MLKJ Day: Do You Have a Dream?

Today, January 16th, 2017 marks 54 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed what it meant to have a dream. Through a speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of over 200,000 people, he spoke not just the crowd, but also to the entire world. Most of the speech states feelings of a hopeful future for African Americans who, during the Civil Rights Movement peacefully fought for equality, racial tolerance, and desegregation; as a result it is often stated as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th Century.

This speech has proved to be historical and extremely important, but why is it so memorable? Could it be because MLK was such an outstanding orator? Or was it that the political timing of the speech unified the world to the speech’s call for equality, a theme that is still trending today? Maybe it was the power with which he spoke? Join us as we look a little deeper into the message where Dr. King transformed a dream into an [almost] reality.

Time for equality

The African-American Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 and lasted until about 1968, meaning that Dr. King’s speech fell right in the very middle. When it comes to making an impact, timing is everything. Potentially then one could argue that the most important aspect that has breathed so much life into his words has everything to do with just that.

What is a joke but just another statement without comedic timing? Like any public speaker, comedian, or storyteller the timing of your words is crucial if you want your words to have gravity. Taking that concept then and applying it to Martin Luther King, Jr., his speech was televised, multiplying his message’s exposure to people’s hearts and minds in thousands if not millions of homes at once. That, and the political, social, and cultural revolution was reaching it’s climax. This combination explains why people around the world were able to join “the dream” for racial emancipation and support.

It was because of King’s speech and his actions fueled mass demonstrations led by students and political agitators that influenced the pursuit of freedom for cultures, nations, and people around the world. It even inspired political protest by like-minds such as Nelson Mandela, who fought for black freedom against Apartheid in South Africa. It is no surprise that when King used the speech as a way of non-violent protest, similar to how Mahatma Gandhi did while he was trying to overthrow British rule in India, the end result was Gandhi’s actions and Martin Luther King’s words being forever linked.

Photo via Wikimedia

Great Orator

Dr. King was not a stranger to making speeches, after all, he was a minister and had been a part of the Civil Rights Movement since the very beginning. Listening to him during his speech, aside from his word choice, his demeanor conveys conviction and sincerity. But something interesting happened in this speech that many people don’t know. Listen carefully to the video. Right before he says “I have a dream”, a gospel singer and friend of Dr. King, Mahalia Jackson, yells to him: “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Yeah!” What happens next is where the speech goes from being good to unforgettable. King stopped reading off his paper and instead, channeled his audience, engaged them, and made history.

It is then that “I have a dream” joined the grand stage of memorable quotes such as “we shall never surrender” by Winston Churchill and “the only thing to fear is fear itself” by FDR. Due to the shear strength of their words and their speakers’ adept ability to convey a message of solidarity keep them forever in our memory.

At this moment King’s speech is still powerful not only for the words he chose but for what they symbolized.The power of his words reminds us of what it means to be a great orator: the ability to formulate sentences that are applicable to the current political climate, words that you are passionate about, and most importantly, knowing your audience enough to speak for them. And with all those factors in place, “I Have a dream”  will remain as one of the most memorable speeches in our lifetimes.