faced by Blacks. Moreover, his speech provides particular references to the events that are going on across the United States to ensure that his writing is well grounded. Hence, speeches should provide the audience with clear examples. As a result, such a technique can allow people to make sense of the reasoning behind the theme presented in the speech.
Thematic Words in Speech Writing
Then, thematic words are repeated throughout the speech to create emphasis and maintain the audience’s attention on the main message. For example, a pattern emerges on analyzing the frequency of using ‘theme’ words in King’s speech such as freedom that is repeated 20 times (Rohaniyah, 2013, p. 37). In this case, the word “freedom” is the main theme that can be noted from King’s speech. Moreover, the consistent use of this word throughout the writing makes this primary theme more evident to the audience. Hence, the central theme of the speech should be repeated by using a variety of keywords. As a result, it ensures that the audience comprehends the main themes.
Common Language in Speeches
Further on, common words should dominate any speech writing to ensure familiarity and establish an ideal atmosphere for comprehension. Basically, King’s writing contains many common words, which are associated with ordinary activities or objects that the audience experiences in everyday life, for example, freedom and brotherhood (Zheng, 2014, p. 125). Because the use of common words is essential, it makes sure that the audience understands the message of the speech. In turn, this writing method creates a friendly atmosphere by achieving inclusivity, concerning differences in literacy levels. Hence, the choice of words for writing the speech should not be too complicated for the audience. Thus, this feature may undermine efficient communication.
Speech Writing with Similies and Metaphors
Furthermore, the use of rhetorical devices , such as similes and metaphors, facilitates the conceptualization of the themes contained in speech writing. For example, King in his speech employs many similes and metaphors to create deep impressions in the audience, which sparks their imagination and inspires them (Zheng, 2014, p. 129). In this case, King’s speech draws in the audience by providing them with vivid descriptions. As a result, this method allows the audience to engage with the speech through their imagination. On the other hand, the desired effect of making people visualize and actively engage with the themes at a personal level has to be realized.
Conclusion on Speech Writing
A good speech writing requires the author to utilize certain elements to optimize the effect on the audience, regarding the cognizance of the topic. In this case, specific examples, thematic words, common language, similes, and metaphors are evident aspects of King’s technique of speech writing. Thus, the appropriate use of an identical technique results in outstanding speeches.
Rohaniyah, J. (2013). Speech analysis: “I have a dream”-Martin Luther King Jr. OKARA: Journal of Languages and Literature, 1 (8), 31-47.
Zheng, S. (2014). A stylistic analysis on “I have a dream.” Journal of Studies in Social Sciences , 9 (1), 123-134.
Explore These Fascinating Articles
Generalization, chicago style citation.
- Skip to primary navigation
- Skip to content
- Skip to primary sidebar
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Guide to Inspirational Writing
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963, Washington, DC
Brian Clark is the founder of Copyblogger, the midlife personal growth newsletter Further, Unemployable, an educational community that provides smart strategies for freelancers and solopreneurs , and Creative Affiliate, affiliate marketing advice for creators .
- Copyblogger Academy - The Copyblogger Academy is a premier membership program that gives you the tools and skillset to turn your writing into income. Join 1300+ members inside.
- Content Marketing - We're Digital Commerce Partners, Copyblogger's Content Marketing & SEO Agency. Fill out this form to apply for our program.
- Promote yourself to 100,000+ subscribers by sponsoring my newsletter.
Reader comments (89).
January 21, 2008 at 2:49 am
Thanks Brian. Still sends shivers down the spine.
January 21, 2013 at 10:33 am
January 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm
January 21, 2013 at 9:42 pm
Doesn’t it though Joanna! I think I can listen to this at least one a week and walk away inspired even more! Absolutely amazing!
January 21, 2008 at 3:43 am
The way he delivered those words made all the difference. Remember, he was a great orator too.
January 17, 2011 at 10:20 am
Excellent point. Sometimes it’s not as much about the words (which are moving), but about the delivery and the context.
If they’d been delivered by a lesser speaker, in front of a smaller crowd, would those words be as forceful now, written down, on this blog?
January 22, 2013 at 7:15 pm
Apparently, Hitler had the same oratory style as Martin Luther King, sadly how he was able to generate a massive Nazi following. Ironic to say the least.
January 21, 2008 at 4:32 am
You can hear him speak when you read it. THAT, my friend, is the proof.
It’s not just the words, it’s the man.
January 21, 2013 at 1:51 pm
January 21, 2013 at 6:37 pm
Of all the words ever spoken, this has to be among the most memorable, the most meaningful.
January 21, 2008 at 4:55 am
I love that speech. I noticed that he uses the same words a lot at the beginning of each sentence and that definitely adds to the effect.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to influence thousands of people with your words?
