"I Have a Dream" Speech Questions and Answers
by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Who is the "great American" in Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech? 

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King is clearly referring to Abraham Lincoln. His "symbolic shadow" can be understood several ways. In the first place, King and his audience, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., are literally in the shadow of the symbolic representation of Lincoln: the giant statue of the man inside the memorial behind them. On another level, however, King means that the purpose for which the marchers have gathered—to demand equal rights for African Americans—is a kind of continuation of Lincoln's work. The Emancipation Proclamation casts a long symbolic shadow in which the civil rights marchers now stand.

King's evocation of Lincoln accomplishes several things. First, it gives a kind of historical legitimacy to his movement. Second, Lincoln gives his words a moral imperative. That is, by associating himself with Lincoln, King connects the justness of his cause with the justness of emancipation. When he begins to use his "but one hundred years later" figure to lay out the problems...

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