His Dream Became Reality

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest orators and civil rights activists in U.S. history. His goal was to end racial segregation and discrimination using peaceful means.

King delivered his electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington, which became the flash point for a movement.

Insights from “I Have a Dream”:

Contour: King’s speech moves between what is and what could be rapidly, which is an appropriate pace for the heightened energy of the gathering.

Dramatic pauses: The transcript has a line break each time he pauses. As you’re reading it, breathe for a second or two at the end of each line to get a sense of how it was spoken.

Repetition: King uses the rhetorical device of repetition often. Throughout the speech, he repeats word sequences to create emphasis. Toward the end, he repeats the phrase “I have a dream” several times, like the refrain of a hymn.

Metaphor/visual words: King masterfully uses descriptive language to create images in the mind. For example, he states, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

Familiar songs, Scripture, and literature: King establishes common ground by referencing many spiritual hymns and Scriptures familiar to the audience. He even rephrases a small sequence from Shakespeare: “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn…”

Political references: King pulls lines from several political resources like the United States Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the United States Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address.

Applause: There are varying degrees of applause throughout, ranging from clapping to clapping with loud cheering. In the sixteen-minute speech, the audience applauds twenty-seven times. That’s applause approximately every thirty-five seconds.

Pacing: King speeds up and slows down to vary the quantity of words spoken per minute. This creates three distinct bursts or crescendos in his speech that build to the passionate ending that describes the new bliss.

King’s speech heightened the awareness of civil rights issues across the country, bringing more pressure on Congress to advance civil rights legislation and end racial segregation and discrimination.

In 1963, King was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year. A short forty-six years later, the United States elected its first African American President, Barack Obama.

Great communicators create movements.

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