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Rhetoricle Analysis of "I Have a Dream Speach"

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Rhetorical Analysis of “I Have Dream” Speech
Alfonso Gonzalez
Itt Technical Institute
Instructor Deana Schoneberg
EN 1320

The main point of Dr. Kings speech was that an injustice had been done to the black people. They were promised freedom from the emancipation proclamation and up to that point they still were not free. They were segregated and treated like second class citizens. Were they suppose to sit down and let white men at that time humiliate them, beat them, bomb their houses, and strip them of human dignity? No! Dr. King was preaching to all who listened, that now was the time to metaphorically cash this check, a check that will give them upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. But to do this, not with violence or retaliation, “we must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.” (Carson, 1998, p225) This would be the way Dr. King would want to see his dream played out, with non -violence. Were all his efforts done in vain?
On August 28, 1963, The March on Washington was organized by Bayard Rustin and led by union leader A. Philip Randolph. The backdrop ironically took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln was the man who issued the executive order, The Emancipation Proclamation, which theoretically freed the slaves but up to that point in time African Americans were still not free. At the march, 200,000 people attended. Black, white, ,celebrity, and clergy of every faith were present. This is where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech that is regarded as one of the greatest speeches ever given. (Stanford, N.D. para.1)
The declaration of independence and the constitution was written for all men a promissory note that all men were entitled to. This note stated that all men would be
RHETORICAL ANALYSIS 3 guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (ABC, para. 3) In reasoning to the people Dr. King used a metaphor explaining something we all can relate to, money. “America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked insufficient funds." (ABC, para. 4-5) Even though America defaulted on this check, they were going to cash it and demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. (ABC, para. 4-5)
As a black man, Dr. King was had experienced the same struggles as those present. Dr. King uses the word, “We” which gives his audience a sense of unity when he stated “ we will march ahead together” (Carson, 1998, p224). Dr. King tells the people “We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote”. (Carson, 1998, p224) He knows what they had to go through, even making the journey to hear his speech. The trials and tribulations, the beatings, Dr. King went through the same things. He is able to use this to gain trust from the audience and lets them know to “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, 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.” (Carson, 1998, p225)
In given speeches Dr. King preached non-violence. Where did this originate? I know his background in religion had some influence but also, in his first book, Stride toward Freedom, King wrote that during his enrollment to Crozer Theological Seminary (1948-51), he heard a sermon from Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Johnson had just come back that day from India and spoke about Gandhi’s campaigns of nonviolent resistance to British colonialism. That left a huge impression on him that he went out and bought books on
Gandhi’s life and works. From that point forward King began to integrate Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance into his Christian beliefs. During 1959 he increased his understanding of Gandhian ideas during a month-long visit to India sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. After his return he wrote, “I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom”. (The King Center, 2012, para. 7)
Dr. King used the emotions of the crowd by painting a vivid picture of the stories he was explaining. He would slowly raise his voice to emphasize a point, it was a powerful presentation. “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.” (Carson, 1998, p226) What father wouldn’t want that for his children? Even with the powerful words that sometimes conjured up emotions of anger and passion and disbelief for what some people did to the black race. But despite the hatred Dr King only preached non–violence which is very commendable.

In Conclusion Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Had a goal of persuading all who listened that a great injustice had been done and now was the time for change, and for equality of all the people in America. Not by force, but with peace because it was evident that it was wrong to segregate people. All would have to come together. Shortly after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech part of his dream came true, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 One year later, he signed the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. (NAACP, 2009-2012, para. 16) Dr. King’s accomplished everything he could even though his life was cut short on April 4, 1968. To an extent it had come full circle and his efforts weren’t in vain.



ABC. (n.d.) ABC News. Martin Luther King's Speech: 'I Have a Dream' - The Full Text. Retrieved December 2, 2012, from
Clay borne, C. (1998) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, NY: Warner Books
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2009-2012) NAACP. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from
Stanford. (n.d.) Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from

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