Fifty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his riveting “I Have a Dream” speech. King combined vivid images, a passionate tone, and historical references to create a narrative of determination and hope ingrained in the American consciousness today. The fame of the speech can largely be attributed to its compelling figurative language and honest portrayal of the African-American struggle. Fifty-five years later, African-Americans are equal to whites by law, but the struggle continues. Barriers are not truly broken until the perceptions that built them are eradicated. Dr. King’s dream is still a work in progress in American society, but his words encourage us to move forward day by day.
In “I Have a Dream”, King amplifies the voices of the African American community, speaking out against racial injustices and advocating for change on a massive scale. Although the entirety of the American civil rights movement cannot be attributed to just one person, King is undoubtedly its most prominent figure. The purpose of his speech is to illustrate the struggles African-Americans have faced from the beginning of American history up until that very moment. His tone is passionate and determined, as evidenced by the quote “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” King wants to make it clear that African-Americans will not settle for empty promises and that equality should be enforced, since the United States was founded on that principle. The passion and purpose shown in his speech are a reflection of the meaningful language he chooses to use.
Symbolism, metaphors, and historical references are abundant in the speech. The first key image that King paints is African Americans shackled and chained. This symbolizes how the reverberations of slavery extended to the 1960’s. Blacks had been freed from slavery, but were still not free citizens. King says, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note… A promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” By saying this, King connects the principles of equality from the American Revolution to the treatment African-Americans deserved. King’s dream was that one day his people wouldn’t have to struggle because of the color of their skin.
Many people want to believe that King’s dream has already been realized. However, discrimination didn’t come to a screeching halt the day that the Civil Rights Act was passed. Society as whole didn’t leave their prejudices behind when a federal holiday was declared in honor of Dr. King, either. The “I Have a Dream” speech is sadly still relevant today. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement is strong not by choice, but because of necessity. Like King says, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Yesterday, Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. Today, the news broke that the officer who killed Tamir Rice was hired in a different Ohio town. The fight for justice and equality isn’t over. We need to keep trying to make King’s dream of equality and peace a reality.
In conclusion, the power of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” comes from a combination of figurative language, the passionate emotions expressed within, and historical and modern day relevance. The struggles of African-Americans and the fight for equality are revealed through symbolism, metaphors, and references to past occurrences in the United States. Our country was founded on the principles of equality, and King’s hope was that it could someday be achieved. The fight for equal rights continues, and Dr. King’s legacy is unshakeable.
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