Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream Speech Research Paper Example

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Speech, Rhetoric, Martin Luther King, United States, America, Civil Rights, God, People

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/12/24

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The thesis question that I will be answering in this paper is “How does Martin Luther King Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech reveal a relational theology and what was its influence on the Civil Rights movement?” Martin Luther King Jr made this legendary speech on August 28th, 1963. The speech was delivered to more than two lakh fifty thousand civil rights supporters and from the Lincoln Memorial steps. The speech was timed during the March on Washington and was a critical event for the American Civil Rights Movement. To answer this question it is essential to understand what relational theology means and whether Martin Luther indeed apply it in his popular speech.
Martin Luther King Junior born on 15th January, 1929 was a civil-rights activist and a Baptist minister. During the 1950s his work made a huge impact on race dynamics in the United States of America. He also was the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He worked tirelessly to end the discrimination against the African-American population in many areas of the nation and created the famous Civil Rights Act in the year 1964. The Voting Rights Act in the year 1965 was another feather in his prestigious cap. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However, King was assassinated in the April of
1968. The “I have a dream” speech was a rhetorically written and presented work which was meant to shine a bright light on the racism prevalent in America. It was obvious that King had researched the Bible, the declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg address for the speech as he called attention to all the three in his speech. During his speech, he mentioned God’s relationship with human beings on several occasions. It seems that he sought points from these three sources as all three highlight the idea of human equality.
He began his speech by mentioning the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and pointed out that it had not been executed in its entirety. He said that the “Negro”, addressing the African-Americans are still not free as they do not enjoy the same privileges as the white population. His sentence “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”, displays the urgency of the changes that he demanded. He made it clear that the situation had to change immediately and not at some promised time in the future.
Throughout his speech, King referred to the citizens of America as God’s children. Quoting him, God’s children include black men, white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics. By using such sentences he equalised all citizens of America using the idea of relational theology. The concept of a relational God says that God works in relation to our action. For example, it is believed that God expects, instructs and responds to human beings in relation to their action. It is believed that on the final day of Justice, everybody’s sins and good deeds will be examined and they will go to heaven or hell based on those deeds. In
simple words, relational theologises believe that sinful deeds make God angry at us and good actions make him happy. Jesus Christ is believed to have taught us this intimate relationship with God as God being our father who teaches us to love each other irrespective of our differences. Christians are commanded to respect and love all fellow human beings. The relational theology highlights that God relates to us and we in turn relate to God by our actions. God loves human beings and wants to be in reciprocal relationships with us, He wants love to flow between us in the same way as it does within the holy Trinity. (MacDonald, 2014)There are various parts in King’s speech where he used relational theology and this idea of our relationship with the almighty to remind us that we must behave with equality and respect towards all races.
He stated that such revolts and movements of change would continue till the final Judgement Day if the people of America do not grant the Blacks equal rights. He further reminded the African American people not to use violence and physical force to prove their points. All these statements reminded people of their relationship to God and how it would be affected if they continued to treat the Blacks with contempt and dishonour. Hence, I believe that by adding concepts of the day of Judgement and love for all fellow human beings, King used relational theology in his speech. The speech and its ideas had a ripple effect on the Civil Rights Movement. I will analyse these effects further in the paper.

History of the Civil Rights Movement:

When the civil war ended in the year 1865, there were a lot of free slaves and America had to find out how to deal with them. For protection of these slaves, the Civil Rights Act was passed in the year 1866. Under this act, equal rights were granted for trials, lawsuits, contracts, property transactions, etc. for all citizens and protection if any of these rights were denied. Additionally, the Enforcement Act was passed in 1871 which overturned the restriction on Blacks on voting; and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed allowing Blacks to freely visit public places and protection of these rights. As events unfolded, the troops assigned to protect the Black population in the South were withdrawn in 1877 and the Supreme Court rendered the 1875 Act unconstitutional in the year 1833. In fact the government worked to minimize the rights of the African Americans all throughout the late nineteenth century and various laws were passed legalising racial segregation.
This was communicated in King’s speech as a metaphorical “bad check; a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." The Blacks had been promised equality and then had been segregated against. After suffering for decades as slaves of the fairer population of the society, they were still being lawfully discriminated against. Martin Luther’s speech brought these broken promises to the forefront and questioned the conscious of the White American. He demanded then to introspect their values and relationship with God and whether they were following his commandments of love and equality.
The African American people had been fighting back from ages. They had created their own church congregations and other groups that frequently met with the presidents and government officials demanding changes. The discrimination against the Black population was prevalent in all industries even the defence industries and armed forces. However, various attempts at such discussions were met with indifference from the White population. Such attempts were a clear indication of how patriotic the African-American population was demanding roles in times of war in order to defend and protect America. This anger was used by Martin Luther in his “I have a dream” speech as he pointed out that the “Negro” will not rest till he receives basic rights to vote and lodge in city hotels. He demanded equal opportunities for all humans regardless of their race and colour.

