Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest orators
and civil rights activists in U.S. history. His goal was to
end racial segregation and discrimination using peace-
King delivered his electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech
from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963
March on Washington, which became the flash point for
Insights from “I Have a Dream”:
The sparkline on the next few spreads includes a full tran-
script of the speech to help identify the following insights:
• Contour: King’s speech moves between what is and
what could be rapidly, which is an appropriate pace
for the heightened energy of the gathering.
• Dramatic pauses: We put a line break in the sparkline
each time he pauses. As you’re reading it, breathe for
a second or two at the end of each line to get a sense
of how it was spoken.
• Repetition: King uses the rhetorical device of repeti-
tion often. Throughout the speech, he repeats word
sequences to create emphasis. Toward the end, he
repeats the phrase “I Have a Dream” several times,
like the refrain of a hymn.
• Metaphor/visual words: King masterfully uses
descriptive language to create images in the mind.
For example, he states, “Now is the time to rise from
the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the
sunlit path of racial justice.”
Case Study: Martin Luther King Jr.
His Dream Became Reality
• Familiar songs, Scripture, and literature: King establish-
es common ground by referencing many spiritual hymns
and Scriptures familiar to the audience. He even rephras-
es a small sequence from Shakespeare: “This sweltering
summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass
until there is an invigorating autumn…”
• Political references: King pulls lines from several politi-
cal resources like the U.S. Declaration of Independence,
the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.S. Constitution,
and the Gettysburg Address.
• Applause: There are varying degrees of applause
throughout ranging from clapping to clapping with loud
cheering. In the sixteen-minute speech, the audience
applauds twenty-seven times. That’s applause approxi-
mately every thirty-five seconds.
• Pacing: King speeds up and slows down to vary the
quantity of words spoken per minute. This creates three
distinct bursts or crescendos in his speech that build
to the passionate ending that describes the new bliss.
King’s speech heightened the awareness of civil rights
issues across the country, bringing more pressure on
Congress to advance civil rights legislation and end racial
segregation and discrimination.
In 1963, King was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year.
A short forty-six years later, the United States elected its
first African American president, Barack Obama.
Great communicators create movements.
Listen along at www as King delivers his speech.
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