January 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Find a core issue native to the human person — like freedom. Challenge the status-quo by taking the risk necessary to speaking to that issue. Be prepared. The result of your influence, in that context is generally immediate but may not be favorable.
I have a question. What is the dream of the politically correct?
January 21, 2008 at 5:24 am
One of the best orators of all times. And this is just a snippet. I have got his full speech in mp3. Simply amazing.
January 21, 2008 at 6:43 am
I’ve got this one on my wall of inspiration:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
What a guy, eh?
January 21, 2008 at 7:06 am
Truly one of the best speeches in American History… he learned his speech skills from his father–a preacher.
January 21, 2008 at 7:07 am
If you’re able to inspire, you’re able to widen the reach of your message enormously … It’s a very powerful thing …
I have written an in depth post on spicing up your communication through power factors such as inspiration, idealism and so on …
Anyone interested can find it on my blog …
January 21, 2008 at 7:18 am
Damn, that speech is so freaking magnificent, I could hear every single word, how amazing is that?
Such a plethora of incredible benefits can’t be anything but enchanting (and he beautifully breaks the don’t say ‘I’ more than ‘you’ “rule”, in such a wonderful way).
Brian, will you follow up with takeaways from this forever inspiring piece?
January 21, 2008 at 7:27 am
Brilliant writing and a great lesson in leadership… especially for those who try to inspire people with “I have a 5-point plan” or “I have a long-term strategy.”
My favorite quote is his streetsweeper quote, which I posted today. Happy MLK Day.
January 21, 2008 at 7:45 am
A truly classic speech and oratory. As others before me have said, I can *still* hear each word as if it was being spoken before me today.
January 21, 2008 at 9:09 am
A fine homage to one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. May the legacy of Dr. King live on.
January 21, 2008 at 9:21 am
I hope we can all serve as great role models and leaders as Dr. King.
January 21, 2008 at 9:26 am
Nice to have this put in front of our eyes again. I suspect we could all hear his voice as we read. And see him again in our mind’s eye. (There are audio clips at this site of his most memorable words: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/popular_requests/ ) Just as we can probably still hear, see, practically touch JFK’s “Ask not..” speech. Truly inspiring vision comes first…the words,the sounds, the sight, the form it takes…these have much to do with the imprint on our psyches…the echoing timelessness of those visions presented in contexts that move us deeply. Ideas that matter. Thanks, Brian. I would not have revisited the original document this year as I have so many times in the past. It bears repeated remembrance. All best, Jan
January 21, 2008 at 9:49 am
I grew up in Detroit and stood in the street with MLK — I was a kid — but we marched for civil rights with millions of Americans. And we helped make America a better place.
I think those turbulent days in the 60’s were inspiring and tragic. But today, I am going to dwell on King’s inspiration.
“To make art, develop an infallible technique, then place yourself at the mercy of inspiration.” I have no idea who said it.
MLK honed his writing every week. World changing.
January 21, 2008 at 10:05 am
Thank you, Brian, for printing this.
What a great tribute to an even greater, life-changing man. I admire him enormously for all he did in a difficult, hostile environment.
Thank you Martin, for your courage and your tenacity. And thank you for elevating the fight from violence to brotherhood.
January 21, 2008 at 10:14 am
I agree with Moshin’s point.
The fact that he was a great orator made it even more powerful than me reading it and trying to decide what to emphasize and where to pause, etc.
The voice is a powerful thing, especially in the “hands” of a magnificent speaker.
January 21, 2008 at 10:17 am
Agreed. But the words, and the structure, and the repetition, and the lyricism, and the way the two recurring concepts of the dream and freedom come together in that legendary last line… that’s damn fine writing.
January 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm
January 21, 2008 at 10:29 am
Beautiful. I got chills.
January 21, 2008 at 10:46 am
Great speech. The ‘Let Freedom ring…’ portion reminded me a lot of Walt Whitman’s work.
Are we ever gonna see a Whitman guide to poetic copy? 🙂
January 21, 2008 at 11:01 am
So inspiring. It’s funny to think of the repeating phrases and how powerful that is- and to think of the many who were there that day, including Bob Dylan.
So many believed his message- so much so that he was killed for it because people were afraid of it coming true.
So, we remember him warmly today.
Thanks for the great lessons in his speech.
January 21, 2008 at 11:32 am
January 21, 2008 at 11:35 am
See rare photos from TIME magazine here
January 21, 2008 at 12:58 pm
I agree completely with what you say in comment #19 Brian.
Without having been written down, practiced, tweaked and committed to memory, it wouldn’t have been near as powerful a speech.
