Over thousands of years of history has shown how humans have survived and adapted to change and conflict. For a long period in American history, African Americans were considered second-class citizens and were slaves to white Americans due to their skin color and wealth. After years of being discriminated against, African Americans started to fight back and try and gain equal rights. The book “ The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson it showed Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life all the way up until his assassination, while newspaper articles such as the New York Times article by James Reston showed an in-person view on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech. Though it wasn’t until the 1950s thought that Martin Luther King, Jr. became a public advocate for the Civil Rights Movement, his “I Have A Dream” speech was one of the speeches during this time that had such a great impact that it continued to have a lasting impact for decades after. In both the books “ King’s Dream” by Eric J. Sundquist and “ Martin Luther King, Jr.” a profile edited by C.Eric Lincoln the authors show how the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “ I Have A Dream” has changed over time but they also show how the interpretation has not changed over time.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin Luther King Jr. was the second child to Alberta Williams King and Martin Luther King, Sr.. He also had two siblings, his older sister Christine King Farris and his younger brother Alfred Daniel Williams King Sr.(Carson,3-5) In his autobiography “ The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson it talks about how King’s early years of life were. It discusses how both of King’s parents were advocates for Civil Rights and how religion played a big role in his early life. Religion was always in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life but it wasn’t until the age of five that he was actually able to join the church. The author then goes on to talk about how Martin Luther King, Jr.’s early life was an easy one for the most part but he was forced to learn early on in his life what segregation and racism were. One example that the author discusses is how when Martin Luther King, Jr. was about six years old he had a friend who was a little white boy and how they played together very often even though they went to school. The author then stated “ The climax came when he told me one day that his father demanded that he would play with me no more. I never will forget what a great shock this was to me. I immediately asked my parents about the motive behind such a statement.” (Carson, 7). This was King, Jr.’s first encounter with racism so due to this, his parents ended up explaining it all to him. His parents had explained to him what racism was and he began to hate white people because of this but when he described this anger to his parents they encouraged him to trust his faith and to love the white people who hated him. He was confused by this and the author showed that confusion when he stated “How could I love a race of people who hated me and who had been responsible for breaking me up with one of my best childhood friends?” (Carson, 7). The author goes on to talk about how Martin Luther King, Jr. held some resentment towards society and towards the racist people up until his young adulthood. During his young adulthood, he attended the same college that both his father and grandfather did and it was one of the first places where he felt free to discuss race and the issues surrounding it. He also learned during his time at college that the only answer to ending the hate that was being spread through racism and segregation was through nonviolence. He learned this from when he converged to the positive social philosophies. Carson stated, “One of the main tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice.” (Carson, 32). It was also during college that Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that he wanted to solve the issues behind racism instead of just discussing them.
In 1952 while he was in Boston, attending Boston University, King, Jr. met the love of his life and his future wife, Coretta Scott. Coretta Scott was born in Marion, Alabama, and had a passion for singing. This led her to go to college for singing and she landed a scholarship that landed her in Boston for her singing career. It was in Boston that she met King, Jr. through a mutual friend and they went on their first date. On this date, they heavily discussed the racism issue and Martin Luther King, Jr. realized how dedicated she was. By the end of the date it went so well that he even went as far as to state “ So you can do something else besides sing? You’ve got a good mind also. You have everything I ever wanted in a woman. We ought to get married someday.” (Carson, 35). Then by June 18th, 1953, they were married by King, Sr. and they continued their life together in Boston. Later on in life, they both became two of the biggest advocates and icons during the Civil Rights Movement. Coretta and King, Jr. ended up having four children together, Martin the third, Yolanda, Dexter, and Bernice. After having his first child, Yoland, he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement directly for the first time when he gives a speech after Rosa Park’s arrest. After that first speech, he began doing more of them as his popularity increased. Even though he gave many speeches that were impactful during the Civil Rights Movement, it wasn’t until August 28th, 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message really resonated with hundreds of people.
