I Have a Dream address was delivered by civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The monumental protest march directed the attention of the fellow Americans and international audience towards the systemic discrimination encountered by African Americans on a daily basis a century after emancipation. The iconic speech has been registered in the annals of history as a defining moment that shaped the contemporary African American discourse.
Delivered during “March on Washington”, I have a dream speech became one of the most famous addresses by Martin Luther King Jr. The fundamental motivation was to advocate for equal rights in access to opportunities and freedom. Lincoln Memorial in the city of Washington, D.C. hosted this unprecedented event that became a turning point in the history of the United States. Even a hundred years after Emancipation Proclamation, African American community was subjected to racial bias. Racial profiling led to disproportionately low employment rate of Black people in the U.S. Dr. King began his speech by describing the Declaration of Independence as a “promissory note” that was applicable to all. He asserted that African Americans had gathered to “cash this check” which was promised to them by the united American dream. He described the Civil Rights Movement as “the whirlwinds of revolt…[shaking] the foundations of our nation” and this perturbed the government. He urged both White and colored communities to come together in this larger battle for justice. He rejected the call for a “cooling off” period made by political leaders. He reiterated:
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate 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.
Dr. King announced that the Civil Rights Movement had several aims: ending police brutality; indiscriminate use of boarding and lodging facilities; unbiased transportation ;removal of discriminatory signs like “For whites only” across towns and cities; and right to vote, among others.
Dr. King was referring to the omnipresent persecution of African Americans who had been deliberately ghettoised over centuries. While stating that the non-existent representation of African Americans in the public sphere had led them to “the valley of despair”, he claimed that his dream was not detached from the American dream. He said:
“I have a dream 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””.
This statement circumscribed the essence of mass protests against the administration. He urged his followers from the Southern states, where racism was rampant, to continue the fight. His dream highlighted the importance of cooperation and negotiation between Blacks and Whites. He declared that Mississippi had the potential of becoming an “oasis of justice and freedom.” In his most powerful statement, he expressed his desire of creating an America where people’s identities would not be determined by “the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He dreamt of desegregation in all public funded institutions like schools and colleges. It is important to note that the movement was followed by a demand for affirmative action which opened up Ivy League universities to colored communities. Dr. King unequivocally stated that “March on Washington” was an attempt to “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” and in doing so, to restore the democratic principles which were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. By reconstructing a new minstrel, Dr. King gave a clarion call to all his fellow African Americans to strive for freedom. He lauded America for its diversity. In addition, he implored all communities to join hands to end discrimination, including Jews who were the victims of anti-Semitism. Dr. King paid homage to his ancestry by including a verse-line from an “old Negro spiritual”:
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
He closed his speech on an optimistic note.