Significant References

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Last Updated on November 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339

Biblical Allusions: Martin Luther King, Jr., makes frequent allusions to the Bible. In some cases, King paraphrases or even quotes specific biblical passages. As a Baptist minister, King was well-practiced in drawing from the Bible for oratorical effect. In “I Have a Dream,” King tends to use biblical language for its rich imagery and righteous rhetoric.

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  • Amos 5:24: King alludes to Amos 5:24 when he says, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
  • Isaiah 40:4-5: King paraphrases Isaiah 40:4-5 when he says, “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.”

Founding Documents: King ties the civil rights movement to the core principles of the United States by referencing the nation’s founding documents. Specifically, King quotes the Declaration of Independence in several instances. In the early part of his speech, he refers to the “unalienable rights” that all Americans are promised but which are denied to Americans of color. King’s dream is a United States in which the goals set forth by the Declaration of Independence are fulfilled.

American Songs: King quotes from two songs in his speech to strengthen his rhetoric and unite patriotic sentiment with the goals of the civil rights movement. These songs also heighten the poetic nature of King’s speech.

  • “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”: This patriotic song by Samuel Francis Smith dates to 1831. King uses the song to rally the audience around the dream of freedom. He expands on the phrase “From every mountainside, let freedom ring” to highlight the need for change everywhere in the US.
  • “Free at Last”: King ends his speech with lines from a spiritual that dates to before 1907, when it was first published in an anthology. The song is about faith and the dream for freedom.

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