Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech is one of the most eye opening and persuasive addresses in U.S. History. There is so much power, persuasive thoughts and honesty being spoken in this speech. It is very historical and leaves such a historical significance. This speech moved the hearts of thousands of people. Dr. King used different types of delivery, organization, and persuasive techniques throughout which resulted in such a memorable, landmarking speech.
In August of 1966, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech, before 200,000 people, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King “told of the struggle ahead, stressing the importance of continued action and nonviolent protest” (“King speaks to March on Washington”). King depicted his ideas through common problems and/or struggles a direct group of people were facing in such a challenging time. This appealed to the emotions of African Americans, but all people at that. King wanted change, and he made the change we needed. The powerful imagery he displayed through his speech left the Civil Rights Movement at the time something to be remembered and respected. Persuasion is defined in “A Concise Public Speaking Handbook (5th edition)” as the “process of changing or reinforcing attitudes, beliefs, values, or behaviors.” This is exactly what Dr. King does throughout his speech. This speech allowed many to see for the first time the importance and urgency of racial equality. Dr. King was a motivating and passionate preacher already. He was the perfect person to ignite the flame within the hearts of many.
Dr. King’s choice of delivery techniques contributed to the success and effectiveness of this speech. You can see from King’s body language that he was calmed and grounded as he delivered his speech. As a speaker, Dr. King had the solidity that is surely only found with those who have completely aligned their actions with their firm commitment. The 200,000 people at the Washington rally could not have pushed King off-track if they’d tried. Dr. King was so solid in his convictions that the crowd could sense that and aligned themselves with him, wanting the change he was pleading for. It takes a certain commanding voice to inspire the minds of thousands and Dr. King had such a voice to do so. King’s booming voice was well practiced in his practice as a preacher. His cadence, his pacing and his preacher-like drama bring real passion to the speech. Surprisingly enough, Dr. King ditched his original script 10 minutes into the speech and began to speak from the heart. His speech was never meant to even include its most famous sequence of “I have a Dream”. King was said to have responded to the cry of Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” and ad-libbed what came next. This is what gave “I have a dream” its raw power and edge – King was living the words that he spoke. It is thought that King ditched the script so that he could connect more with his audience. But whatever the case, it worked. “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations,” he begins. King goes on to talk to his audience and their personal situations directly, “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” King is with the people, fully connecting to them with his eyes and delivering a powerful rhythm in his speaking.
Dr. King begins his speech with a reference to the end of slavery after the Civil War. “Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” After this, MLK releases the speech’s original central metaphor: the ‘check’ owed to African Americans by the rest of America. He discusses how “it came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity but 100 years later the negro still not free.” This is something his audience members could relate to. During this time, segregation was going on and the whites were superior to blacks in everything. Dr. King expresses how giving freedom to all people is a “sacred obligation’. The middle of the speech focuses on the goals, methods, and motivation of the movement Dr. King led. He talks about how the time is now “to make justice a reality for all of God’s Children.” MLK encourages his audience to not rest until the “the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.” However, he stresses the importance of continuing to fight for justice in a non-violent way. He doesn’t want his fellow protester to satisfy their “thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” In a sense, MLK did not want people to stoop down and reciprocate the hatred and bitterness they are receiving. In the last section of this speech, Dr. King describes his dreams of future America. In particular, it’s about a future in which there’s “a beautiful sympathy of brotherhood” between people of all races. He discusses that freedom should be something everyone is entitled to. MLK dreamed of the day freedom would ring and “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands.”
Dr. King used logical allusions, emotional allusions, ethical allusions, as well as repetition to enhance the persuasion element of this speech. The metaphor that MLK uses, comparing how America has given African Americans a “bad check”, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds”, emphasizes his point, while referring it to a subject which many people are familiar with. Another logical allusion used was King’s reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which served as a written statement to abolish slavery . He continued to add afterwards that even with that document signed by a “great American” (Abraham Lincoln), they are still not free. This opening allusion helped the audient to really grasp what MLK was trying to say right at the start of his speech. The emotional allusions Dr. King used helped “enhanced” the emotions of MLK and the people around him. “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like mighty stream.” This sentence is strongly stated and gave off a feeling that caught the audience’s attention, and they began to realize, if they had not already, that they agreed with him, exemplifying the beautiful power of persuasion. To make this speech more relatable, Dr. King used ethical allusions to reach out to everyone in his audience. “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing…” This refers to the popular patriotic song that contrasted with the state of the U.S. during that time (Civil Rights Movement). He wanted to alert everyone about the discrimination that they had been accustomed to. This speech also used repetition to emphasize certain parts as well as to create balance in his writing. He repeats the title, “I have a Dream” multiple times throughout his work to indicate to the audience that this is his dream. “Let freedom ring” is another example of repetition, which was used more frequently at the end to conclude his speech, leaving the audience with a clear understanding of what he wants.
In conclusion, Dr. King was very persuasive in his speech and opened the eyes of his audience to realize the injustices that was present in society at that time. Dr. King’s call for change and action left an everlasting mark on our history and without it-we may still be suffering in a cruel world of inequality and injustice. His speech connected the American people as one. We needed change and hope and Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” was the perfect speech the American people needed to hear at the time.