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Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream speech” is one of the most well-known and beloved of the 20th century. Delivered to over a quarter of a million civil rights activists during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on 28th August 1963, it rousingly and poetically calls for an end to racism in the USA and calls for equality, civil and economic rights for all. It’s a powerful and influential moment in American history.

In this video from Nerdwriter he looks at how this iconic speech was composed. Breaking down not only what makes it so powerful, but also how MLK references and links his speech to famous speeches of the past. Like a nod to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

All this, Nerdwriter notes, is because MLK is framing I Have a Dream in the context of American history, placing civil rights in the wider trajectory of American mythology.

Here is a section from the memorable part of the I Have Dream Speech that most of us remember:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Why ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ Sticks In Your Mind

MLK I Have A Dream Speech - 99

Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream speech” during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963 (via).

Along with this MLK also makes I Have a Dream compelling in a musical, rhythmic sense, using alliteration throughout helping to really make his phrases impactful and stick in people’s minds.

Another rhetorical device King uses is called “anaphora” which means to repeat a word of phrase at the beginning of a sentence. So phrases like “Now is the time” echo and resonate throughout the speech, chiming with the audience and reiterating King’s message.

There’s also nods to Shakespeare and the Bible but, ultimately, Nerdwriter notes what King does most beautifully and eloquently in the speech is marrying the plain with the dramatic to create something that still sounds powerful and urgent all these years later.

“In ‘I Have a Dream’ the simple language contextualizes and grounds the poetic.” notes Nerdwriter. “And the poetic elevates and animates the simple. That’s why it echoes across time and will echo for decades and ages to come. Something vital and alive.”

MLK I Have A Dream Speech - 01

Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream speech” during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963 (via).

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