Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” Speech

(1963)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

After a brief salutation, King reminds his listeners of the symbolic importance of the ground they occupy. By locating their rally in the shadow of the Great Emancipator's memorial, march organizers hoped to call attention to Abraham Lincoln's unfinished agenda; a century after the end of slavery, African Americans still were not free. King's use of the archaic “fivescore years ago” is an obvious echo of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. He briefly mentions the triple problems of segregation, discrimination, and poverty that mark the unequal status of black Americans. King emphasizes the long gap between the Emancipation Proclamation's promise of equality and the lingering reality of pervasive racism by repeating “one hundred years” four times.

Using the words of the Declaration of Independence, King advises his listeners that African Americans are seeking only the rights guaranteed to all citizens. He accuses the United States of bad...

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Martin Luther King, Jr. (Library of Congress)

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