One of the most famous public speeches in American history was delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The context of the speech is important: millions of Americans were growing tired and fed up with the lack of progress made with civil rights and equality. As Mount (2010) puts it, "In 1950's America, the equality of man envisioned by the Declaration of Independence was far from a reality. People of color -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians -- were discriminated against in many ways, both overt and covert." King grew up in the South and had personally experienced racism and discrimination. He also understood the need to work systematically to eliminate oppression and injustice. In 1959, something momentous happened in King's life that would ultimately lead to his earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to India in 1959 and met Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi. Already familiar with Gandhi's movement based on nonviolent resistance and civil protest, King was now able to formulate a comprehensive and strategic plan of action that would help dismantle the barriers of racism in America without a call to arms. "During these discussions he became more convinced than ever that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom," (Chew, 2011).
King organized bus boycotts in Alabama when he was a pastor, making him a powerful and influential community leader. Although King had the support of many organizations in America, he was not acting on behalf of any one group. King advocated on behalf of all oppressed people and especially the African-American community. He was unafraid of breaking unjust laws and was in jail several times. In fact, another one of King's famous pieces of rhetoric was written from inside the Birmingham jail. In the letter, King (1963-b) writes to his fellow pastors that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The "I Have a Dream Speech" King delivered that same year is directed to a broader audience of Americans. King's ultimate goal in all his actions and words was "to completely end the system of segregation in every aspect of public life" and to make the United States live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all (Chew, 2011). So tremendous was King's work and so powerful was his message and the way in which he delivered it that he would work with the President of the United States as well as receive the Nobel Peace Prize both by the time he was 35 years old. The legacy of Martin Luther King continues, as Americans continue to fight for peace and social justice. Recent "Occupy Wall Street" protests carry with them the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The "I Have a Dream Speech" was delivered in the context of a massive march in Washington, D.C. Known as the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," it "included other religious leaders, labor leaders, and black organizers," (Mount, 2010). More than 200,000 people took part in the march, which was ultimately "successful in pressuring the administration of John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress," ("March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" n.d.). That Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was among the most important pieces of legislation created in the 20th century. Although not the first march of its type, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the most successful and memorable. King himself called it, "the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation," (King 1963). It was at the tail end of the procession that King delivered "I Have a Dream" to millions of Americans, as it was broadcast live on television.
The "I Have a Dream Speech," like King's other rhetorical works, is effective because the speaker uses pathos, ethos, and logos throughout the address. Moreover, King's voice is compelling. He uses changes in pace and tone, emphasizing some words to impart a lyrical and musical quality. When listening to King's speech, it is easy to imagine his past as a pastor. Although King does not rely on religion in "I…