I Have a Dream Martin Luther King Junior (1929 - 1968) | Neb Hseb Notes

I Have a Dream Martin Luther King Junior (1929 - 1968)

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Junior Short Summary This essay is a speech made by Martin Luther King Junior to a large crowd 10...

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Junior
Short Summary
This essay is a speech made by Martin Luther King Junior to a large crowd 100 years -1863-
after the slaves in the USA were freed. Martin Luther King says the Constitution of the USA promises that all men will be free, but the Negros (Black-Americans) are not free and do not have equal rights with the Whites. He says the Negroes are asking for freedom and equal rights but they must ask without using violence. Martin Luther King says that he has a dream that one day the Negroes will be free and will have equality. He has a dream that people will decide whether his children are good or bad because of their actions (character) and not because they are black. He hopes that, one day, all people will be able to join hands and sing that they are free.
Historical and Cultural Background
From about the year 1600 AD the White people in North America bought Negroes (Black Americans) from Africa to be slaves. A slave is owned by the white farmer. The slave cannot leave the farm and must work without being paid.
In 1787 the Constitution of the USA stated that all men are created equal, and that all men have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But these rules were not for the Negro slaves. They were not allowed to live like the white people and they were not free.
In 1862, President Lincoln made the Emancipation Declaration. This said that all slaves were free. They could leave the farms where they had been slaves and must be paid for work they did.
However, the Negroes were still not treated equally. In many states in the southern part of the USA black children were not allowed to go to the same school as white children, and black people were not allowed into the hotels, restaurants and buses that white people used. This was called SEGREGATION and it still existed at the time Martin Luther King made his speech in 1963.
Many Negroes were also poor. They lived in very bad quality houses in special areas called ghettos – where white people did not live. They were treated very badly by white people and it was difficult for them to get good jobs or to get a good education.
Paraphrase of the main things said by Martin Luther King
One hundred years ago, President Lincoln declared that the slaves in the USA were free, but the Negroes in America are still not free. Negroes are not allowed to go to the same places as white people and Negroes are still very poor.
The Constitution of the USA promises that all men have the right to live freely and to try to be happy. The Constitution was a written promise, like a check from a bank which promises to pay money. America has not kept its promise to Negroes. We (the 200,000 people in the crowd) have come to Washington, the capital of the USA, to say that the promises made in the constitution should be met now. America will not operate normally until these demands are met.
It is important to make these demands without using violence. It is also important not to distrust all white people, because there are some whites who support the Negroes, and who are helping them get equal rights.
We want the police to stop beating Negroes. We want Negroes to be able to stay in every hotel in the country. We want Negroes to be able to improve their position in society, to be able to vote and to have Negroes to vote for.
You must go back to your homes and work for change.
I have a dream that one day all people will be treated equally, that Negroes and whites will sit together like brothers and that everyone will be free. I have a dream that my children will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by their actions.
If America is to be a great country, all people in all the different places must be free. All people, of all colours and religions must be able to join hands and sing together, "We are free at last!"
What is the apparent purpose of this speech?
Martin Luther King wanted to show the prevailing discrimination against the blacks and how this racial injustice must come to an end. He also wants the Blacks to be given freedom and equality as promised by the constitution of America.
What thesis does King develop in his first four paragraphs?
(a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved)
King started his speech by announcing that the Emancipation Proclamation had brought great hope to million of Negro slaves who had been suffering from racial injustice. They had hoped that their life of captivity would be over. Contrary to this high hope, the Negroes have been crippled by chains of separation and discrimination. They are living a life of poverty although their white counterparts live a rich life. They are neglected and they feel they are in exile in their own land. In the third paragraph, Luther mentions that the Negroes haven't received rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. It's only the Whites who enjoy these rights. In the final paragraph, King calls upon the Negroes to cash their cheque of equality and justice. Also he urges the Blacks not to cool off or opt for a gradual change as it would postpone the opportunity to lift America out of the quicksand of racial injustice.
What does King mean by the "marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community? (paragraph 6)? Does this contradict King's non-violent philosophy?
Militancy has many meanings. The meaning implied here is that of strength of purpose and determination. The Negroes have woken up to fight for their rights but King urges them to struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. He alerts the crowd to fight physical violence with soul force. He advocates for creative protest rather than using physical violence. He doesn't want the Blacks to show any bitterness or hatred towards the Whites or against the police. Hence, King's use of militancy is the one favouring the use of strong moral pressure to achieve the aims of getting justice.
