Good Essay On “I Have A Dream” Speech Analysis

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Rhetoric, Speech, Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, Supreme Court, Appeal, America, I Have A Dream

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/11/19

The “I Have a Dream Speech” is one of the most important and memorable speeches in American history. Delivered on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. brought national focus to the civil rights movement by giving this speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. This speech was given on the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, which gives the actual location of speech historical significance. However, despite the reason the speech was given in the context of the 1960’s civil rights movement, and the tie to President Lincoln, the speech is effective because of the rhetorical tools King uses. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech effectively uses rhetorical appeals, while promoting a timeless and appropriate message given the audience and context.
One type of rhetorical appeal is an appeal to “ethos” or credibility. The key to giving an effective speech is to make sure the speaker is a credible source of information on the topic presented (Weida 2013). In this case, King easily has his credibility established because he is one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. King had gone on political marches before, promoting the cause of non-violence and a society free from racial barriers. Along with his reputation as a civil rights leader, King also put elements of “ethos” within the actual speech. At the beginning of the speech King says:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice (King, 1963).
The reason why King uses this exact phrasing goes back to the initial context of the speech. This is a reference to Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg address. King is trying to show how this is a continuation of the vision portrayed by Lincoln, and that this cause is larger than any one person. King is showing how he knows his history, and the importance of the moment. King’s credibility is attached to the long standing history of the fight for civil rights.
Another type of rhetorical appeal King uses is an appeal to “pathos,” or the audience. This also means making an emotional appeal that the audience can identify with and follow through in action (Weida 2013). A big reason for the success of the “I Have a Dream Speech” is King’s use of the emotional appeal in terms of his audience. Some of the most common phrases in the speech are when King says something like, “I have a dream” and “Let freedom ring (King 1963).” These are clear emotional appeals where King is trying to get the audience to realize the large scope of what he is trying to achieve, and how great that society would look if his vision were to come true. These two common phrases also appear at the end of the speech, and there is a particular reason why King does this. He ends the speech with emotional appeals because he wants the audience to leave with a feeling to promote the cause. King’s ending is a “call to arms” for all those listening to work for the cause of racial equality. It should also be noted that the tone of voice used throughout the speech enhances the emotional appeal, as King is skilled in public speaking and his delivery style evokes an emotional response, as the video shows.
King also appeals to the audience by making it personal, and bringing up his children. King said, “I have a dream that my four little 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 (King, 1963).” This again promotes his vision, and shows how he is personally affected by this issue. The audience will likely identify with this and increase the odds of doing something in response to hearing King’s message. King makes sure to show how his message is for all people in the nation. He closes the speech referring to all people: black, white, Jew, Gentile, Protestant and Catholic. In doing so, he provides Biblical references which both enhance his credibility, and his emotional appeals to the audience. King knows he is speaking to the entire nation, not just those assembled at the Lincoln memorial, and that comes out in his speech.
The last type of common rhetorical appeal is that of “logos” or the logical appeal (Weida 2013). King also uses solid reasoning throughout the speech and shows the hypocrisy of the current system towards African Americans. To show the hypocrisy and unfairness of the situation, King cites that Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. It makes sense to cite America’s founding documents as evidence for the cause of civil rights because these two documents have phrases like “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” as well as the ideas of “unalienable rights.” King points out that the basic foundational documents of the country promote the cause of the civil rights agenda. A true interpretation of these documents shows that African American are equal in every facet of life, and King makes sure to point this out in the “I Have a Dream” speech.
Finally, King’s speech is effective because of the timelessness of his message. Equality and civil rights are a staple throughout American history, and are even still brought up today. The way King presents his speech, in terms of his delivery and uses of metaphors, creates one of the best speeches ever delivered. Even without the context of the civil rights movement, the speech still would have been effective, because it included all three necessary rhetorical appeals to becoming a good speech. However, when added to the cultural dynamics of the 1960’s, and all the rioting and hatred shown towards many African Americans, King’s speech is a timeless achievement, which will be remembered for many more years to come. The message of freedom, equality, and civil rights will likely always resonate to the American people.
In conclusion, the “I Have a Dream” speech effectively uses the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos, as well as provides a timeless message and delivery that will be remembered for a long time. Martin Luther King Jr. shows he knows exactly how to convey a particular message, and did so on the steps on the Lincoln memorial. He had credibility, used poignant metaphors, and made a logical case for the advancement of civil rights. All of these elements combined to form one of the most effective speeches in American history.

Works Cited

"I Have A Dream Speech , August 28, 1963." YouTube. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. <>.
King Jr., M. (1963, August 1). Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech - American Rhetoric. Retrieved January 13, 2015, from
Weida, S. (2013, March 11). Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion. Retrieved January 13, 2015, from
Speech Outline
Introduction- citing the Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address
African Americans are not free
Cites the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (unalienable rights, Freedom)
A list of injustices upon African Americans
Call not to be satisfied with the current situation
Importance of non-violence
“I have a dream” statements
“Let Freedom Ring” statements
Conclusion- Famous lines
“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty we are free at last”
Essay Outline
Introduction- context and background to the speech
Thesis: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech effectively uses rhetorical appeals, while promoting a timeless and appropriate message given the audience and context.
Claim- King effectively uses “ethos”
Support- background to civil rights era and his role
Support- Identification with Lincoln and prior fight for African Americans
Claim- King effectively uses “Pathos”
Support- “I have a Dream” and “Let freedom ring” statements
Support- His reference to his children
Support- Delivery style
Claim- King effectively uses “logos”
Support- King cites Declaration of Independence, and US constitution
Support- Shows the hypocrisy in the system
Claim- King’s message is timeless
Support- Freedom, equality, and civil rights are well known themes, especially given the context
Restate thesis
Summarize main points

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