On August 28th, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Washington, D.C. and he gave one of his most iconic and impactful speeches ever. He gave his speech “ I Have A Dream” where he expressed his own want but the American people’s need for equality and the end of racism. King, Jr. believed that by keeping to his faith and using nonviolence and love that would be able to change racism. In his speech, he kept stating “ I have a dream” because he was trying to convey just how important this idea was to him. The newspaper article for that day from the New York Times by James Reston described the speech and the public’s response to it. In the article, it states “ He was full of the symbolism of Lincoln, Gandhi, and the cadences of the Bible.”(Reston, 1963) and it also stated “ This demonstration impressed political Washington because it combined a number of things that no politician can ignore. It had the force of numbers. It had the melodies of both the church and the theater. And it was able to invoke the principles of the founding fathers to rebuke the inequalities and hypocrisies of modern American life.” (Reston, 1963). These statements showed that the public thought that Martin Luther King, Jr. was an iconic symbol of the Civil Rights Movement whose ideologies and messages could not be ignored by the government. Carson also showed how Martin Luther King, Jr. had stayed up until almost four in the morning preparing the speech “I Have A Dream” but when he got to the stage and began his speech the audience’s responses to the speech caused him to go off-script and he spoke from his own thoughts on the spot. During his speech, he mentioned God and religion many times to try and connect with his audience in hopes that the goodness of their hearts would sway them to help end racism. One of the most famous lines from his “I Have A Dream” speech was “ 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.”(Carson, 226). This line from his speech would hold true and be important for decades to come.
Many people have analyzed and created their own interpretations of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have A Speech” but over time the overall interpretations of the speech have not changed. In the span of almost 40 years, there were at least two books where the authors had taken the time to analyze and interpret King, Jr.’s speech is “King’s Dream” by Eric J. Sundquist in 2009 and “Martin Luther King, Jr.” a profile edited by C.Eric Lincoln in 1970. These two author’s interpretations of the speech “I Have A Dream” were similar in their overall consensus of the speech. Both of these authors had interpreted King, Jr’s speech as a speech that was trying to convince others to end racism and use the faith in God and religion to obtain equality in all.
In the book “King’s Dream” by Eric J. Sundquist the author interpreted King, Jr’s speech as religious recruitment to end racism. Sundquist showed this when he stated, “ In its most expansive form, this was King’s dream, to draw more and more converts into the beloved community of spiritual resistance to injustice, ultimately encompassing what he referred to as the “ world house,” the global family of black, brown, and yellow “brothers” moving “with a great sense of urgency towards the promised land of racial justice.” (Sundquist, 117). This was a perfect example of Sundquist interpretation of King, Jr’s speech because it showed how Sundquist thought that King, Jr. was using religious analogies and meanings behind his messages to create a “family” or community full of people who could see past the racism and live together peacefully and equally. Another part of Sundquist’s interpretation that showed that he believed that King’s dream was a community of religious people who rejected racism was when he stated “ As it is taken by King into his own voice in the “I have a dream: catalog, the prophecy of Isaiah, central to the millennial imagery that sustained his social message and allied King to the tradition of the black jeremiad, foretells the end of segregation and racial opposition. It foresees a day of racial brotherhood in which “all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews, and Gentiles, that is to say, the Lord’s glory shall be revealed and “all flesh shall see it together.” (Sundquist, 133). This statement also showed that Sundquist’s interpretation was that not only was King, Jr’s speech a message to try and end racism through faith and religion but that if everyone had faith and rejected racism then they could all live as a family under God.
Then in the book “Martin Luther King, Jr.” a profile edited by C.Eric Lincoln the author also showed a similar interpretation of King, Jr.’s. Lincoln’s interpretation of the speech was that King, Jr. was using religion to try and recruit people to try and stop racism but the impact of it wasn’t doing well. Lincoln stated that “ As magnificent as his dream was, Martin Luther King’s philosophy was fundamentally flawed from the onset. Power, as Lord Acton remarked, yields only to power, and even then not without a struggle. History simply does not support King’s faith in the ultimate goodness of men, black and white.” (Lincoln, 173). So even though Lincoln did not agree that the power of faith would work during the Civil Rights movement he was still able to interpret King, Jr.’s message from his speech about using faith to end racism, even if he did not agree with it. Another example that showed Lincoln’s interpretation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “ I Have A Dream” was when he stated, “The amazing thing is that King’s tactic worked as well as it did. By marching, singing, praying, and suffering, Martin Luther King let America out of the prison of legal segregation.” (Lincoln, 173). This statement helps support the idea that Lincoln’s interpretation of King’s speech was that he wanted to use non-violence and faith to stop racism and in his speech “ I Have A Dream” it worked. Overall, much like Sundquist, Lincoln’s interpretation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have A Dream” was that King, Jr. wanted to use nonviolence and faith to join forces and put an end to racism.