The words made the voice and the voice made the words.
Without each other, they’re like 2 sparrows in a hurricane.
January 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm
His heart spoke first and then came the pen.
It is still quite amazing to read this speech and hear his voice!
This quote says it all:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” [thanks Josh]
We celebrate MLK everyday!
January 21, 2008 at 1:48 pm
What an amazing man. What a heart. What a fierce model for ‘right’!
This speech for freedom and equality is the equivalent to Chief Seattle’s Speech on the environment.
On my blog today, I talk about how we, as copywriters and all business people can apply the same high principles to our work.
To SEE everyone as ONE … we’re all part of the same family … the human family.
And, as such, in our marketing for our clients, we can do our part to SEE our clients and their perspective customers as life’s treasures …
and treat them accordingly.
We’re all ONE, despite the perceived differences.
Along with you all, I honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today and everyday!
He gave his life for truth, honor and freedom for all. What conviction!
January 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm
“Thank you Dr. King Jr. for everything you have done.”
January 21, 2008 at 3:38 pm
It’s astonishing writing *and* astonishing delivery. I tried to unpack some of it on the blog, and probably shouldn’t have–I really admire the way you’ve left the words here to speak for themselves.
January 21, 2008 at 5:57 pm
Hey, I made a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day video that I think EVERYONE will enjoy. It’s really short, and should put a smile on your face.
January 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm
What a classy way to honor the man and the principles by posting this speech and letting it stand on its own, without comment. Watched this (again) on YouTube. Great orating and great writing.
January 21, 2008 at 7:48 pm
I really appreciate you paying respect to Dr. King. He deserves all the respect he will ever receive and then some. It’s good to know people are continuing to push his message. For all the people who won’t know what you did today, THANK YOU!
January 21, 2008 at 9:10 pm
Perfect post on a great day.
January 21, 2008 at 10:51 pm
i am from India..we had this speech in our english text for school…great one..and a great man…
January 21, 2008 at 11:35 pm
Every time I come across this amazing speech, I am shocked by the date. 1963. Such recent times (though before I was born). This country still has its racial struggles but we have come a LONG WAY in such a SHORT TIME. It goes to show how powerful words can be. Thanks for posting M.L. King’s words and inspiration.
January 21, 2008 at 11:40 pm
It’s kind of breathtaking, isn’t it Marilla? Yes, there’s plenty of work that remains to be done, but the progress in just about generation is amazing.
January 22, 2008 at 7:57 am
January 22, 2008 at 9:28 am
Nothing at all against Dr. King, but why is this the only holiday still named after a person? What happened to Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday? They were changed into the generic President’s Day, but why?
January 22, 2008 at 9:42 am
Don’t forget about Columbus Day, Sam… and that one named for Christ in December. 🙂
January 31, 2008 at 3:52 pm
Thanks it’s some of the best inspirational copywriting ever created so most appropriate on site like this.
Here’s some more motivational “Soul” wisdom that’s color-blind.
March 19, 2008 at 11:04 pm
It leaves me speechless even more so to read than to hear. Thank you.
April 15, 2008 at 3:34 pm
this speech mayed me to believe and myself that no mattrer color you are or what race you came from that you will always make it no matter what poeple think about you .dr king i wish you were sill alive so i can tell you how you god used you to save amercia. may god bless your family.in god we trust.
October 1, 2009 at 6:56 am
February 12, 2010 at 5:02 am
December 13, 2010 at 6:33 am
January 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm
Brilliant post for today. Sends chills down my spine.
January 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm
The power of words . . . jeez.
Sends goosebumps up and down the spine, across my face, and down my arms.
The truth is: we all possess this power of voice, words, motivation, and inspiration.
R.I.P The King.
January 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm
As immortal as any words ever written (or spoken). There’s a T.E. Lawrence quote:
“All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.”
MLK definitely dreamed in the daytime.
January 21, 2013 at 11:02 am
Stop dreaming and start planning – I got this sentence when I flew away from CES. We do need dreams. We need plans too.
January 21, 2013 at 11:47 am
Just a little bit of topical humour: wouldn’t this speech if entered in blog form today get flagged as keyword stuffing? The internet certainly has changed how we think and how we create and share our content!
Thanks for the throwback to an awesome orator!
January 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm
This is great. I find it interesting that he had a DREAM, not a strategy, or a business plan or a system. He had a DREAM. That is what we all must start with.