In what passages of his speech does King notice events of History? Where does he acknowledge the historic occasion on which he is speaking?
King in his very first utterance mentions President Lincoln who in 1862 had declared freedom for the slaves when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In the third paragraph too, King mentions the magnificent words written in the constitution of America and in the Declaration of Independence, which guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Explain King's analogy of the bad check (paragraphs 3 and 4).
A promissory note is a signed document containing a written promise to pay a stated sum to specified person or the bearer at a specified date or on demand. The one who goes to the bank can cash the cheque. However, insufficient funds in the bank mean the cheque is not cashed. The cheque becomes a bad cheque. In the same way, the architects of America had promised to give each American the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution of the USA (1787) is an open check that has promised to provide every Americans these rights. But America has denied (not paid) its black population these rights. Thus, the Blacks are demanding the good cheque of justice, freedom and citizenship rights.
How much emphasis does King place on the past? On the future?
King's introductory paragraph starts in the past tense wherein he talks of Abraham Lincoln's famous Emancipation Proclamation that guaranteed freedom to the slaves. In the second paragraph too he mentions the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But in the rest of the paragraph he has used language of the present and future. His sentences abound in the pains and sufferings braved by the Blacks for most of History. He dedicates the parallel language structure beginning with Now to prove the importance of present. Because it is a speech he emphasises the current status of Black Movement and the ways to achieve complete freedom. King was not keen to open the wounds of the past so he uses positive language of hope. Another parallel structure King uses – " I have a dream….." – clearly hints at King's dream about the better future for Black Americans. The use of 'will' clearly indicates about the hope for the end of racial injustice, the beginning of freedom, and the attainment of the spirit of brotherhood. Even the imperative parallel structure "Let freedom ring……." cry for a day when freedom will ring from all parts of America, and people practicing various religion will become God's children. Indeed, the very title supports a future for the Blacks where hope and faith will triumph over despair and discord.
Comment on the language used in the speech?
Martin Luther King Jr demonstrates superior command of language that is evocative and inspirational at the same time. King meshed the cadence of a Baptist preacher with the credence of a man who was well-versed not only in the history of African-Americans in the United States, but America itself. From the very beginning to the end, Martin Luther King used powerful, evocative language to draw emotional connection to his audience, such as:“Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”; “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”; “We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities”
 The use of similes, metaphors, analogies and parallel structures abound throughout the text. Some of the metaphors are the crippling of the blacks ' by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,';  the negroes faith that will be able to ' hew out a mountain of despair a stone of hope';  and the desire to transform America ' into an oasis of freedom and justice.' Other metaphors are: “joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity”;“the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity”;“rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice”; “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” These metaphors allow us to associate our speech concepts with concrete images and emotions. He then relates to the Emancipation Proclamation of Abraham Lincoln as a ' great beacon light of hope to millions of negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.' Mention to justice rolling like water and righteousness like a mighty stream are other fine examples of simile that catches the abstract ideals in a very concrete manner.
The uses of analogies is worth mentioning, particularly the analogy of the bad check. The Constitution of the USA promised that all men have the right to live freely and to try to be happy. The Constitution was a written promise, like a check from a bank which promises to pay money. America did not keep its promise to Negroes. Thus, they (the over 200,000 people in the crowd) marched on to Washington, the capital of the USA, to say that the promises made in the constitution should be met now, and that America would not operate normally until these demands were met. Likewise, the mention to transforming ' the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,' catches the spirit of all the people of America from various racial backgrounds coming together to create a prosperous America.
 If that was not sufficient, the use of parallel structures provide a hypnotic impact on the people who listened to him talk about the finest human ideals like justice, freedom, democracy, righteousness, brotherhood, equality, etc. The parallel structure: Now is the time ……..' catches the existing problems in America which have come about because of the dishonoring of  the  'legitimate discontent' of the Negroes. Similarly, ' I have a dream ……………' apprise us with the hopes and dreams of the Black Americans who are ever so optimistic and patient in spite of several obstacles on their way.
