A powerful appeal from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

By: Jonathan Simmons

Speaking before thousands gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the nation to present a vivid image of the potential of an American future free from of racial discrimination.

King’s speech, called the “I Have a Dream” speech and by far his most famous, was delivered, significantly, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — the nation’s monument to the president who ended slavery.

King began his address with a powerful appeal to the promise held in the higher ideals of the nation’s history, and a condemnation of the manner in which slavery and institutionalized racism had robbed black people of that promise. He then moved on to speak of his hope that America had the potential to transform itself into a nation which lived up to its loftiest ideals.

The Biblical allusions punctuating King’s speech, and his powerful use of metaphor (“the flames of withering injustice” and “the warm threshold which leads to the palace of justice”) and repetition (such as the repetition of the words “I have a dream” and “let freedom ring”) contributed to its status as one of the most famous works of American oratory.

King’s speech was broadcast live, and the televised image of an articulate black man arguing with great force, conviction and humanity about the evils of prejudice and the nation’s potential to rise above it clearly undermined racist stereotypes. The “I have a Dream” speech energized the civil rights movement and became one of the most widely cited examples of the power of oratory to effect social change.

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Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 1:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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