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Is Martin Luther King Jr.’s 'I Have a Dream' Speech The Greatest in History?

Culture | March 16, 2018

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his I Have a Dream speech to huge crowd gathered for the Mall in Washington DC during the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Co.)

On August 28, 1968, with four immortal words -- "I have a dream" -- American civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his hopes for a better future. His speech was eloquent and touching, as well as prophetic. And apart from its content and effects, it stands as one of the great feats of oratory of the 20th century.

Dr. Martin Luther King Had Hundreds Of Thousands Of Supporters

MLK managed to gather more than 250,000 civil rights supporters during the “March for Jobs and Freedom,” in Washington, D.C. The March on Washington was, in part, intended to demonstrate mass support for the Civil Rights legislation proposed by President Kennedy in June. MLK and other participating leaders agreed to keep their speeches calm to avoid inciting the civil disobedience which had become the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement. King originally designed his speech as a homage to Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, timed to correspond with the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The "I Have a Dream" speech has been shown to have had several versions that were written at different times. It has no single version draft, but is a culmination of several drafts. It was originally called "Normalcy, Never Again," but very little of this draft and another "Normalcy Speech,"  wound up being included in the final draft. A draft of "Normalcy, Never Again" is housed in Morehouse College's Martin Luther King Jr. Collection of the Robert W. Woodruff Library and Atlanta University Center. The focus of "I have a dream" comes through the speech's delivery.  King departed from his prepared remarks and started improvisational "preaching,"  punctuating his points with "I have a dream."

King Preached Equality

MLK arranged many events and speeches during his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s. The one speech he delivered during this epic march in 1963 was, far and away, the most significant. On that day, MLK spoke to all people; not just African Americans. MLK spoke out and touched the heart of every human being on that historic day.

MLK’s message was to bring the oppression of black people to light.

The main subject of MLK’s famous equal rights speech was freedom and civil rights of the black American people. His speech was considered to be the greatest call to end racism in America. He focused on America's failure to make progress since the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed over one million slaves back in 1863.

King's 'I have a Dream' Speech Is Considered One Of The Best Speeches In History

However, he pointed out how, even a hundred years since slavery was abolished, the black person still wasn’t free. As King finished his speech, he departed from his prepared script and started passionately explaining his dream, which was encouraged by Mahalia Jackson’s outcry. ‘Tell them about that dream, Martin."

The famous revolutionist went on to describe his ideas of freedom and equal rights for everyone around the world. He dreamed of black people who would live freely and arise from the land of slavery and hatred they had lived in for so many years.

Among the most frequently quoted lines of his speech, MLK also described a personal example of his life that had a significant effect on people, in general, in a huge way. Dr. King had said that one day, in the future, he wanted his children to live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

King's Speech Has Been Commemorated With An inscription On The Spot Where He Delivered It

The famous and unmatched civil rights speech was considered to be epically remarkable. It also qualified as the top American speech of the 20th century. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been the right man, at the right time, to say all the right things!

MLK’s memorial was established in 2011 and was based on a line from his speech, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” For that reason, a 30-foot-high relief named the “Stone of Hope” stands between two other pieces of granite symbolizing his “Mountain of Despair.”

President Kennedy, Himself An Inspiring Speaker, Was Impressed With King

Even President Kennedy watched the event on television and claimed that he was impressed by King’s performance. Although the revolutionary march and speech pressured Kennedy’s administration to improve the civil rights in Congress, Kennedy considered them successful elements which contributed to the liberal civil rights coalition he was planning to form in future.

Dr. King’s inspirational words and vision filled a great void in our nation and answered our collective desire to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible.

Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A national holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which is observed in January, commemorates this legend of a man. He was a man of action who put his life on the line for the principles of freedom and justice. MLK did this every day; not just once a year. The cause was bigger than himself and he knew that. He suffered much criticism, ridicule, oppression, beatings and even went to jail for what he believed in. Ultimately, the brave man who fought for equality, laid down his life for the cause. It was the ultimate sacrifice.

By celebrating MLK, we recognize his honorable life and contributions to America. He was a champion of racial justice and equality. MLK was a fearless leader who fought to realize his dreams of a color-blind society and the achievement of historic reforms.

“On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.”

A Place At The Table

Dr. King had a great dream of a "vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child." 

The Civil Rights Act Of 1964 Was Passed

Attorney General Robert Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s brother) and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 22nd June 1963, Washington, D.C.

Although Martin Luther King boldly criticized the Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the Department of Justice for its failure to investigate civil rights violations, he wrote Kennedy in 1964 praising him for his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “Your able, courageous and effective work in guiding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through both Houses of Congress has earned for you an even warmer spot in the hearts of freedom loving people the world over. I add to theirs my sincere and heartfelt thanks.” 

People like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. will be remembered as great people who intended to change the world for better. Unfortunately, those that embark on the mission of change are often the kind of people that always find themselves to be the target of others. Some people make it their personal mission to destroy the person who represents change. King and Kennedy were both assassinated, and their deaths are still the subject of many conspiracy theories.

Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Martin Luther King Jr. | The Civil Rights Movement | The March On Washington

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.