I Have A Dream Speech Thesis Statement

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Related post for Thesis statement of i have a dream speech

A Dream of Racial Progress

Hey, Shmoopers: you better get to know this speech. Not because you're getting tested on it, or because you want to throw around kick-butt quotes at a party, or even because you want to expand your mind. When it comes to "I Have A Dream, " we get even more fundamental than that.

You better get to know this speech because you're a person with a heart. (Any people without hearts, you can go on your merry way.)

And, as a person with a heart, you're super invested in everything that MLK has to say in "I Have A Dream."

You want proof? No problem. In the beginning, MLK references the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery. You read that right: hundreds of shameful, brutal years of slavery ended with one incredibly important stack of paper. That better get your heart beatboxing.

After setting the stage with this reference, MLK discusses the problem of the day: racial discrimination. And we're not even talking about the massive amounts of racial discrimination that still plagues the U.S. of A. We're talking about an even worse chapter (ugh, history is depressing) that included rampant segregation, Jim Crow laws, and most of white America doing its best to pretend that nothing bad was going on. ("Persecution towards the Black community? I don't know anything about that.")

At this point, your heart should be thumping with anger.

But then, MLK starts riffing (we mean really riffing) on his "dream," a vision of the future of American race relations. The speech fast-forwards from the past to the present to the future. In MLK's dream scenario, racism would not prevent African Americans from holding jobs, exercising their rights as citizens, or pursuing the American Dream. Kids wouldn't be held back from opportunity based on their skin color. Descendants of slave owners and descendants of slaves could put their differences aside.

And that, folks, is why "I Have A Dream" is so momentous. Because MLK guides your little blood-filled human heart on a journey from historical relief to then-present day righteous rage to a feeling of hope, possibility, and the potential goodness of humankind. You'll walk away from this speech on wobbly legs, tears in your eyes, and your heart filled.

  1. How would you summarize MLK's overall dream?
  2. Using evidence from the text, would you describe MLK's vision as primarily optimistic or pessimistic?
  3. Why might references to the Emancipation Proclamation be located at the beginning of the speech, playing the role of kick-off?
  4. Does the speech envision a future without racism in general, or just without discrimination/segregation specifically?
  5. What steps still have to be taken for MLK's dream to be realized in America?

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" leaves the door open for a continual journey of racial progress—it doesn't cap things off with 1963.

"I Have a Dream" portrays racial equality as a fulfillment of the promises of America's Founding Fathers and documents.

Quotes

One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. (3.4)

This is the thesis of the speech, guys. MLK is drawing attention to the overall problem of racial discrimination and then declaring the purpose of the March on Washington. It's an argument followed by the reason the argument matters. (Follow that formula and you'll go far, young padawans.)

This is also classic example of "raising awareness" and trying to "start a dialogue"—pointing out what the problem is and saying, essentially: "Um, why is this still a problem, guys?"

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check. (4.5)

Instead of being included in that whole "all men are created equal" thing from the Declaration of Independence, African Americans got a raw deal. There's no going "whoops, our bad" when it comes to slavery and discrimination. King believes the Revolution was not only a promise but a "sacred obligation" enshrined in the early texts of American history.

And you do not go back on your sacred obligations and get away with it.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. (11.1-2)

One of the pillars of the speech is its universality. It was message to all people, everywhere. MLK wanted all races to be able to share the dream—not just the white, straight dudes that the OG American Dream referred to.

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. (15.1)

The idea of meritocracy is an old-school American value going back to Benjamin Franklin. The "dream" here is for character (read: hard work) to determine success. And you should know that there's still a lot of argument over whether America is a true meritocracy in reality. Minorities face more of an uphill climb to success because of things like institutional racism.

Yeah. Other than the 100-meter dash, it's pretty hard to locate a total meritocracy anywhere.

And if America is to be a great nation, this [dream] must become true. (20.1)

This is where the speech gets touchy. In the early '60s, at the height of the Cold War saying America was not already the G.O.A.T. could get you in trouble. The FBI even investigated Martin Luther King, Jr., paranoid that he was involved with Communists. (Source)

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