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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The impact of Martin Luther King's rapport and delivery in his "I Have a Dream" speech

Summary:

Martin Luther King's rapport and delivery in his "I Have a Dream" speech had a profound impact. His powerful oratory skills, emotional connection with the audience, and passionate delivery helped to inspire and mobilize the civil rights movement, leaving a lasting legacy on the fight for racial equality in America.

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How does Martin Luther King establish rapport with his audience in the "I Have a Dream" speech?

From the opening sentence of the speech, Dr. King identified himself with the audience as fellow participants in "what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation."  Tracing the history of "the Negro" in the United States, he continued to build the case that he was one with those listening to his speech. "We have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

He went on to present illustrations of the multiple ways in which all those present have been denied the "unalienable rights" that the Declaration of Independence had guaranteed to all. He emphasized that they were all involved in the struggle to right the wrongs of the past and of the present. He effectively used repeated phrasing to build his case, drawing upon experiences from all walks of life and all parts of the country, always coming back to the basic point that their strength was in their unity. "We cannot walk alone."

King masterfully drew upon the speech patterns used historically and effectively by black preachers. He provided a profound phrase that became a summary and a visionary goal for the purpose of his speech in "I have a dream." He established his relationship at the very beginning and expanded his rapport with the audience to the climatic ending of his presentation.

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How does Martin Luther King's delivery in his "I Have A Dream" speech impact the audience?

Martin Luther King was, first and foremost, a pastor, and his delivery is in precisely the dramatic, carefully paced, and modulated style one would expect from a charismatic preacher of the 1950s and 60s. He uses dramatic pauses and frequently repeated phrases such as "With this faith..." to underscore the importance of his message and takes time to look around at his audience, making eye contact with as many as possible.

Throughout the speech, King has a strong, confident demeanor, calm and in control of his rhetoric even in his most eloquent passages. This poise complements the controlled lyricism of his language. The pauses occur with the same frequency and underscore the rhythms of his speech in the same way as the pauses in a pastor's sermon leave room for a positive response from the audience. Along with the use of quotation from the Bible, thundering Latinate polysyllables alternating with plain Anglo-Saxon monosyllables to great rhetorical effect, the pauses emphasize that the subject matter goes well beyond the scope of quotidian political speeches.

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How does Martin Luther King's delivery in his "I Have A Dream" speech impact the audience?

While delivering his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. has a general demeanor that appears confident and calm. His chin is up and his chest is out. He also shakes his head back and forth, making his rejection of the contemporary order visible.

The rhythm of his speech hangs on numerous repetitions in the language he uses, centering them in time and importance, so that they ring in the listener's memory. In the famous portion of the speech, said to have been triggered by a friendly yell from the audience, King's speech was slowing, and the section begins with a long pause—but then King's tempo increases rapidly, bringing his speech to a dramatic and powerful climax.

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How does Martin Luther King's delivery in his "I Have A Dream" speech impact the audience?

Set on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, after the long march to Washington in a demonstration for freedom, the motif of liberation became an effective backdrop for Dr. Martin Luther King's famous Civil Rights speech. And, as the son of a preacher and a preacher himself, King employed the intonations of the majority of preachers of the black churches whose words were impassioned and replete with rhetoric.  In their sermons, these preachers often repeated phrases and paused for the congregation to say "Amen" or other words of agreement such as "All right, all right."  In this way, the listeners were drawn emotionally into the content of the sermon.  These effective pauses were utilized by King, who turned his head from side to side slowly, looking at all the people.

Brillantly written as a stirring text of rhetoric, King concerned himself with his delivery as well.  His effective use of pauses for people to digest the meaning and significance of his words, and the crescendo of his voice after the third repetition of a phrase or sentence, was extremely stirring.  In addition, his diction aroused emotion, as well.  For instance, King employed metaphor, allusions to the Bible, and allusions to history and the Declaration of Independence.  His reference to the concept of freedom in this Declaration for all who came to America lends viability to the argument for civil rights for blacks. And, to underscore the import of his own words, Dr. King then inserted words from Holy Scripture, such as this paragraph:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This tying together of the blacks' present situation with the Biblical verse, triggered their perception of themselves as much like the Israelites who sought the Promised Land.  For, the "Promised Land" is now the United States as a country of equal opportunity.

At the end of his speech, Dr. King delivered a few sentences, then chose a new theme; he recited the first stanza of “My Country, Tis of Thee” concluding with the line “from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” With these words delivered with his powerful voice and  dignified manner, Dr. Martin Luther King, who used many effective rhetorical devices and mannerisms throughout his speech, forcefully concluded "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963.

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