Sunday, December 25, 2011

Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream

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On August 8, 1946 Martin Luther King expressed his feelings regarding American justice. King considered the nature and value of justice, as they appear in both structure of society as a whole, and in the personality of an individual human being. He believed that individuals are not self-reliant and no one working alone can gain all of the genuine necessities of life. He is convinced that this can be achieved by having communities gather together for mutual achievement of common goals. Justice is not the exclusive responsibility of any one class of citizens, but emerges from the harmonious interrelationship of each component in society. Martin Luther King was an extraordinary leader, directing the African Americans in peaceful protests to achieve equality for all human kind. Composing one of the most eloquent and enlightening speeches throughout American history, “I Have a Dream,” King demands America to stand by the promise in which it was founded on, that all men are created equal. Many people are only exposed to the conclusion of this speech. The introduction of the speech, obviously well organized and thought out, leads the audience into not only an unexpected but an unforgettable, improvised conclusion. Revealing the entire commentary, spectators may alter their conception of the speech and the civil rights movement all together.

The conclusion was neither written nor organized in advance. In this conclusion, King speaks from his heart, it can be thought of as somewhat emotional and celabratory. King is extremely optimistic in the conclusion and at this moment in time, he may be looked at by some as having unrealistic expectations. He recognizes that the struggle for civil rights will not be easy, and it will not happen over night. Despite the fact that there is hard work ahead, he illustrates his desire for what America can be like if it lives up to it’s creed “We hold these rights to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” Immediately King establishes his argument in the conclusion and continues using illusory language i.e. “I have a dream...” He describes his ideal vision of the future, laying dreamlike images as a foundation for others to follow into the future.

King’s vision portrays the walls of segregation being torn down. One day he sees young black children and young white children uniting as friends, a thought that was considered impossible and extremely radical in the 1960’s . King states that Alabama will no longer be a state of prejudice and Mississippi will no longer be a state of injustice, a place where whites and blacks can live together graciously. “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,” King declares passionately. He dreams of a nation involving no separation, but justice.

The conclusion differs from the body of the speech, exemplifying King’s hope for America’s future. The body of the oration includes more facts about the necessary elimination of segregation that was present in America. It begins by examining the promise made for freedom discussed in the Emancipation Proclamation. Although this promise of freedom was made a hundred years before King’s speech was given, the blacks continue to live in poverty and be looked upon as an inferior race, denied of both benefits and basic rights. Considering the “Jim Crow” laws instated in southern states following the civil war it is easy to see how segregation is more similar to slavery than freedom. King reminds the people of the words used in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, “This note was a promise that all men- yes, black men as well as white men- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In this excerpt King presents his knowledge of what the black race is entitled to as citizens of the United States, and demonstrates his determination to see this promise fulfilled.

Black America had been suffering against racism and segregation for over one hundred years. Politicians continued leading them on to believe that eventually their time will come where they will finally inherit their God given rights. In the body of his speech, King reminds America that justice should be served now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year. At this time fairness is essential. Metaphorically speaking, King pronounces the urgency of racial justice by stating, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.” His request for urgency continues, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”

He reveals that this fight for freedom will not be resolved until equality is at hand. King proposes that there will be “neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.”


King sought to establish and maintain a respectable ethos advocating peaceful protests such as boycotts, sit-ins, and freedom rides, which is evident in the passage, “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” King leads people in the direction of peace, not hate; inspiring the audience to act in a non-violent fashion. He reminds people to accept and appreciate white support because promoting that everyone shared the same destiny.

Condensing the speech to the conclusion changes the entire outlook of what the speech stands for. Once the written manuscript ends, King spontaneously speaks of the dream he has.

King portrays himself as having ideological and optimistic views for the future of America. On the other hand, throughout the body of the speech King states his knowledge of what African Americans are entitled to, refusing to give up until they are given their rights. Noting the entire speech, one realizes the political, aesthetic, and historical differences between the two. There is an evident political contrast between the body and the conclusion of the speech. The body summons the fact that African Americans were grateful when freed from slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” However, they remain unfree living in a world which segregation and discrimination still exist in defiance of the promise that was made, “One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” King appears optimistic in the conclusion. Although they have been handed the bitter reality of injustice, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. King presents his knowledge of what the African Americans are entitled to as citizens during the body. In the conclusion, he acknowledges that they have been cheated but persuades his followers that the way to achieve justice is to be hopeful and non-violent.

King is extremely inventive in his arguments from the beginning to the end of his speech. Utilizing illusory language to argue, he enchants his entire audience. In the body of the speech, King compares the promise of African Americans freedom to a bad check. “In a sense we have come to our nations capital to cash a check. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” King continues this discussion stating his refusal to tolerate “the bank of justice is bankrupt.” In the conclusion, he encourages his associates to keep the faith although denied of their inalienable rights, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” Throughout the entire speech, King brings up many inventive arguments, yet the context of his argument evolves from a bitter matter of fact tone, to an idealistic one.

The country’s landscape during the 1960’s could be compared to a war zone, riddled with hatred and intolerance by both whites and blacks. Having little hope that racial injustice would ever end, many African-Americans lashed out in blind rage. The author Richard Wright in his novel “Native Son” captured this anger over a lifetime of oppression. In his book Wright describes how blacks were treated no better than animals and lived in fear of their oppressors. Such deplorable treatment of blacks was what demonized the white man in the mind of Bigger Thomas, a young black man who went on to kill a white girl leaving him with an overwhelming sense of empowerment. Such a disconnection of whites and any trace of humanity were widespread in black communities and began to boil over. African-American rage manifested itself in the form of riots, such as during the 11 Chicago race riots, which consumed the city for three days. In the body of his speech Dr. King states, “The Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” In this excerpt Dr. King is describing the foundation for the discontent covering the country, similar to how Bigger Thomas felt in the book “Native Son.”

One hope remained, one light pierced through the darkness, one African-American leader remained optimistic. Dr. Martin Luther King and his non-violent movement were revolutionary for their time. Dr. King brought hope where there was none, he brought tolerance where there was only hatred. This spirit is conveyed throughout the concluding part of his 16 Lincoln Memorial speech. His idealistic vision displayed at the end of his speech is what was able to unite such diverse people under the umbrella of hope. People of all creeds and colors (including whites) were present and unified during the speech, demonstrating the incredible reach Dr. King had. Among those present at the Lincoln Memorial was Malcolm X, a militant black leader well documented for his support of black separatism. Capturing the heart and support of a hardened man with such opposing views proves how truly unique and remarkable King’s vision was during those times. “I have a dream that little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” This passage describes his peaceful vision in the midst of more militant ideas held by Malcolm X and the majority of disillusioned blacks.

Looking at what we are provided from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream,” it is difficult to judge the content and character of the entire speech. We are given a truncated synopsis leading one to judge the overall speech based on the color of flowery language in the conclusion. The conclusion can be seen as the overall skin; filled with hope, optimism and idealistic views for what the future ultimately shall bring. In the body of the speech, we discover the soul of King’s improvised words. Once acquainted with the entire body, we are able to look at it in a different light, judging the undiminished deeper content. Dividing the body into sections, we see that King is seeking the promise of freedom, he summarizes the constitution, and he demands justice for all. It is clear that there are political, aesthetic and historical differences between the skin and the soul of the speech. The soul discusses the purpose and reasoning of their argument. The skin exhibits the spirited attitude that African American’s had in the 1960’s. King’s rhetoric may even be compared to John F. Kennedy’s rhetoric a few months earlier in his Commencement Address at the American University in Washington, “Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. To many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal.” King concludes not only his speech, but Kennedy’s as well with his miraculous dream that peace will exist.



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