March on Washington:

It was on a hot day in August that the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Urban League (NUL) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and thousands of other liberal allies headed the march to the Lincoln Memorial.
These two hundred thousand people, of both races, gathered at the Washington Monument and marched to the Memorial in order to demand their basic rights of housing and jobs, voting and to demand an end to racial segregation. At the memorial the huge group listened to Mahalia Jackson and Joan Baez songs and various speeches. This is when King made his epic speech about his dream for an equal nation. This was the most important and beautiful part of his speech where he communicated his dream of “black children and white children would “walk together as sisters and brothers”.
One comparatively lesser known fact about the Washington March was the fact that is was completed without any violence. It also displayed the support of a lot of white citizens demanding equal rights for their “black” friends. The impact of the March and King’ speech was so huge, that even after decades people believe these to be the high points of the entire Civil Rights Movement. It was one of the classiest protests in the history of America bringing together people of different races, financial standing and views but merging people with good character. Martin Luther was quick to understand and respect the support of the white people as if commanded the African-American never to resort to violence I their fight for freedom.
His stance for human equality was displayed several times in his speech with various mentions of the Blacks and Whites living in peace and harmony. His speech displayed his unshakeable belief in the greatness of his nation and his people as it segregated only those specific people who had refused to grant any legal rights or respect to the African Americans. His speech showed us his strong belief and faith in the Bible when he mentioned that “All Men are created Equal” The Bible directs that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free, nor male nor female for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Gal, 2:28) He used the words God ‘children several times in his speech to unify the listeners and al citizens of the country.
His faith in God and his creation was represented in his loving and clear words. The speech did not work to generate hatred but love and a sense of belonging towards America. It was crystal clear in terms of propagating the idea of equality and freedom for all. Even though he used the word “Negro” several times in his speech, it wasn’t used as an insult. It was to describe all the pain and anguish that the Black population had to suffer over the ages simply due to their darker skin colour. He called upon the empathetic and peace-loving nature of people to introspect their relationship with God and then make the necessary decisions.

Effect on the Civil Rights Movement:

As mentioned in the paper previously, King’s “I have a dream” was a rhetoric milestone. It was meant to make a statement and it did.  Martin Luther King Junior was Baptist preacher and was extremely well-aware and well-informed about the not only in the history of African-Americans but that of United States as well. His speech appealed to the head as well as tugged at the heart strings. The speech worked very well in igniting a sense of perpetuated slavery in the Blacks and a sense of terrible guilt in the Whites. King’s voice, body language and clear speech worked like an intense statement, just what the Civil Rights movement was in need of.
For a revolution and a war that has spawned ages, words do not create any big impact. In today’s arena of politics, we hear fake promises and superficial speeches every day from politicians. However, King’s speech had a lot of special elements that these other speeches constantly lack. A sense of honour to God and his basic values. Martin Luther had a reputation of living his words. His faith forbade him to ever resort violence or to belittle people simply because they shared a different skin colour. This is the reason his words had an impact so big that even today it is looked upon as the most classic speeches of all time.
According to Keith D.Miller, King harnesses Amos 5:24 in his speech when he asks for Mosaic justice as Amos did. By doing this, King appeals to Amos’s expression of God’s concern for all people. Miller believes that this way he Judaism’s assumption that religion is also social which means that spiritual and material conditions are closely related. A religion must be concerned with a man’s social and economic state as well as their souls. (Miller, 2007)
The reason King’s speech is considered a success and a piece of genuine work is because of his code of conduct. He did not simply utter these words, he lived them. Another reason is because of the moment King wrote this speech for. It was a monumental day for the Civil rights supporters and his speech reminded them why they were fighting. It acknowledged and respected their anguish, it strengthened their faith in their beloved country America and it called upon everyone to talk to their God.
Even today, several decades later, students and analysts study King’s speech. Some argue that it was his tragic and violent assassination that has further popularised the speech. It is truth that Martin Luther King’s assassination was a truly sad incident; however, his words are popular because of their peaceful resolve. A peaceful resolve which is missing in today’s in indifferent world. His words were full of compassion and tolerance. Compassion for all fellow human beings and tolerance in the way the war must be fought.
His request to his fellow African-Americans to stay away from violent methods even after continuous suffering, is a shining example of his ideology. This is why I believe that King’s speech employed the ideas of relational theology in an extremely subtle yet potent manner and marked a milestone in the civil rights movement. His speech was successful in uniting people against the agenda of any segregation and discrimination.

