Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can be regarded as one of the greatest leaders to ever live. Through his march to freedom he went on to challenge the status quo of racial discrimination by using America’s historic ideals of freedom and opportunity to create and strengthen support for social change through brilliant rhetoric and courageous actions (Logsdon and Murrell, 411). This can be seen most prominently in his “I Have a Dream” speech where he questions the national identity of the United States of America.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a social activist who was committed to nonviolent confrontation (Logsdon and Murrell, 411). King used his religious background, and leadership to guide the black community into equality. His most infamous action during this movement was his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. He invoked the ideals written down in the Declaration of Independence. He spoke not just to the problems of African Americans, but to the principles of this nation (Clayton, 16).
This speech would impact generations to come as it spoke of a world of equality for black and white.Before becoming the civil rights leader, he turned out to be, he was just a religious boy from Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 to Michael King Sr.
and Alberta Williams King. His family was very rooted in their religion as his grandfather, A. D. Williams, was a rural minister for years until he later took over Ebenezer Baptist Church. Eventually his father, Michael King Sr. stepped in as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. His father adopted the name Martin Luther King Sr in honor of German Protestant religious leader Martin Luther, and King Jr would soon follow his father and adopt this name. As he grew older his family struggled to shield away racism, as his father was subject to much racial prejudice. His father fought against racial prejudice, not because of race, but because he considered it to be an affront to God’s will. This would lead to a lasting impression on King, Jr.(Biography.com).
The same fight would later show up in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he leads the civil rights movement and more famously in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Among his many future efforts, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Through his activism and inspirational speeches, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the United States, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights (Logsdon and Murrell, 412-413).On an August day in 1963 (August 28, 1963), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. This speech took place during the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. King’s speech followed his master framework by using his unique blending of familiar Christian themes, and conventional democratic theory (Clayton, 16). It took the form of a Baptist sermon in the black tradition of this country(Alvarez, 1). His speech was done in a relatable way as King did it as a preacher preaching to his congregation. This can be seen through the intonation, pause and response of the speech.
Those listening in Washington D.C. were his congregation that participated by doing the sermon. It can be believed that those there were able to understand this speech as they shared similar backgrounds and could relate to the speaker, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His speech was also very moving because of its poetic nature.(Alvarez, 337-338)King makes use of poetry by making this speech a form of it. Throughout his speech he is able to stimulate audiences through rhythm. He also poses his ideas in a summary form that tells the themes of his “sermon.” (Alvarez, 340-341)This approach in his speech was reassuring to a White America burdened by guilt and fear of Black anger and violence.
Emphasis on Christian values and nonviolence promised redemptive and peaceful healing to America’s racial divide. (Clayton, 16). This speech was able to open the eyes of the public because before this America viewed civil rights as a black problem or a southern problem. King did this speech in Washington D.C. not to preach to the choir, but to bring it to mainstream America. (Clayton, 16)He invoked the ideals written down in the Declaration of Independence. King spoke not just to the problems of African Americans, but to the principles of this nation. (Clayton, 16). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. 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” (King, “I Have a Dream”). This draws on connections that the public is used to as many people have not experienced real oppression; but the principles codified in the Declaration of Independence are integral to our beliefs. (Clayton, 16). Another way he draws a connection to the national level of the United States was him quoting the pledge of allegiance.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uses the Pledge of Allegiance as a way to connect to the nation as we have all said the pledge and understand its importance to the United States of America. He begins this by stating his vision of the future on a small level. King’s vision was to see his four children growing up in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character closer to fruition. He also dreamed that kids of both white and black color will be able to hold hands as sisters and brothers. By mentioning black and whites holding hands he brings his attention to the United States as a whole by stating, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, 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” (King, “I Have a Dream”).
King believes that once we are able to see this all together will be the day that all God’s children will be able to sing the pledge of allegiance with a new meaning(King, “I Have a Dream”). After singing the first verse he says, “If America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!” (King, “I Have a Dream”). This, similar to speaking about the Declaration of Independence, raises the awareness of those outsides of the civil rights movement to feel these future visions on a national level and thus wanting to strive to achieve this.
King is able to follow this questioning of national identity with his final lines of his speech, “when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, 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, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'(King, “I Have a Dream”) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statements on the Declaration of Independence brought the problem of civil rights to a problem of national identity. Making it a problem of national identity inspired politicians and those outside the civil rights movement to support it. (Clayton, 16). Two months afterward Congress passed a new civil rights bill into law. It was titled the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it ended segregation in public areas and banned employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Another bill the was passed was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and it aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their 15thAmendment right to vote.
In today’s society, we still struggle as a nation with truly following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of holding hands as a united group. This struggle is due to many things including police brutality, racial profiling, unequal job opportunities, unfair treatment of women, etc. Fortunately, this struggle will eventually come to an end as many movements such as Black Lives Matter have taken King’s lead and continue to fight for the end of racial discrimination. (Jones, “Race and the “I Have a Dream” Legacy”).
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is still continuously looked at as one of the most influential leaders to have ever lived. Due to his civil rights movements and “I have a Dream” speech he opened the door for many African Americans to become leaders in this nation.Former President Barack Obama is a prime example of an African American with a dream just like Kings’. “I Have a Dream” will go down in history as the defiant moment the country wanted to change their national identity and pave the way for future generations to stand up for themselves.