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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"I Have a Dream" speech Themes

The main themes in the “I Have a Dream” speech include freedom for Black Americans, peaceful protest, and hope for the future. 

  • Freedom for Black Americans: Despite the promises of the Declaration of Independence, Black Americans are continually denied freedom. 
  • Peaceful protest: King urges his audience not to resort to violence, even in the face of violence from their opposition. 
  • Hope for the future: King expresses hope that one day, people will no longer be judged by their skin color in the United States.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Freedom for Black Americans

King emphasizes the fact that the United States owes its Black citizens their freedom, described by the founding fathers as an “unalienable right.” Despite Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the “promissory note” of the Declaration of Independence, Black Americans are still denied freedom and equality through segregation and discrimination. King describes in vivid detail what true freedom would mean: in a truly free United States, Black people would be able to stay in any hotel they wanted, vote in every state, and be offered social “mobility” beyond simply exchanging one ghetto for another. King expresses his hope for the US and believes that “the bank of justice” is not “bankrupt.” It is King’s hope that one day, the United States will truly “let freedom ring” by granting it to those who have been denied it. 

Peaceful Protest

A significant portion of King’s speech is devoted to urging his supporters to not turn from their “creative protest” to violence or aggression, though they face physical violence from their opposition. He specifically refers to police brutality as one of the evils still afflicting the Black man in the United States. He asks his supporters to trust that maintaining their dignity and protesting peacefully is the best way to fight for equality and justice. In the civil rights struggle, they must meet “physical force with soul force” and respond peacefully to their opposers until equality is achieved. 

Hope for the Future

King’s speech became famous for his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream”—an expression of his optimism for the United States’ future. He describes the country he dreams of and believes will arrive one day: a country where the promises of the Declaration of Independence will apply to all citizens and where his children will be judged by their character and not their skin color. King states that in the struggle for equal rights, it is hope that will give African Americans the strength to fight, sustain them during setbacks, and drive them to keep striving for the changes they hope to see. He declares that the United States must “let freedom ring” from every state and from various mountains across the US such as “Stone Mountain of Georgia” and “Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.” When freedom rings “from every mountainside,” America will be truly beautiful.

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