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What is the reason Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech?

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jen05 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 18, 2009 at 5:29 AM via web

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What is the reason Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 18, 2009 at 11:12 AM (Answer #1)

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Dr. King gave many speeches in his time.  Of the most powerful would be the "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington.  The focus of this speech, like many that Dr. King delivered, helped to emphasize the idea that racism in America is a moral problem.  It is as old as the Scriptures' articulation of justice and righteousness and one that is pervasive in its grip on America.  Dr. King employs religious and spiritual metaphors in identifying a social and political problem in America.  In casting the issue of racial injustice in such terms, Dr. King accomplishes his primary purpose to awaken the moral outrage of American society at the presence of racial discrimination and the denial of equal opportunity.

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marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:10 PM (Answer #2)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist preacher who gave many sermons and speeches. His "I Have A Dream" speech is probably his most famous as it was delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Aug. 23, 1963.  The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on Sept. 22, 1862. Almost 100 years to the day elapsed between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln and the "I have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Even though black slaves were given their freedom, they were not treated as truly free people in that they were not paid the same, nor were they allowed the same privileges as white persons. Dr. King gave this speech to motivate his followers to continue to boycott, protest, and demonstrate until they were granted full equality and privileges due any citizen of the United States of America.

Things were going well with the civil rights movement, and the people who were marching, demonstrating, and boycotting the inequity between the races were getting the attention of the government officials. This speech served to focus the attention on the need for racial equality NOW, not some time down the road or in a little while.

This speech served to motivate those who were feeling restless and impatient to wait and persevere a while longer using peaceful demonstration techniques rather than resort to violence. Dr. King was an encourager and a motivator.  He new how to speak to the authorities and work a room as well as give motivational speeches to his audience.  He was also not afraid to go into the streets and be involved in the demonstrations and protests himself. He did not ask his followers to do anything that he would not do himself.

We study his speech because he died at the hands of an assassin in the middle of his great work. The essential King speech is his "promised land" speech or the "mountaintop" speech. This was his last speech, and some say, a prophetic speech. Dr. King kept the focus tightly on the injustice of racial inequality throughout the speech while encouraging and motivating those who followed his civil rights movement to persevere and continue the fight even if he himself was not there to lead the way. This is a poignant speech, because Dr. King was assassinated the next day.

Most of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches were designed to persuade or to motivate the listener to act or behave in a particular way.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM (Answer #3)

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Martin Luther King's speech occurred during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a march organized by Philip Randolph, vice-president of the AFL-CIO, James Farmer, president of the Congress of Racial Equality, and John Lewis , president of the Student of Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; this march involved some 200,000+ people. These people marched because of the Jim Crow Laws in the South, the inequitable pay for "a maid who makes $5.00 a week in the home of a man who makes "100,000.00 a year." It is this march that is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the National Voting Rights Act (1965).

Interestingly, the original speech did not contain the "I Have a Dream" section to it.  Mahalia's Jackson's cry, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" incited Dr. King to respond in his eloquent peroration, which was partially from a previous speech in Detroit and partially improvised.

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted September 18, 2009 at 4:04 PM (Answer #4)

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The 'I Have A Dream' speech was what I like to call 'an alignment of what was possible in the face of the immpossible. Although the 'March on Washington' was created by CORE and SNCC neither of them could have anticipated the 'glorious outcome'. The 1963 March on Washington reaffirmed for some, enlightened others, and promised again that the rights of all Americans was the underlying purpose of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech.  The reason Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream' speech is so moving is because he spoke what he BELIEVED was the truth regarding racial injustice in the U.S.  The 1963 speech took on the sound of a higher power.  Dr. King's words stopped people in their tracks....and forced them to recognize the plight of others.  The speech was given at the right time in the right place, which resulted in a heightened sense of awareness among many Americans.

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