The repetition of the 'theme' words throughout the body of the speech makes it memorable and convincing. The repetition of some words brings to the fore the emergence of some very interesting patterns. The most commonly used noun is freedom, which is used twenty times in the speech. This makes sense, since freedom is one of the primary themes of the speech. The  other key 'theme'  repeated words include,we (30 times), our (17 times), you (8 times),nation (10 times), America (5 times), American (4 times), justice (8 times) and injustice (3 times) and, dream (11 times).
King has explicitly and implicitly drawn on numerous Biblical allusions  to provide the moral basis for his  arguments:“It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” [paragraph 2] alludes to Psalms 30:5;  “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” [paragraph 8] evokes Jeremiah 2:13; No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.Amos 5:24 “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”; I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.Isaiah 40:4-5; And when this happens, . . . we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The references made to the US documents like The Constitution of the USA (1787); The Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) on the one hand and to God and divine providence on the other hand bring out the essential goodness of language borne out of the marriage of the real historical developments with the spiritual precepts. In his booming voice, we can feel and hear the voices of Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, the Bible and the Negro spiritual. He speaks from a high plane of morality, and the language is unbiased and neutral with none of the elements of propaganda and politicking that peppers a demagogue's speech. He raises ethical questions that have meaning and scope beyond his time and age. The rhetoric question he asks: "When will you be satisfied?" is answered with great clarity and earnestness of purpose.
Thus the use of the concrete examples of comparison to exemplify abstract quests of the Black Americans and his oratorical powers honed out of his many preaching and personal struggles for the cause of the Blacks and their rights have added peculiar charm, energy and posterity to this speech.
What is the dream of Martin Luther King?
Martin Luther King's dream is deeply rooted in the American dream. He dreams of the Blacks receiving justice, freedom, equality, and brotherhood. He dreams of a time when the sons of former slaves owners and the sons of former slaves will sit down together at the table of brotherhood; he dreams of transforming the states where injustice and oppression prevail into an oasis of freedom and justice. Furthermore, he hopes of a time in the future where black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. And then, he believes that Black American children henceforth will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Finally, he is keenly waiting for the day when all the people of America will be blessed by the glory of God.
What is the historical significance of the speech?
Martin Luther King Jr made this historic speech hundred years after Abraham Lincoln had declared the Blacks legally free through the decree known as Emancipation Proclamation that swung into action in 1863. The Blacks were filled with hope and joy, and expected the end of segregation and discrimination. They also expected to come out poverty and walk into the world of material prosperity, and become a vibrant American community like their white counterparts' but much to their surprise and shock their condition improved little and they still had to languish in the margins of the American society and face discrimination and ill treatment in the very country they gave their blood and sweat. They were denied access to the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness made available by the Constitution of the USA and the Declaration of Independence. They were also wrongly made the victims of the government's double standards because they could not enjoy real democracy; get opportunity as decreed by God; come out of the quicksand of injustice; and not feel the rock solid power of brotherhood.
What is Martin Luther King Jr's method of militancy?
Martin Luther King was a great adherent of the principles of non violence and peaceful rebellion. He was inspired by the acts of Great Mahatma Gandhi who single handedly freed India from the British rule through the employment of non-violent techniques and methods. King followed the same route. In his speech he reminds the people not to try to get justice through wrong deeds. He suggests that the people should not demand for freedom by being bitter and hateful towards the Whites. He tells them to conduct struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. He further reminds them not to degenerate their creative protest into physical violence. Rather they should meet physical force with soul force. The people should work and walk with fellow whites who have solidarity with them. Their struggle should not cause any distrust among the Whites because the fate of the Blacks is tied up with the fate of the Whites. He suggests that they should not lose hope until they get justice and equal rights.
Some famous MKL Quotes
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hates destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
A right delayed is a right denied
Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

Non violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Raj Kumar Gautam, Arniko HSS; 02 September 2013.



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Neb Hseb Notes : I Have a Dream Martin Luther King Junior (1929 - 1968)
I Have a Dream Martin Luther King Junior (1929 - 1968)
Neb Hseb Notes
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