January 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm
Here is Dr. King delivering this speech’s incredible conclusion, with synchronized text onscreen. Enjoy. http://vimeo.com/34743138
January 21, 2013 at 2:01 pm
A thought – yes the speech is one of the best ever written, delivered with passion and power to people ready to hear the message. BUT…freedom needs to be watched and preserved every day. Freedom is taken away from us in small subtle ways. Freedom is lost when we allow other people to decide what we can and cannot do. What we can and cannot say. And I believe that in 2013 there is a need for another Martin Luther King to remind America and the world that freedom is precious and choice and personal control and responsibility is what EVERY single person needs to take, hold dear and allow others to have. Just because we think differently is no reason either of us should be chained, shackled or suppressed. Just because we believe differently, celebrate different holidays, different customs or enjoy different lifestyles gives no other person the right to remove our freedom. Brian, I believe and I have seen Copyblogger bring issues to light that help the cause of freedom. There are many bloggers, authors, speakers and ministers who understand the importance of freedom. I’ll get off my soap box and say thank you for reminding your readers of a wonderful. powerful moment in history.
January 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm
Brian, I admire your inventiveness. Put up the speech with only the title offering commentary. Let them go at it. You do understand people.
January 21, 2013 at 3:18 pm
I just finished listening to this speech again. Of course, the entire speech is 17 minutes. Although, called the I Have a Dream speech, Dr. KIng’s set up took about 10 minutes. During that time he carefully outlined the context of the movement in 1963. He also uses the Rule of 3’s on several occasions. He carefully takes note of who is in the audience and establishes a strong connection. His skill as an orator is almost flawless. He holds back, pacing the momentum for full impact. Then he carefully releases the arrows that make his points over and over again, hitting the target message with precision each time. Then after the I Have a Dream section, lets the audience know what they are to do next. It is a powerful and beautiful exhibition of skill.
January 22, 2013 at 12:00 am
The King center was full of resplendent joy today. Such a beautiful tribute, and such a beautiful day of celebration.
January 22, 2013 at 12:08 am
Obama’s inaugural address on MLK day, this is an auspicious time!
January 22, 2013 at 9:07 am
Some great, great words.
January 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm
You should have reprinted the whole speech, especially the part about America having given its citizen’s of color a bad check and Dr. King refusing to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
January 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm
I can’t ever hear or read this speech without tears coming to my eyes. How appropriate that the second inauguration of the nation’s first black president should occur on the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. I’m proud to be an American.
January 22, 2013 at 9:24 pm
Just one of the most powerful speeches and men ever. What a blessing that Martin Luther King, Jr. lived. What would have been had he not died?
January 23, 2013 at 2:28 am
It’s so visual, so perfectly timed — but above all, it finds a central truth. Still. Thanks for sharing it in its entirety.
January 23, 2013 at 3:29 am
Now this is AWESOME ONE.
January 23, 2013 at 8:02 pm
I forwarded the Copyblogger link to King’s epochal speech, to the President of Pax Christi Australia, Fr Claude Mostowik. He forwarded Pax members a related article: The Three Evils of Mankind: Dr. King Had Other Dreams by Tom and Judy Turnipseed, CounterPunch January 21, 2013:
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 26 years old; Coretta had just given birth to their first child.
E D. Dixon, another Montgomery pastor, asked to host a meeting in King’s Dexter Street Baptist Church—not because of King, but because the church was the closest to downtown–across from the capitol. King attended the poorly planned meeting, was reluctantly drawn in, and his greatness began to emerge. It wasn’t necessarily the perfect time for him–he was young, with a new family, not much money or a lot of experience.
He even, at a critical point in his life, hesitated. On our Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Pilgrimage this past fall, we sat at the very table in his Kitchen where he sat, uncertain of himself, discouraged, and frightened for his family by all the threatening calls they had received. He almost called it quits that night. In the middle of his doubts, he had his “Kitchen Epiphany” when he faced down his fears with the conviction that God stands by those who stand for justice. The world doesn’t need a perfect person to do what he did. The world needed him. And this week we celebrate the 84th birthday of this leader of nonviolent protest, freedom fighter and hero in the struggle for civil rights and racial justice.
He led waves of ordinary, courageous people on the streets of the South from the bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, voter registrations drives, to the Freedom rides.
In the face of overwhelming odds, King knew those ordinary people needed a dream like all people do – one that speaks to our spirits through both our heads and our hearts. And because he knew that, on August 28, 1963, he stood at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington before 125,000 people and delivered one of the most well known and quoted speeches ever made and maybe the greatest.
”I have a Dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
But Dr. King had other dreams.
We forget that King had a dream beyond racial justice. He also believed that we can overcome war itself, as he hinted at in Oslo in 1964 and later. He dreamed that man would find an alternative to war and violence between nations just as he was finding a way to put an end to racial injustice. The madness must cease.
