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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What is the main message of the "I Have a Dream" speech?

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The main message of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is that the promises made by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, as well as in Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, have not and will not be fulfilled until the freedoms granted to white Americans are granted to Black Americans as well. Prejudice, racism, and segregation continue to "manacle" Black people, similarly to the way slavery once did.

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The main message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is that, despite the fact that slavery has been abolished for a century, Black people are still victims of prejudice, racism, and segregation. Enslaved persons were promised freedom, and yet their children's children a century later are still waiting for it.

In other words, Black people still lack the freedom that seems to be guaranteed them by the Emancipation Proclamation as well as by the founding documents of the United States of America. These documents state that all men, including both white and Black men, are created equal and possess the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Despite these promises of equality, Black people are still victims of police brutality and of poverty and are still looked down upon by white Americans.

Ultimately, Dr. King argues that freedom from prejudice—real freedom and not just freedom in name—must ring out across the country, that children of all races must play together and hold hands with one another, and only then will the promises made by the founding fathers truly come to fruition, because only then will they apply to all Americans rather than just some.

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What are the two main ideas of the "I Have a Dream" speech?

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of history's most moving speeches at the March on Washington in 1963. In it he described the past and present wrongs that black Americans had lived with since the country's founding and before. Despite those clear and legitimate complaints, he urged his listeners to follow the high road as they sought to create a better future, which he described with soaring and inspiring rhetoric.

In describing the injustices the country had perpetrated on black people, King of course focused on slavery. He pointed out that when the Declaration of Independence was written, it didn't apply to "all men" since black Americans were not treated as equal people. The Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln, before whose memorial statue King spoke, should have activated the "promissory note" of the Declaration for the nation's black population. King points out, however, that the promise had still not been fulfilled, comparing it to a bad check.

Saying that the marchers had come to Washington to "cash a check," he went on to describe the injustices of America's segregated society where black people couldn't sleep in the motels that whites could or live in the better neighborhoods. Despite their legitimate anger over being discriminated against, King urged his listeners to avoid violence even when it was used against them. He cautioned against painting all white people with a broad brush because many were on their side, "as evidenced by their presence here today." While adhering to "dignity and discipline" in their struggle, they must never give up until their goals of full equality were realized.

King then turned to his vision of the future as he encouraged his listeners to go back to their home states. As he outlined the hope he had for true equality, he named many of the Southern states where black people were treated most unfairly: Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina. He painted a beautiful word picture of a future where white citizens and black citizens all have equal rights and share the bond of brotherhood as God's children.

By looking back at past injustice against black people, cataloging current-day examples of discrimination and describing a hopeful future, King inspired his listeners to keep up their crusade for full equality.

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