In his "I Have a Dream" speech, how does Martin Luther King, Jr. want African-Americans to realize his dream?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. King wants African-Americans to recognize that their dream is linked to American History.

There is a historical foundation to "I Have a Dream."  The opening of the speech references The Declaration of Independence and The Emancipation Proclamation.  Dr. King uses these historical documents to prove to African-Americans how something owed to them is still being denied: 

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. 

Dr. King wants African-Americans to recognize that American History supports the realization of their dream. He speaks of how it is time "to cash a check" that represents the promise of their dream.  While specific realities might have sent that check back with "insufficient funds," Dr. King hopes African-Americans to refuse to believe that the "bank of justice is bankrupt."

Dr. King wants African-Americans to see that history is on their side as they pursue their dream.  American ideals such as "unalienable Rights" and "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" ensures that racial justice and equality will be realized.  Dr. King uses this appeal to history in a deliberate manner. He is aiming his message at African-Americans who might doubt whether "the dream" should be pursued.  Given the resistance that white Americans showed towards civil rights, it would be understandable that people of color doubt whether the dream is worth it.  In order to convince them of "the fierce urgency of now," Dr. King stresses how their dreams are linked to American History.  He wants African-Americans to realize that their dream is a part of an American legacy that possesses "the riches of freedom and the security of justice." 

rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech was more inspirational than instructive. However, he did give some guidance for the way in which he wanted African-Americans to realize his dream for them and for America. He wanted African-Americans to trust and work with white people, to be nonviolent, and to be persistent. 

King did not want African-Americans to be at odds with whites. He urged them to not drink from the "cup of bitterness and hatred." Pointing out that many whites were in attendance at his speech to show solidarity with African-Americans, he urged black Americans to be careful to not distrust whites. His dream, he said, included a day when "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." He wanted to see black people and white people working together and living in harmony together, not being at odds with one another.

He urged his listeners to make sure that their protests would never degenerate into physical violence. They were to only respond to physical force with "soul force." They were never to be "guilty of wrong deeds." All their protests and demonstrations were to be conducted with "dignity and discipline."

Finally, King stressed that black Americans should never give up their fight for equality as long as discrimination remained a part of American society. Even if they continued to be jailed and treated unfairly, he wanted them to keep on protesting and fighting for their rights, knowing that "unearned suffering is redemptive."

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Martin Luther King, Jr's main goal was to have African Americans (along with sympathetic whites) fight for their rights through the practice of nonviolent civil disobedience.  King believed that it was absolutely necessary for people to confront racial injustice.  However, he also believed it was necessary for them to do so in a nonviolent way.  It was for this reason that King said that 

We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.


King, then, wanted African Americans to fulfill his dream of racial equality through nonviolent protest that would preserve their own integrity and respect the humanity of those they opposed.

Read the study guide:
"I Have a Dream" speech

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