Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the foreground with other people standing attentively in the background

"I Have a Dream" Speech

by Martin Luther King Jr.

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Details about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech


Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington, emphasized racial equality and civil rights. King envisioned a future where people would be judged by their character, not their skin color. His speech is renowned for its powerful imagery and rhetoric, significantly influencing the Civil Rights Movement and American society.

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How long was the "I Have a Dream" speech?

Although versions of the "I Have a Dream Speech" text vary slightly, the speech itself is roughly 1,650 words. The speech took about seventeen minutes to deliver on the Washington Mall in August of 1963.

Like most great speeches, this one is relatively short and very much to the point. Its effect was to galvanize much of the public in favor of civil rights legislation.

The speech is a rhetorical masterpiece, recalling US history from 1963 to a hundred years later to show how little Black civil rights have advanced since the Emancipation Proclamation. It repeatedly promotes the idea that Black people deserve payment on the "promissory note" of freedom, a payment for which they have been patiently waiting for a century.

King uses anaphora, which is repeating the same words over and over at the beginning of consecutive sentences (including the phrase "I have a dream"), to reinforce his point that the hope of Black emancipation must come true immediately. He also uses allusions to the Bible, prophecies of liberation that would have been easily recognizable to his audience. The allusions he uses are also heavily imagistic, leading people to be able to visualize freedom rolling toward the country as a revitalizing, powerful, and unstoppable river, a natural force.

King's speech is short, but it has been extremely instrumental in helping to inspire support of Black aspirations.

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Where was the "I Have A Dream" speech given?

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. He spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a site meant to honor the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was president during the Civil War, which lead to the end of institutionalized slavery in the US.

King gave his speech near the end of the summer on August 28, 1963. The speech was a part of a larger civil rights demonstration called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was put together by two activists: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

Many famous singers, actors, and writers came to Washington, DC, for the march. Bob Dylan sang “Blowin’ in the Wind.” James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, and Marlon Brando were also there, as was Jackie Robinson, the first Black person to play in Major League Baseball.

The night before King gave the speech, he met with his advisers in the lobby of DC's Willard Hotel to finalize what he was going to say. They gathered in the lobby and not in one of their rooms because King was under FBI surveillance; the organizers figured it would be harder to wiretap the lobby.

One of his advisers suggested that he cut the “I Have a Dream” line, which the adviser said was cliché and overused. King, of course, kept it in.

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