What values of the time period does Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech communicate?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two values of the 1960s embodied in Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech are transformation and community.

Transformation was an important value in the 1960s.  The time period changed the way people viewed the world.  It was evident in music, art, and literature.  It was also a significant part of the political landscape of the time period.  The shifting dynamics of race, class, gender, and sexual identity were all addressed in the 1960s.  Dr. King's speech embraces this idea of change.  "I Have a Dream" is significant because it moved the issue of civil rights to the forefront of American consciousness. The speech transformed how people viewed racial equality. The speech forced the issue that racial injustice must change. It made civil rights a moral issue. Americans of all backgrounds could no longer claim that it was a "political" or "state" issue.  Rather, the language and imagery that Dr. King employed made racial justice a spiritual necessity, something that found its root in Scripture.  Dr. King's speech caused people to change their thinking about civil rights.  In doing so, "I Have a Dream" embraced a significant value of the 1960s.

The value of community was important to the 1960s. From communes that became socially acceptable to the idea that inclusivity of voices was important to American identity, the 1960s emphasized a collective cultural identity.  "I Have a Dream" places importance on community.  Dr. King is deliberate in suggesting that racial equality can only be accomplished when everyone comes together, and can "sit down at the table of brotherhood." Dr. King uses references from Christianity to enhance the community, showing that civil rights is not an issue that only applies to one group.  Rather, he affirms that it is a reality that impacts everyone.  In employing "My Country, Tis of Thee" and ending with “from every mountainside, let freedom ring,” the speech strongly underscores community. In doing so, Dr. King echoes a value from the 1960s, and indelibly links his speech to the time period.

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