What are the important things Martin Luther King wants his audience to know in his "I Have a Dream" speech?
King's main message in the "I Have A Dream" speech is that African Americans have not yet received the rights to which they, as Americans, are entitled. He essentially summarizes this point early in the speech when he says:
One hundred years later [after the Emancipation Proclamation] 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 languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
King emphasizes that this "appalling condition" is made worse by the fact that the United States promised its people certain rights and liberties. In the United States, all men are supposedly equal. King dramatizes this point by referring to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as a "promissory note" on which the United States has thus far defaulted. In other words, the nation had failed to live up to its promises, and King and the marchers were gathered in Washington to push them to do so. This was more or less the extent of King's prepared remarks. The most famous portion of the speech, though, was extemporaneous, occasioned by Mahalia Jackson's famous entreaty to King to "tell them about your dream." This was really as statement of King's vision for the future, one in which the color of one's skin was no longer a reason for discrimination, and in which racism, systemic and otherwise, was purged from society.
In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King bases his thesis on two main ideas: (1) African Americans still are not free; and (2) now is the time for African Americans to fight for freedom. These are two critical points King wants his audience to know.
Within the opening paragraphs of his speech, King references the Emancipation Proclamation, ratified by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to set slaves free. King further points out that, "one hundred years" after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the "Negro still is not free." The African American still was not free because he still suffered from racial discrimination, segregation, and poverty, preventing the African American from benefiting from the "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" promised by the Declaration of Independence.
King further warns his audience, especially his white audience members, against being foolish enough to believe that, now African Americans have had their day of protest, they "will now be content" to go back to their places of subordination. Instead, he argues that "[n]ow is the time" for African Americans to rise up against injustice. However, he also warns his people against using violence to achieve their goals and continues to promote peaceful protest.