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I Have a Dream

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Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his speech at the DC Civil Rights March.
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Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his speech at the DC Civil Rights March.

"I Have a Dream" is both the identifying phrase of and popular name for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speech, an important part of the American Civil Rights Movement. The speech was delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. It speaks powerfully and eloquently of King's desire for a future where blacks and whites would coexist harmoniously and as equals.

The popular name comes from the best-known passage of the speech:

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." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

Allusions and Quotations

In addition to King's own vivid rhetoric, he incorporated several quotations to build his case. In order of their appearance:

  • He begins by alluding to Lincoln and The Emancipation Proclamation.
  • To America's founding documents: "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, would be guaranteed the 'unalienable Rights' of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'"
  • Amos 5:24 - "We will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"
  • "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.'"
  • Isaiah 40:4-5 - "I have a dream 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."
  • The song America: "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 land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!'
  • And he closes with "the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Copyright controversy

This speech has been through years of court cases, in various jurisdictions, to determine whether it was ever copyrighted — the dispute was based on the fact that King had made his speech publicly to a large audience both live and televised, and only one month later did he register for copyright of his speech (as was then required by U.S. copyright law). Finally, on November 5, 1999, in Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. CBS, Inc., the 11th circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the public performance of his speech did not constitute "general publication" nor did it forfeit his copyright. Thus, King's estate is able to require a license fee for redistribution of the speech, whether in a television program, a history book, a dramatic re-enactment, or otherwise.

External links

  • Text of speech (http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/hst/northamerican/IHaveaDream/chap1.html) : World Wide School
  • Text of speech (http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/38.htm) : United States Department of State
  • Audio and text of speech (http://www.hpol.org/record.asp?id=72): History and Politics Out Loudfr:I Have a Dream

he:יש לי חלום ja:I Have a Dream

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