What is the significance of Dr. King's references to Mississippi in his "I Have a Dream" speech?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One reason Mississippi is referenced is because it represents the very essence of Southern segregation.  There are few places that were more intent on keeping "the Southern way of life" in terms of segregation and racism than Mississippi.  Overt racism, membership in the Ku Klux Klan, and the inertia of Southern courts were seen all over the South, but converged most strongly in Mississippi.  Dr. King was keenly aware of Medgar Evers' attempt at desegregation at the University of Mississippi and Evers' own death in the state of Mississippi.  Dr. King understood that civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in Mississippi was often met with violence and the most intense of anger.  In his speech, Dr. King's use of Mississippi is to contrast with a vision of a nation where racial tolerance and acceptance is evident.  In the idea of a "dream," Dr. King uses Mississippi as a point of contrast, almost to suggest that the existing nightmare known as Mississippi has to have some type of contrast.  It is almost as if Dr. King suggests that even though the state of Mississippi can represent the very worst that humanity can display, it will not deter his ability to dream a vision where "even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."  In the appropriation of Mississippi, one sees Dr. King represent a highly Gandhian tactic where direct confrontation involves the moral and spiritual transformation of one's opponent, justifying the use of Mississippi in his speech.