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Essay: Impact of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” Speech: Rhetorical Analysis and Its Legacy

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Jason Petit PID:6139546

Final Paper

Professor Maxwell

December 4, 2018

   “How did Dr. Martin Luther King jr impact the civil rights movement to bring about change, predominantly how effective was King’s “I have a dream speech”; To what extent do you agree with Durthey A. Washington’s  “I have a dream” rhetorical analysis   ”. All throughout the civil rights period, Dr. Martin Luther king has been known as the leader of civil rights movement; while there were more figures that helped, King was the most prominent figure. Organizing rallies, marches, social gatherings, etc.. revolutionizing the way black people would be portrayed by the world. I find this speech quite inspirational because of the effects it had. I based my primary source around ‘His’ speech because it indoctrinates the whole entirety of the civil rights. When asked “ Who’s the face of the the civil rights movement?”  most would say Dr. Martin Luther King. His impact was so lasting, after his assassination there was a campaign to dedicate every third monday of January to honor King. In 1983, president Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. Forever solidifying King’s legacy to never be forgotten by the future generation; especially those of the minority.

   The primary source is King’s speech given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 23, 1963. It brought greater attention to the civil rights movement , with 250,000 attendance; 60,000 of the people in attendance were estimated to be white. The speech was given in the shadow of the monument honoring President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Southern states. By giving his speech there, King was wanting to call attention to how things were so terrible a century before (during the Civil War) and how some things haven't changed.King wanted to put emphasis on the fact even after black people were liberated in America , they still were not treated equally or fairly.  Martin Luther King was portraying a message of nonviolence to a nationwide (and worldwide) audience. The speech was aired on the  radio and was printed in newspapers and magazines all over the United States and all throughout the four corners of the world. After this speech, the name Martin Luther King was known to many more people than before.It made Congress move faster in passing the Civil Rights Act. The impact of the speech put in motion a set of laws that was finally passed the next year, in 1964. The majority of the laws that were passed gave African-Americans more equal treatment in the coming years.  King, achieved his goal of giving more rights to African-Americans, by hosting the I Have a Dream Speech. I feel as if the  have a dream speech was the final puzzle piece to the puzzle. The missing link needed to rally everyone together. Right after King gave this speech, the audience was led into a pledge and benediction.

  My secondary source is a piece written by Durthy A. Washington, it’s a rhetorical analysis on Dr. Martin Luther King’s “ I have a dream” speech .  I agree with this piece because it explains in detail why the speech was so effective.

Durthey begins her analysis  by stating the three main focuses that made the speech  a “ highly effective piece of persuasive rhetoric;..”  They were the qualities of the essay, the patterns of classical oration, and its stylistic elements  . Durthy then goes on to mention how king gave his speech under the Lincoln monument , just as I mention in the previous paragraphs, was a direct correlation to how even after Abraham Lincoln had signed the emancipation proclamation , Black people still were not technically ‘Free’. He used this as a tactic to add fuel to the fire, already enraging deep in the hearts of minorities; especially those of colour.  It was to ‘ …inspire people to rectify this gross injustice.” I agree with Durhy wholeheartedly on this statement. In the opening paragraphs of his speech King concurs with my perspective  “ But 100 years later the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later the Negro still lives on an island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity . One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own hand . So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”   

  Durthy goes on to explain how Dr.King used pathos to directly engage with his fellow advocates “…Primary means of persuasion is pathos…The tone of his speech conveys

the underlying message that since neither and appeal to logic nor ethics has convinced people that freedom is an inherent right for all Americans , perhaps a direct unabashed emotional appeal will touch their hearts and compel them to take action” If after a 100 years of appealing logically to society and reaping no results; it was time for a a new approach. People of colour were still in the same position when declared ‘Free’ by the emancipation proclamation. Minorities were declared free but held hostage to racism and social injustices . Dr. King knew this very well that’s why he switched his approach. According to Darthey, King organizes his arguments into Four major arguments . “ Historical Gains to date” essentially stating how the Constituents wrote the Declaration of independence and Constitution. The “ Unfulfilled promises” were negroes weren’t free.  “ The need for immediate action”It was a matter of urgency and minorities needed to act on the promises long overdue. “ An Appeal for nonviolence” this was a main focus point for Kings campaign. All throughout, King wanted a nonviolent approach “ We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence “ 3 This is how King strategically organized his speech.  

 “ One Hundred years later” “ I have a dream” these are all examples of metaphors that Dr. King uses to paint vivid pictures for the American people. King mentions “ the flames of withering justice” 1 this was a direct correlation to the Ku Klux Klan.  According to Durthy “ … evokes images of cross burnings …” “ evokes images of blacks who have been physically and psychologically ‘burned’ by painful encounters with racism” getting the overall theme of ruination across. By stirring and “firing” up the ambitions already raging like a wildfire within the hearts of activisist , King was able to present a solution.   King quotes “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” King compares the anger of coloured folks to the summer heat. He was known to use wide variety of figurative language. Such as anaphora, which is the excessive use of a particular phrase for an intentional purpose. One phrase used as such was the “ I have a dream” of all said during the course of the speech this has to be the cream of the crop; Having such a lasting impression on everyone who heard it . “ I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed; ‘ We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal’4

In the retrospect of it all King was able to successfully present a speech that was brilliant; placing King upon the pantheon of great activist leaders. This is why I claim King’s speech to be quite inspirational and persuasive. It was not a coincidence. Everything from the location of the speech to what was said, to who would be in attendance of the speech was accordingly planned out. From the direct correlation of the emancipation proclamation to countless metaphors and anaphoras mentioned in the speech . King mentioned the word “Freedom” over 19 times; stressing desperately King’s passion for unity not only between african americans and white, but between everyone who considers themselves an American. “ I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted” going towards how everyone should be  treated the same. The irony of it all King fought to avoid violence; the same violence would result in his death. However, just as the “Great American” ( Abraham Lincoln) who achieved a great milestone for coloured folks ( liberating slaves), just as King did with the civil rights movement, they both would be assasinated . It’s as if King was foreshadowing what was to come by giving that speech.  I believe this speech had an impact on everyone who heard it; Whether you agree with what he was saying or not. One must respect the brilliant schematics of it


Washington, Durthy A. ""I HAVE A DREAM": A RHETORICAL ANALYSIS." The Black Scholar 23, no. 2 (1993): 16-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41068415.

King, Martin L., Jr. "I Have a Dream." Speech. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D. C. 28 Aug. 1963.

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