President Obama, in his Nobel Prize speech, expressed the view that we’re stuck with war and there’s nothing we can do about it, indeed that it is often justified. Dr. King in his Nobel speech made it clear that he believed our destiny is ours to choose. “World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable”, he said. He knew—as we UU’s know “that we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” He tells us that we must either “learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”
He became more and more convinced that he had to speak out strongly against the war on Vietnam and so in 1967 and ‘68 he did. He delivered his most famous antiwar speech “Beyond Vietnam” at Manhattan’s Riverside Church exactly one year before he died. It’s hard to understand just how radical it was at the time. His closest advisors tried to talk him out of it because they felt it would dilute his civil rights work. It would alienate President Johnson who was a civil rights supporter, but also pursuing the war. And it did. He would be labeled unpatriotic for his criticism of America’s foreign policy. But he felt that ending discrimination in America and ending the massacre in Vietnam were not separate. As a man of conscience, a man of compassion, he had to speak. And he paid the price for speaking out. All the major media backed the War. He was regularly attacked in national newspapers. The New York Times wrote editorials against him. Many of his supporters turned against him. He was called a traitor and a commie.
He was attacked for many of the same reason we peace activists who oppose the wars in Iraq, Pakistan Afghanistan, and all our military actions around the world, are attacked today and his answers to them were a lot the same as ours are.
First he connected the war with racism and the struggle for equality. Far more black men were sent to fight and die than their white brothers, who had the financial means and connections to escape the draft. Young black men denied equal rights in our society were going off to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia. Today, in our voluntary military, there is an economic draft, where those same young black men–faced with lack of jobs and few opportunities–are forced to join the military to survive.
King was not limited by a narrow nationalistic view, by the idea of our country, right or wrong. He thought of himself as a world citizen. His dedication was not limited to the needs of African-Americans or the cause of civil rights. He was dedicated not just to save the soul of America but to work for the betterment of all, the brotherhood of man. He felt a special need to speak out against our militaristic nature. It was impossible to preach non-violence to young angry black men until he had spoken clearly to the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world of his day”—his own country.
He spoke of the collateral damage of the war and of the suffering of the people we claimed to be liberating—not the soldiers on each side, or the military government, but of the civilians, people who had been under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades. Even for those we came to support, “we poisoned their water, killed their crops, destroyed their families, their villages” and often brought death. And in today’s wars waged by our country, the collateral damage continues to grow. In World War I there was one civilian killed for every 10 soldiers on both sides. Nowadays it’s just the opposite. With the technological advances in killing tools, there are at least 5 innocent civilians killed for every one soldier.
And what about the wars’ effects on our own people? Then as now, “This business of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.”
His strongest response to his critics about his opposition to the war was economic and I agree with that today. He said “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” When Judy and I feed the homeless in the park every Sunday with Food Not Bombs, we set up our sign. On one side is our logo, on the other, General Eisenhower’s words.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Today the military represents 55% of our discretionary budget. The Afghan war alone costs us $2 billion a week. And the arms manufacturers and war mongers are selling weapons to both sides, getting rich off the blood of our young people. Those who will stand up and speak out fearlessly against such insanity today are needed now more than ever.
At the end of his life, King was consumed with his dream of ending poverty. He spoke about it as early as 1964 in his Nobel Prize Lecture, but by 1968, he was speaking out strongly about the interrelatedness of racism, war and poverty. He was truly on dangerous ground. He expanded his vision from working to achieve equal rights for African Americans and peacemaking, to bringing an end to systemic poverty and seeking economic justice for all. Before, he was trying to change the way people in and out of power thought about race and war; now he was trying to change the way people in and out of power thought about power.
On the day of his death he was in Memphis supporting the sanitation workers’ strike—for fair wages and decent working conditions. On the agenda was the Poor People’s Campaign, a plan to bring thousands of the poor of all races on another march to Washington to demand jobs and, most radical of all, not just a living wage, but a guaranteed income for all. In 1968 he understood economic exploitation and his dream was to end it.
Throughout his life King faced the three great evils of mankind—racism, war, and poverty. His dream was to overcome all three. The night before he died King delivered his last great speech of hope, assuring his followers that his dreams would not die. If they, like us today, would continue to pursue those dreams, he knew that someday we would get to the promised land.
Tom and Judy Turnipseed live in South Carolina. They can be reached at: [email protected]
January 23, 2013 at 11:23 pm
Mucho gracias Seigneur Brian Clark for this blog post. Once more you’re proving with this blog post how nice to tend a loyal tribe. For me personally and most likely for other people of color and loyal readers of CopyBlogger, you touched our hearts.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land . . . So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” — “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, April 3, 1968 (the day before his assassination)
The Mountain Top Speech : http://youtu.be/ixfwGLxRJU8
January 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This quote still grips me. Standing ovation, Still one, if not the best speech ever presented before an audience. Applause
This article's comments are closed.
