"I Have a Dream" Speech Summary

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington, a major civil rights demonstration.

  • King references the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which declared that America would be a land of freedom where all men are created equal. He then states that this promise of freedom has not been achieved for Black Americans.

  • King repeats the phrases "I have a dream" and "with this faith," sharing his vision for a more equal society and reiterating his belief that such a future is attainable.

Summary

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King begins his “I Have a Dream” speech by declaring that this occasion will be remembered as the “greatest demonstration for freedom” in United States history. He then evokes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and references the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that gave hope of a better future to many African Americans. Despite the abolition of slavery and the time that has since passed, Black people in America are still not free; the aftershocks of slavery are still felt through segregation and discrimination in the United States. 

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King refers next to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, describing the document as a “promissory note” whose promise has not been fulfilled for African Americans. Therefore, King says he has come to Washington to chide the United States for “defaulting” on this promise in regard to Black Americans who have not been granted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The bank of justice, King says, surely still has money in it, and there is a debt to be paid to Black Americans.

King goes on to declare that the time has come to “make justice a reality” for all in the United States. He describes the situation as “urgent,” stating that the growing discontent among Black Americans will not dissipate until equality is won. There will not be peace in America until African Americans are granted their rights as American citizens. Though the situation is urgent, King stresses that his fellow African American protesters should neither resort to violence nor blame all White people, for there are White civil rights protesters among them in the audience, fighting alongside them. The struggle for equality must continue until police brutality is no longer a concern for African Americans, hotels no longer turn them away, ghettos are not their only option, and voting rights are universal—until justice is served. 

King acknowledges that protesting has been difficult for many. Some of those present have recently been in prison or have suffered other persecutions. He promises that their struggle will be rewarded and encourages his listeners to return to their home states filled with new hope. King famously declares, “I have a dream,” and describes his hope for a future America where Blacks and Whites will sit and eat together. It is a world in which children will no longer be judged by their skin color and where Black and White alike will join hands. King calls upon his listeners to look to this vision of America to give them hope to keep fighting and asserts that when freedom is allowed to “ring” from every part of the nation, the United States will be what it should have always been, and justice will be achieved.

Extended Summary

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Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial. The March on Washington was a monumental day in the civil rights movement and, at the time, was one of the largest peaceful protests in the world. The goals of the March were to create greater economic equality for people of color, especially Black Americans, and to protect the right to vote. These topics—economic equality and voting...

(The entire section contains 1381 words.)

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