The historical context of this speech was the Civil Rights Movement and the March on Washington. King gave the speech as part of his ongoing effort to win rights for African Americans. African Americans had been denied equal rights in the United States for as long as it existed. This was true even though the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution had guaranteed them their rights soon after the Civil War (almost 100 years before this speech). In 1963, the Civil Rights Movement (in its protest stage) had been going on for about 5 years without a major legislative win. It was in this context that King helped to organize the March on Washington. He hoped that the march would put pressure on Congress to pass laws that would truly reform race relations. It was in this context that he gave this speech.