Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) first spoke of “dreams” in a sermon he delivered on April 5, 1959. His subject that day was disappointment, not hope.

He was familiar  with Hughes’s poetry (supported by his wife Coretta’s collection and appreciation of Hughes’s works), and, without him, perhaps King would have never started speaking about dreams The phrase “I have a dream.” gradually turned the negative aspects of dreaming into something truly inspiring, a creative way to synthesize prophecy, politics, and poetry .

“I Have a Dream” is a public speech delivered by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which he calls for an end to racism in the United States and for civil and economic rights. It was elivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It starts with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed millions of slaves in 1863, but King observes that: “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”.
Toward the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme “I have a dream” where  King described his dreams of freedom and equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred. This took place when  African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
The speech was a success for the Kennedy administration and for the liberal civil rights coalition that had planned it. But some of the more radical Black leaders condemned the speech (along with the rest of the march) as too compromising.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also noticed the speech, which provoked them to expand their operation against the SCLC, (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – an African-American civil rights organization) S and to target King specifically as a major enemy of the United States.
In the wake of the speech and march, King was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine for 1963, and in 1964, he was the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1965, he helped to organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. The full speech did not appear in writing until August 1983, some 15 years after King’s death.

In his speeches King employed images and metaphors taken from Langston Hughes’s poems.


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