Get free access to proven marketing training.
An official website of the United States government
Official websites use .gov A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.
Secure .gov websites use HTTPS A lock ( Lock A locked padlock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.
U.S. Embassy & Consulate in the Republic of Korea
On August 28, 1963, some 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, a young man named Martin Luther King climbed the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to describe his vision of America. More than 200,000 people-black and white-came to listen. They came by plane, by car, by bus, by train, and by foot. They came to Washington to demand equal rights for black people. And the dream that they heard on the steps of the Monument became the dream of a generation.
As far as black Americans were concerned, the nation’s response to Brown was agonizingly slow, and neither state legislatures nor the Congress seemed willing to help their cause along. Finally, President John F. Kennedy recognized that only a strong civil rights bill would put teeth into the drive to secure equal protection of the laws for African Americans. On June 11, 1963, he proposed such a bill to Congress, asking for legislation that would provide “the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves.” Southern representatives in Congress managed to block the bill in committee, and civil rights leaders sought some way to build political momentum behind the measure.
A. Philip Randolph, a labor leader and longtime civil rights activist, called for a massive march on Washington to dramatize the issue. He welcomed the participation of white groups as well as black in order to demonstrate the multiracial backing for civil rights. The various elements of the civil rights movement, many of which had been wary of one another, agreed to participate. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and the Urban League all managed to bury their differences and work together. The leaders even agreed to tone down the rhetoric of some of the more militant activists for the sake of unity, and they worked closely with the Kennedy administration, which hoped the march would, in fact, lead to passage of the civil rights bill.
On August 28, 1963, under a nearly cloudless sky, more than 250,000 people, a fifth of them white, gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to rally for “jobs and freedom.” The roster of speakers included speakers from nearly every segment of society — labor leaders like Walter Reuther, clergy, film stars such as Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando and folksingers such as Joan Baez. Each of the speakers was allotted fifteen minutes, but the day belonged to the young and charismatic leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had originally prepared a short and somewhat formal recitation of the sufferings of African Americans attempting to realize their freedom in a society chained by discrimination. He was about to sit down when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out, “Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” Encouraged by shouts from the audience, King drew upon some of his past talks, and the result became the landmark statement of civil rights in America — a dream of all people, of all races and colors and backgrounds, sharing in an America marked by freedom and democracy.
For further reading: Herbert Garfinkel, When Negroes March: The March on Washington…(1969); Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (1988); Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. (1982). “I HAVE A DREAM” (1963)
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of whithering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.
We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.
Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.
I would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of it’s colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.
We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”
We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom, ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Please call: (02)-397-4114
Outside of Office Hours, contact: (02)-397-4114
Outside of South Korea: +82-2-397-4114
- Upcoming Events
- Get Tickets
- Tickets & Hours
- Parking & Directions
- AWM Exclusives
- Watch Past Events
- American Writers Festival
- Venue Rentals
- Adult Group Experiences
- Field Trips (K-12)
- In-Person Permanent Exhibits
- In-Person Temporary Exhibits
- Online Exhibits
- Book Club Reading Recommendations
- AWM Author Talks
- Nation of Writers
- Dead Writer Drama
- Affiliate Museums
- In-Person Field Trips
- Virtual Field Trips
- Resources by Grade Level
- Resources by Exhibit
- Inquiry-Based Curriculum
- Using Primary Sources
- Educational Updates
- Current Competition
- Past Winners
- My America Curriculum
- Dark Testament Curriculum
- Donor Societies
- Apply to Volunteer
- OnWord Annual Benefit
- Planned Giving
- History & Mission
- Diversity & Equity
- National Advisory Council
- Curating Team
- Board of Trustees
- Jobs & Volunteering
Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes and Speeches
A list of iconic martin luther king, jr. quotes, plus how to listen to his speeches and read his work..
In celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s enduring legacy and powerful words, here is a list of some important speeches he made during his life. We’ve pulled some of our favorite quotes, but we urge you to read and watch them in their entirety to understand and appreciate the full depth of Dr. King’s radical work.
“Paul’s Letter to American Christians” (1956)
“Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem…You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
Listen to the sermon below, or read the transcript here .
“I Have a Dream” (1963)
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Read the transcript and listen to the audio recording here.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963)
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”
Read the full letter here , which Dr. King began drafting in the margins of a newspaper editorial while imprisoned.
Nobel Peace Prize Lecture (1964)
“Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
Listen to the lecture below, or read the transcript here .
