The first time that I can remember hearing Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream speech” was in sixth grade. Every year, beginning several days before the anniversary of the March on Washington, the news stations begin to cover Martin Luther King, his contemporaries, and the impact they have had on the lives of minorities. However, this is the first year that I have taken the time to read it. It is a beautiful speech, with messages of hope and an open dialogue about the injustice African-Americans faced before the Civil Rights Movement began. I grew up with Sunday night dinners surrounded by strong black men and women, whose parents were born before the Civil Rights movement. My grandmother went to an occupational high school for colored girls, which taught them basic skills so they could get jobs as nannies, housekeepers, and cleaning ladies. My grandmother believed that she deserved and could do more than the three jobs available for African-American women in the 1940s. She decided she was going to be a nurse, and she was not going to let other people’s prejudices about her skin color stop her; and people did try. When my mom decided to become a nurse, her experience was much different than my grandma’s healthcare jobs. This was due to my strong grandmother’s encouragement, as well as the strides made by the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King’s speech goes beyond my own accomplishments and dreams. It is the hope for the future, a future that gives me the option to choose between a white president and a black president. It is the desire to see men and women of all colors sitting at a college cafeteria table arguing about politics and lifestyle choices. It is the ability of interracial couples like the Lovings of Virginia to walk down a street holding hands. The world is not perfect, and I personally would not want it to be. However, I think that we have farther to go before Martin Luther King’s speech is deeply embedded in America’s culture, instead of just bits and pieces. Until I walk into every interview and no one is surprised by the color of my skin, until all men have the same educational opportunities, and until my aunts can be married, I think that we still have miles to march. King’s speech gives us some guidance but we all have to decide that race is only skin deep, a difference that makes us unique and allows us to offer a unique point of view. We have met many of the dreams King speaks about, and I have hope and faith that one day we will all fully experience his dream.
My freshman year of college, while failing philosophy, I had to dissect and take apart the writings of Martin Luther King. The “I Have a Dream” speech seemed like it was an easy choice—but I was wrong. We think of the speech as an emblem of hope, a promise to the future—but it’s so much more.
What I absolutely adore about this speech is that while the good Reverend was filling the hearts and minds of listeners and encouraging equality, he was also being massively sassy. You read inspirational speeches and they’re always full of “we are the best, we can do this, we need to strive harder, America, WOOT.” And King’s speech has none of that. He is frank, and to the point. He says “We are America. We have built this idea of what America is, but we have not lived up to it.”
King looked past his time and saw an America where we abided by the principles that we clung to so deeply, where our nation actually lived up to the reputation we have built for ourselves, and where we were deserving of our pride. I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet—but I’d love to be around if we do.
As a former rhetoric major, I spent a lot of time analyzing speeches and written documents. Whenever I listen to a speech now, I find myself falling into my old analytical habits. In the classes that I’ve been in and the ones that I’ve taught, we eventually turn to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Most students know it. Maybe they’ve even heard snippets. They certainly know who Martin Luther King, Jr. is. They recognize the power of MLK’s speech, and I want to emphasize now that “I Have a Dream” is a masterpiece of rhetoric. The repetition, the allusions, the extended metaphors—these features highlight MLK’s genius and once you understand the way he mixes these features together, you understand why the speech is so powerful. Americans should be proud that one of us could create a speech so brilliant.
As a current Mexican American, I recognize the sheer urgency and importance of someone like MLK. Not many people know this, but Mexican Americans had a civil rights movement of their own, El Movimiento. It coincides with the African-American civil rights movement, though it was focused in the Southwest portion of the United States and California. What’s important to recognize is how bound we are to each other when it comes to freedom and justice for all. In my view, African-Americans have always been at the forefront of civil rights issues. More rights for them means more rights for all people of color. Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, Zoot Suit Riots, Internment camps—these aren’t just issues that affect African-Americans or Mexican Americans or Japanese Americans. These are issues that affect everybody, no matter your race or ethnicity. We all have a stake. We all have something to lose. MLK knew our destinies were bound together—you hold one group back, and all of us are held back. Fifty years later, his words still ring true, and it’s longevity that is the hallmark of an unparalleled speaker.
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