Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — preacher, orator, and acclaimed civil rights leader — is possibly the best remembered for his effective speech, I Have A Dream, in which he expressed his ambition for peace and racial equality. The 17-minute speech was given to thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial and televised live to millions on August 28, 1963. King urged America to acknowledge people of all races to be united and free. His used his knowledge as a preacher and used anaphora, parallelism, and historical references to grab the attention of his audience. King’s experience as a preacher and as a civil rights activist was evident in the artistry of the speech. With King’s experience as a preacher, he has given numerous sermons in his lifetime. He has formed a technique that he continuously practices in his sermons, so his audience can relate to him and make the sermon more effective. His technique includes rhetorical devices such as anaphora and parallelism. An essential element of a preacher is being charismatic. This is a part of his technique because that charm is so compelling that it inspires devotion in others. King’s charisma also affects his leadership as a civil rights activist. According to Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, personal charisma is a constellation of complex and sophisticated social and emotional skills, (Riggio, 2004). An orator can make strong relational connections with their audience by interacting with them on an emotional level. (Riggio, 2004).
Martin Luther King, Jr. has had plenty of life experience communicating with an extensive audience as a preacher appealing to audiences in many ways, which is a qualification a leader should have. A leader must obtain quite a few of important qualifications, which begins with the instinctive capability to exercise power creating an emotional link between speaker and listeners, (Young, 2016). The relationship Martin Luther King, Jr. created between himself and his audience further established his underlying charisma. In his novel, The Strength to Love, King says, Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that, (King, 1968). King’s spiritual sermons and petitions, including this novel, reflected confidently on his charisma and was interpreted in his favor during his I Have A Dream speech. King references a few historical speeches and documents in his I Have A Dream speech. Those speeches include the following: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. He emphasizes the historical traditions of freedom essential in America from which African Americans have been thoroughly barred in his citations.
As a civil rights activist, King compares the Declaration of Independence, which meant freedom for the thirteen original colonies, to the Emancipation Proclamation, which meant freedom for nearly four million black slaves (Washington, 1993). Within the beginning of the speech, King makes a reference to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to remind his audience of Lincoln’s extraordinary guarantees within the Emancipation Proclamation (Lei, 1999). King also says, Five score years ago instead of saying one hundred years, like he does soon after, to reference Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, while standing in front of Lincoln’s memorial, …in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation (King, 1963). Lincoln was the most famous leader of the entire abolish slavery concept.
So, King signified hopes by mentioning the Emancipation Proclamation. In paragraph 15 of the speech, King says, I have a dream that one day our nation will rise and live out the true meaning of its declaration: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ (King, 1963). He referenced the Declaration of Independence to stress to the audience what America was intended to be and what our founding fathers established. That intention is a country where African Americans weren’t instantaneously judged the lesser of the two colors and racism was abolished. As a preacher, one cannot help but reference the Bible. In his speech, King cleverly combines vocal and body language in his delivery that includes a great number of religious references from the Bible. (Al-Khatib).
Many references were mentioned, but King also goes back to the Old Testament. King quotes the Old Testament prophet, Amos, by saying, We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream (Vail, 2006). King also references another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, saying, every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together (Vail, 2006). These biblical references support his credibility as a preacher as King applies it to a nation-wide audience. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is a perfect example of how his religious identifications qualify him to take on the character of a divine powerful figure. Michael Leff said that King vindicates and explains his actions using appeals to higher authority figures (Leff, 2004). Repetition is the most used rhetorical device within the speech. King used anaphora on several occasions by repeating words and phrases including: One hundred years later, I have a dream, Let freedom ring, and Free at last (King, 1963). He repeated numerous phrases, but these four were particularly used as a story timeline. He creates a climactic effect in his anaphora. The force and intensity behind his message when he repeats, I have a dream, is the climax of the speech (Alvarez, 1988).
His anaphora adds rhythm to his dream of equality and freedom. Using anaphora stressed the importance of what he said, and additionally, left the audience remembering his words for years to come. The audience was also able to interpret the sermon because of common background knowledge from past sermons in church as well as traditions shared with the speaker (Alvarez, 1988). His parallel structure highlighted his ideas and formed a greater rhythm. For example, he used parallelism in this quote: We will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together (Washington, 1993). His riveting arrangement emphasized the need to stand and fight together to protect the rights of African Americans. King created a chronological effect, in other words, a storytelling technique, of inequality. His speech progresses consistently from past to present to future, as illustrated with his anaphora (Washington, 1993). The phrase, One hundred years later, (King, 1963) shows things are still the same with no change, and segregation is still the norm. The phrase, I have a dream (King, 1963), represents King expressing his dream that blacks and whites will soon be equal, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. In that dream is what he wants done to make that dream reality. Let freedom ring (King 1963), represents King illustrating to the audience that freedom is a possibility no matter how long it takes. It’s also another way to say that freedom needs its time to shine.
Lastly, Free at last (King, 1963), illustrates King looking into the future, giving hope that his dreams are capable to achieve and will come true. This also explores King’s dream to see a picture of African Americans screaming for joy that they are finally free at last. This technique is very similar to strategic thinking in situations: to look back on events in the past, to think of making a change, to make the change happen, and to look back and celebrate after the goal is achieved. Numerous of King’s speeches utilize the same rhetorical devices including anaphora. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he rehashes the phrases this award, this prize, and I accept (Smith 1980). Whereas these phrases relate to each other in a way, the reiteration is still as compelling. Another oration that incorporates anaphora and parallelism is the sermon King delivered at his domestic church in Atlanta, Georgia. King rehashes the phrase, the bread several times during communion in the service (Smith, 1980). This device is utilized reliably in King’s speech techniques that make them more compelling. King’s effectiveness is due to the uniqueness of their handling of the language patterns (Smith, 1980).
Martin Luther King Jr. utilized numerous rhetorical devices that made the speech so effective. A noteworthy reason is believed to be due to paragraphs 15 to 22, the final segment of the speech. His extensive knowledge managed him the ability to speak spontaneously in I Have a Dream, utilizing it as a device to ascertain his charm. In a biography of Dr. King, Stephan Oates deliberates how King and his aides labored on his speech throughout the night, yet completely deserted script when speaking and spoke from the heart (Oates, 1983). By speaking from the heart, Taylor Branch claims in Parting the Waters, study of King, that once he began speaking extemporaneously, there was no alternative but to preach (Lei, 1999). King’s education informed the speech while altering the way the audience perceived him to be. There’s a noticeable change in the rhythm that King was speaking in. In the beginning, it was clear that he was pursuing the words he had arranged, talking at a slow pace and taking his time. Within the second half of the speech, when King opts to go off script, his voice completely changes. His voice gradually started to increase and was full of enthusiasm like a minister. The rhythm became exceptionally aggressive as he proceeded the reiteration of each phrase.
These are the abilities that King learned to idealize amid his time as a preacher (Jackson, 2008). It was recognizable that he was talking energetically and caused the audience to be mesmerized by his words. King’s creative ability and enthusiasm took over the speech as he continued reading, and it was recognizable that each word came from the heart, making the emotional rhetorical appeal more effective within the speech. The combination of Dr. King’s insights and passion for religion was exceptional to his transition to becoming a persuasive speaker (Miller, 2016). After watching King perform I Have A Dream on live television, President Kennedy turned to his associates and said, he’s damn good (Branch). King’s culminated skills allow him to speak with the control and influence of tradition, voices, and concepts recognizable to him from his upbringing and being a minister.
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