“Proud to be Maladjusted” (1966)
“There are some things in our society and some things in our world for which I am proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to racial segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, leave millions of God’s children smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”
Watch a clip of the address below, and read the transcript here of the version of this speech delivered March 17, 1966 at Southern Methodist University.
“The Other America” (1967)
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
“The Three Evils of Society” (1967)
“And so the collision course is set. The people cry for freedom and the congress attempts to legislate repression. Millions, yes billions, are appropriated for mass murder; but the most meager pittance of foreign aid for international development is crushed in the surge of reaction. Unemployment rages at a major depression level in the black ghettos, but the bi-partisan response is an anti-riot bill rather than a serious poverty program.”
Learn more about the Three Evils of Poverty, Racism, and Militarism here and listen to the speech below.
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” (1967)
“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.’ It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that ‘America will be’ are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.”
Listen to the audio recording below, and read the transcript here .
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (1968)
“All we say to America is to be true to what you said on paper…Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on. We need all of you.”
Read and listen to Dr. King’s final speech here.
There are many more speeches and writings available and we encourage you to watch, listen to, and read them. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University is a great resource, as is The King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
And in the true spirit of Dr. King, we hope you take time today and all days to serve your community and help people who need help. Only together can we achieve his dream.
14 thoughts on “ Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes and Speeches ”
Quote of jhon milton Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties
Hello, My name is Benoît from Central African Republic. Thank you very much for putting all King’s speeches online. It is very interesting but to find the full text is a bit difficult. Please, is it payable or not?
Hi Benoit, We do not have the whole text of most of King’s speeches, but you can find many of them here for free: http://www.mlkonline.net/speeches.html Thank you! -Ari Bachechi, Data Operations Coordinator
God is able all human being is equal & free in front of god
Food is nothing with out freedom
where’s the I Have A Dream speech?
Thank you for bringing the log in requirement to our attention. You can read and listen to the “I Have A Dream” speech on NPR’s website . The link in the blog has also been updated.
-Ari Bachechi, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits
The quoted thread from Proud to Maladjusted is not correct and per the video changes his words. Example: MLK said: I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. You all left out the word racial. Why?
He also said There are some things in our society and some things in our world for which I am proud to be maladjusted. You all switched his words to say nation. MLK quotes and messages have been tampered with & misquoted enough that I would expect a museum dedicated to writers to want to ensure the accuracy of his words.
Thank you for your comment. We did not switch his words per se, though we understand why it seems that way. This speech was given multiple times and the words would change slightly each time. The quote we first used was from a transcript of the speech delivered March 17, 1966 at SMU. However, that quote does not match the video we include in this post so we have now updated the post with the exact words from the video to avoid any further confusion.
We consider all writers’ original words important and take care to honor them, especially a man like Dr. King whose true legacy, as you said, has been misrepresented. So we appreciate your feedback and for bringing this discrepancy to our attention.
he made my people free he is a hero
Thank you so much for his information,We are getting there
I am looking for his famous speech May 1964 at the Republican Convention at the Cow Palace Daly City California
While we found some speech transcripts from that day, unfortunately I could not find a transcript of Dr. King’s speech. Hopefully someone will see this comment and be able to direct you to the appropriate archive!
Good luck, Ari Bachechi, Assistant Director, Operations & Exhibits
Thank you . I work at the Cow Palace and I think it’s crazy that I can’t find that speech anywhere. But I can feel it that I will find it somewhere some how. Positive thoughts always even in this crazy world. Have a great day and I will too.
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Notify me of follow-up comments by email.
Notify me of new posts by email.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .
- Search for:
Username or email address *
Remember me Log in
Lost your password?
5 Things Written by Martin Luther King Jr. That Everyone Should Read, According to an Expert
T he words written about Martin Luther King Jr. during his too-short life and in the decades since his assassination on April 4, 1968, would be impossible to count. King himself left a deep archive of writings, speeches and sermons, too. His spoken orations in particular are a powerful reminder of why he was destined to become part of the pantheon of American icons.
Step Into History: Learn how to experience the 1963 March on Washington in virtual reality
“One has to remember that King above all was a preacher,” says Carolyn Calloway-Thomas, chair of African American and African Diaspora Studies at the Indiana University Bloomington and an editor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Sermonic Power of Public Discourse.
While she notes that he was so prolific that it’s near impossible to choose, Calloway-Thomas spoke to TIME about the pieces of King’s work that everyone should know about. They are:
“The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” (May 17, 1956)
“The death of the Egyptians upon the seashore is a glaring symbol of the ultimate doom of evil in its struggle with good.”
