Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the foreground with other people standing attentively in the background

"I Have a Dream" Speech

by Martin Luther King Jr.
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What is the meaning of “tribulation” in paragraph 14?

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In paragraph 14, Martin Luther King is addressing the black and white activists in the audience who came to the March on Washington. Tribulations are sufferings or persecutions. King specifically mentions people coming "fresh from jail cells," perhaps where they were incarcerated for civil rights work. He also says people...

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In paragraph 14, Martin Luther King is addressing the black and white activists in the audience who came to the March on Washington. Tribulations are sufferings or persecutions. King specifically mentions people coming "fresh from jail cells," perhaps where they were incarcerated for civil rights work. He also says people are arriving after suffering police brutality. He offers them special praise for their "creative suffering" for the cause.

Tribulation is a word with Biblical overtones. King, a pastor, wants to tie the struggles of the blacks for full freedom (civil rights) in the United States to the struggles of the Israelites for freedom from Egypt. Biblical Israelites suffered many tribulations but God was always with them. Tribulation is also used in the New Testament to refer to a period of suffering before the faithful are gathered up by Jesus in the Rapture. Both allusions to tribulation hold the promise of deliverance and a better time coming, which is what King wanted people to understand was on the horizon.

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A tribulation can be defined as a cause of great suffering. In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech Martin Luther King refers to the great trials and tribulations that many in his audience will have experienced. He cites imprisonment and police brutality as two such examples of this.

What King wants to do here is to assure those involved with him in the civil rights struggle that he understands what they're going through. He knows how hard it is to keep going, to keep on fighting injustice and oppression in the midst of constant adversity. But he wants his audience to keep the faith, to recognize in good Christian fashion that suffering can be redemptive. He wants them to return to their states and, despite all the trials and tribulations they have endured, and will continue to endure, carry on the struggle, knowing that the current situation can and will be changed.

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