What advice did Martin Luther King, Jr. give to black people in his "I Have a Dream" speech?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Martin Luther King Jr. gave three pieces of advice to black people in his speech "I Have A Dream." He admonished them to never meet violence with violence, he encouraged them to continue to hope, and to never be satisfied as long as the status quo remained.

King encourages black people to be guiltless and blameless, never returning violence. He explained to them that undeserved suffering is redemptive, meaning that it ultimately saves them from evil. He explained that they should never be filled with bitterness or hate in their struggle to gain the freedoms guaranteed to all citizens in the Declaration of Independence. King believed strongly in nonviolent protest for two reasons: his strong faith in Jesus Christ and the example of Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent protest which brought about change in his country.

And that is something that I must say to my people who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not he guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.

Next, King encourages his people to continue to have hope that change will happen. He paints an image of what life can be when they achieve the equal status they are seeking with the section of the speech that repeats the phrase "I have a dream." King paints a picture of hope that his children will grow up in a world without racism, violence, and fear.

When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, we are free at last."

Finally, King encourages his followers to never be satisfied until the unjust laws were eliminated. He was encouraging them to see the movement through to its natural conclusion, and not to get satisfied with just a little progress.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their adulthood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "whites only." We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main advice that Martin Luther King, Jr. gives to African Americans in this speech has to do with the idea of nonviolence for which King is famous.  He urges his people to make sure that they keep the moral high ground in their struggle for civil rights.

King is famous for having believed in the idea of nonviolent protest.  He thought that was the only kind of action that could actually gain African Americans the rights that they wanted and deserved.  He believed that nonviolent protest would convince white people that the people who wanted to keep blacks from having equal rights were on the wrong side of the argument.  Therefore, he urged African Americans to continue to use nonviolence. 

King tells African Americans that they “must not be guilty of wrongful deeds” in their attempt to gain their rights.  He said that they had to make sure that they did not let themselves give in to their anger over how whites had treated them. As he said:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Thus, we can see that King’s main advice to African Americans is that they need to continue to fight for civil rights, but that they need to adhere to the tenets of nonviolence as they do so.

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

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