This sermon was delivered to a massive crowd at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on the occasion of the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling against school segregation, at an early moment in this phase of the civil rights movement, with the Montgomery bus boycott still ongoing. To Calloway-Thomas, the sermon is noteworthy for the optimistic vision it presented at such a moment. “He had to help African-American people imagine themselves,” she says. “I think the Death of Evil upon the Seashore is that speech.”
It wasn’t the first time King preached on these ideas, and in fact the link he draws between the Biblical exodus and the story of African-American progress toward freedom and equality was an old one, but those present noted that his delivery that day was particularly moving. “He taps into that reservoir, that myth of the Hebrew children in bondage,” Calloway-Thomas says, “and he elevates it and makes it more publicly known.”
Read the full speech here
Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Yes, this is a letter, not a speech or sermon — but Calloway-Thomas says it’s worth including on such a list anyway. After all, the circumstances that created this letter are inherently linked to the fact that he couldn’t deliver a speech in person. At the time, King found himself jailed in Alabama after ignoring an injunction against protests in Birmingham. During that time, a group of clergymen wrote an open letter urging him away from protests. He wanted to respond but, from the jail, his only option if he wanted to answer quickly was to write it down. “Ideas have moments and if those moments aren’t used, you lose that rhetorical moment and it no longer has the force it had,” Calloway-Thomas says.
So, in a format she likens to a spoken call and response, he answers the questions that were posed to him about his methods. While also explaining that he’s on strong biblical footing, he provides the public with a way to understand the work he’s doing. His rhetorical skills are also on display as he uses a story about his 6-year-old daughter’s early perceptions of racism and segregation to underline that the matter is not theoretical. In the years since, this letter has become one of 20th century American history’s most famous documents.
Read the full letter here
“I Have a Dream…” (Aug. 28, 1963)
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The speech that remains Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous oration — one of the most famous orations in American history, if not world history — is that well-known for a good reason, Calloway-Thomas says. This was the moment when the world as a whole really saw King, and the moment was carefully orchestrated, framed by the Lincoln Memorial. “Think about how dazzling that was!” she says. “Think about the robust visuals and the lovely words echoing from Dr. King. It was an elixir that was made to circulate.”
But, she says, the power of his voice and the impact of the image can sometimes overwhelm the full message of the speech. “Dr. King had some pretty radical statements in that speech,” Calloway-Thomas adds. “Most people gloss over the part in that speech where King says that if we overlook the urgency of now there’ll be a rude awakening. I’ve never seen a student go to that section of the speech; people go right to ‘I have a dream’ and they don’t notice the threat.”
Get our History Newsletter. Put today's news in context and see highlights from the archives.
“a time to break silence” (april 4, 1967).
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors.”
In this speech, King publicly answers his conscience, as Calloway-Thomas puts it, on the matter of the Vietnam War. With an undercurrent of “anguish” about the fact that he feels he must speak, and must criticize the choices of Lyndon Johnson, who had often been an ally , he entered the arena of opposition to the war.
“This is an unsettling moment. People paid attention, but that meant there was backlash,” she says. President Johnson and many others felt that he ought to stay focused on domestic civil-rights issues and leave the foreign policy to them, but in this speech he makes clear why those two topics cannot truly be separated. That idea, Calloway-Thomas says, parallels the experience of earlier fighters for justice, such as Frederick Douglass, who got to the world stage with one kind of story — their personal freedom narratives, in that case — and shocked some of their allies when they showed that their thinking was far more expansive.
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (April 3, 1968)
“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Start with the date on this one: that’s April 3, 1968, the night before King was assassinated. In this speech, which summons King’s primary background as a preacher, he returns to the story of Moses. Rather than speaking on the joy of the Exodus, though, he turns to the end of Moses’ life, and his death just outside the Promised Land to which he had delivered his people. King casts himself as another leader who may not be there for the end of the journey. “He used Christian values and Democratic traditions to bring people together, so it’s not surprising that he goes to this idea,” Calloway-Thomas says. “What’s significant here is when it occurred. It was almost apocalyptic. Because it occurred at that time it has lingering significance and carries with it an abundance of pathos.”
Of course, as Calloway-Thomas says, we can imagine a scenario in which King gave this speech and then lived. The emotional resonance of his words might be lessened without the seemingly prescient layer of fate, but the story would be there all the same. “Here’s a man talking about longevity, here’s a man talking about god’s Will, here’s a man talking about going up to the mountaintop and looking skyward toward heaven and looking over into the Promised Land,” she says. “It’s a gorgeous story.”
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- The Dirty Secrets of Alternative Plastics
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- We Should Get Paid for Our Online Data: Column
- The COP28 Outcomes Business Leaders Are Watching For
- The 100 Must-Read Books of 2023
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Lily Rothman at [email protected] .