Speech analysis: I Have a Dream

Speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., USA.
Analysis presented by Eamonn Ryan


Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is the masterpiece of 20thCentury oratory.  We can learn a lot from it. I encourarge you to:

  • click Play on the video below
  • as you listen to Dr. King, read along using the annotated transcript that you will find below the video
  • you can click on any of the highlighted words/phrases in the transcript to see a brief explanation of the rhetorical devices and techniques used. 
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Annotated transcript

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago,Allusion: he is echoing the language at the start of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (whose giant statue he is standing in front of as he delivers this speech). Learn more. a great American, in whose sLearn moreymbolic sLearn morehadow we sLearn moretand today, sLearn moreigned the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon lightLearn more. of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flamesLearn more. of withering injustice. It came asSimile: he is comparing the end of slavery to a "joyous daybreak" at the end of a long night. Learn more. a joyous daybreak to end the long nightLearn more. of their captivity.
But one hundred years later,Learn more. the Negro stillLearn more.This word 'still' is also repeated in the following sentence, an example of mesodiplosis. is not free. One hundred years later,Learn more. the life of the Negro is stillLearn more. sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.Learn more. One hundred years later, Learn more. the Negro lLearn moreives on alLearn moreonely is land of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.Learn more.This also contains an example of an extended metaphor with the imagery of an island on a vast ocean. One hundred years later, Learn more. the Negro is still Learn more. languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. 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, Learn more. would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "L Learn moreife, L Learn moreiberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her cLearn moreitizens of c Learn moreolor arec Learn moreoncerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
B Learn moreut we refuse to b Learn moreelieve that the b Learn moreank of justice is b ankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've c Learn moreome to c Learn moreash this c Learn moreheck, a c Learn moreheck that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the d Learn moreark and d Learn moreesolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This s Learn moreweltering s Learn moreummer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not s Learn moreeek to s Learn moreatisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of d Learn moreignity and d Learn moreiscipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The mLearn morearvelous new mLearn moreilitancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannotLearn more. walk alone.
And as wLearn moree wLearn morealk, w Learn moree must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannotLearn more. turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will yoube satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victimof the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied aslong as Learn more
This section also includes more examples of anaphora with the repetition of 'We can never be satisfied as long as..'
our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, Learn more. cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. **We cannot be satisfiedLearn more. as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are sLearn moretripped of their s Learn moreelf-hood and robbed of their dignity by s Learn moreigns sLearn moretating: "For Whites Only."** We cannot be satisfied Learn more. as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a N Learn moreegro in NLearn moreew York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great t Learn morerials and t Learn moreribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms Learn more. of persecution and staggered by the stormsLearn more. of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back toLearn more. Mississippi, go back toLearn more. Alabama, go back toLearn more. South Carolina, go back toLearn more. Georgia, go back to Learn more. Louisiana, go back to Learn more. the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of t Learn moreoday and tLearn moreomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dLearn moreream dLearn moreeeply rooted in the American dLearn moreream.
I have a dreamLearn more. that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dreamLearn more. that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the s Learn moreons of formers Learn morelaves and the s Learn moreons of former s Learn morelave owners will be able to s Learn moreit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dreamLearn more. that one day even the state of Mississippi, a s Learn moretate s Learn moreweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dreamLearn more. that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the cLearn moreontent of theircLearn moreharacter.
I have a dreamLearn more. today!
I have a dreamLearn more. that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little bLearn morelackb Learn moreoys and b Learn morelack girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream Learn more. today!
I have a dream Learn more. that one day every valley shall be exalted, and 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."
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up f Learn moreor fLearn morereedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet l Learn moreand of lLearn moreiberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pLearn moreilgrim's pLearn moreride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring Learn more. from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from the m Learn moreighty m Learn moreountains of New York.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from the c Learn moreurvaceous slopes of C Learn morealifornia.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring Learn more. from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring Learn more. from every hill and m Learn moreolehill of M Learn moreississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom 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 AlmightyLearn more., we are free at last!