Why did Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech become so famous?
One of the reasons King's speech became so famous is because it delivered a message that America needed to hear. As King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he passionately urged the 250,000 people in front of him, as well as millions of Americans listening at home, to consider the undelivered American promises that Black Americans faced. Segregation in schools had been declared unconstitutional nearly a decade prior, but many regions still failed to make needed changes in their educational systems.
In 1957, the Arkansas National Guard was called in to prevent nine Black students from attending classes at Central High School, and the President himself had to send in federal troops to ensure that these students would be admitted to classes there. A month after this speech was delivered, a bomb in Birmingham would kill four young girls at a church. In his "I Have a Dream" speech, King employed a sense of urgency to demonstrate the great need of unifying the country toward a common goal. Particularly in the South, "great trials and tribulations" were an ongoing source of societal frustration and anger. In this speech, King sought to heal a deeply divided country by providing a path for progress.
King's message is also a message that has transcended time, which has also contributed to its fame. The themes of this speech represent struggles which America has faced since its origins and which it continues to face today.
One hundred years later, 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 languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
These are not the struggles of a particular era; instead, these words reflect the struggle of Black people today as much as they captured the struggle in 1963. King both recognized the ongoing struggle and provided hope for moving forward. He envisioned an America where children were valued because of their character and where justice is finally realized. He provided hope for Americans to "transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood." The speech reflects not simply endless struggle, but also endless hope. Hope is powerful and transformative, and this is another reason why the speech became famous.
King's power of rhetoric is also important to consider in this speech. Using the technique of ethos, he establishes himself as a credible and knowledgeable source of information. Using pathos, he utilizes Biblical truths to sway the emotions of his listeners, convincing them to take action. He uses logos to demonstrate the fundamental American rights that have been denied to Black people. All of this creates a compelling speech that is impossible to ignore.
I also credit King's public speaking abilities to the success of his speech. Relying on a cadence and rhythm that is often employed in sermons, King uses his voice to create a captivating presence. There are few public speakers who are this talented, and King's voice was exactly perfect for the message of this speech.