Works Cited:

Koplowitz, Howard. "MLK 'I Have A Dream' Speech Full Text: Read Martin Luther King's Entire March On Washington Address." International Business Times. 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.
Carl L., III,, Bankston. "Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s." Rutgers University Library. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. 
Peter B, Levy. "March on Washington." Rutgers University Library. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. 
Thomas, R, Peake. "King Delivers His I Have a Dream Speech." Rutgers University Library. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. 
D.MILLER, KEITH. "Second Isaiah Lands in Washington, DC: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” as Biblical Narrative and Biblical Hermeneutic." EBESCO. 1 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <>.
MacDonald, Don. "Connections Between Relational Theologies, Personalism, and a Natural Systems Worldview." EBESCO. 1 Sept. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <>.
"DR. KING'S LEGACY OF FAITH." Rutgers University Library. Black Enterprise, 1 Apr. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.
Annotated Bibliography
Koplowitz, Howard. "MLK 'I Have A Dream' Speech Full Text: Read Martin Luther King's Entire March On Washington Address." International Business Times. 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.
This is the source from which I read and analysed the full text of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech”. Since, this speech was the focus of my paper and thesis question, it was important to read the speech in its entirety and analyse where King used relational theology concepts. This source essentially prints the King’s legendary speech in a proper format and view.
The speech is available on the site of “International Business Times” which is a leading online resource for important news and current events. I consider this to be a credible source as I found it upon my search on my Rutgers University site. The article in which the speech is presented is credited to a writer called “Howard Koplowitz”. Upon researching him it was clear that he is a credible writer who has been writing for International Business Times since March 2012. However, since this speech was the core of my paper, I have looked at it at couple of other sources to make sure there are no discrepancies.
As mentioned earlier, the speech sets the reason of my research paper. In a way, it is the most important source for my paper. I have thoroughly analysed it in order to understand King’s use of relational theology and ideas of faith.
Carl L., III,, Bankston. "Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s." Rutgers University Library. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. 
The article on the Civil Rights Movement and March on Washington was sourced from the Rutgers University Site in order to understand the vast history behind the African American struggle for freedom. It is a credible and factual resource for tracing the main events and reasons behind the state of African-American people in America.
The March on Washington and Civil Rights Movements were both important precursors to King’s speech and it was essential to gain as much information on these as possible. The connector question of my thesis also attempts to understand the effect of King’s speech on the Civil Rights movement. Hence, this was an important aspect to be researched in order to complete my paper.
"DR. KING'S LEGACY OF FAITH." Rutgers University Library. Black Enterprise, 1 Apr. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <>.
This is an important and opinionated article I found from my search for understanding Martin Luther King’s belief and faith in his preaching. It was important to understand what different writers thought of King’s speech and his work in order to form some of my statements. This article helped me understand how true King’s faith rang in other people’s ears.
Thought the author’s name is not legible, the article was sourced from Rutgers University search results and is credited to the Black Enterprise. It seems intelligently written and the language is simple to understand. The ideas are explained in a way that a person who is not familiar with King’s background will also be informed of his faith.
This opinion and though-provoking article was essential to me for multiple reasons. Firstly, I was looking for some articles which offer a view into King’s thinking and beliefs. This article helps me get a better understanding of that to a certain extent. However, the article helps me much more in understanding the effect of King’s speech on the state of African-Americans in the United State today. The mention of how far they have come and the various privileges they enjoy now in the light of King’s history was very helpful for my research paper.

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