“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.” By Martin Luther King JR, 1963
These famous words were uttered to hundreds of thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC by Martin Luther King Jr, a social activist who became the face of the American Civil Rights movement. For centuries upon centuries, groups of people have used their power within a society to oppress and act in an inhumane manner towards another group of people. Martin Luther King Jr became a prominent political leader of the civil rights movement during the 1960’s after he gave his iconic and revolutionary speech in Washington DC in which he called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism. In the 20th century alone, the abuse of power within different societies has been responsible for over 200 million deaths through war and oppression. However, when power is given to the right person, it can ultimately be used for the greater good. King used the idea of power to successfully manipulate the audience into feeling compassion for African Americans and their centuries of injustice and oppression.
It was Kings’ use of his own power during the civil rights movement as a political leader that helped African Americans’ and other oppressed minorities to fight against injustice and give rights to all in society. The definition of power, commonly used by political scientists, is that power has the capacity to get others to do or stop doing something now, or in the future. Comparatively, oppression is the systemic and institutional abuse of power by one group at the expense of others and the use of force to maintain this dynamic. While power has historically been used and abused by many political leaders, such as Adolf Hitler during World War Two and Joseph Stalin during the Soviet Union, that has not always been the case. Although, historically, a certain person or people in society that have held power have abused it, or used it in a negative and inhumane way, power can also be used for the greater good, such as King used his own political power and influence during the civil rights movement to fight oppression and bring rights for all people within society.
Throughout the speech, King relies heavily on repetition to impact the audience and broaden their minds to the cruel injustice and oppression that African Americans’ have faced for years under the white man’s power, and the changes that he would like to see within their racist society. As his speech carries on, he talks about how it is time for society to recognise and change the injustice and cruelty towards African Americans and to unity as “all of Gods children”. The idea of unity and standing together against injustice makes any audience feel strong and empowered, so to hear an influential and educated African American man preach unity and equality had a strong emotional impact on everyone who has heard his famous words.
The most memorable part of Kings speech is where he describes his dream of a nation where all people would have equal rights and freedom. Although it was not originally a part of his speech, King improvised and announced his deepest desires for what he wants his country to become and mentions his own children within the speech. This caused the audience to feel compassion for African Americans and the centuries of injustice and oppression that they have unfairly faced at the hands of the white man’s power.
This speech does not just impact and have an impression on African Americans’ and oppressed minorities. Many privileged and educated people, from races and religions that have not ever been oppressed, were and still are deeply moved by King’s speech. Moreover, this speech can resonate with everyone. While this speech is about oppression and inequality, his speech is also about unity and how, despite peoples race, religion, and ethnic background, we are all people. This speech can resonate with everyone, regardless of their background or race, because King created this speech to unite and bring everyone together.
Despite what Martin Luther King has achieved with his speech and the ever-lasting impression that it has had on society, African Americans still face discrimination in the modern world. An example of this is the controversial yet unjust police brutality against African Americans. According to recent available FBI data, US police kill black people at disproportionate rates. Racial minorities made up about 37% of the general population in the US, but they made up 63% of unarmed people killed by police in American. Due to this along with many other contributing factors, the Black Lives Matter movement began to organise. This movement formed as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. This movement has many similar beliefs and fundamental values to the Black Panther movement during the Civil Rights movement, as it was there original purpose to patrol African American neighbourhoods and protect residents from police brutality.
However, in 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first ever African American of the United States of America. This alone shows how much of an impact Kings word had on the world decades later, especially towards African Americans. An African American man becoming the president of the US is something that Martin Luther King Jr could only dream of. So when Obama was elected in 2008, and then re-elected in 2012, it truly showed how far American society has come since Martin Luther King Jr gave his influential and inspiring speech during the 1960s.
This speech has gone down in history as the most iconic part of this progressive era, and for good reason. It was completely necessary for this time period and place, and without it, African Americans’ may still be deeply oppressed and segregated within society. This speech was important in several ways; It brought even greater attention to the Civil Rights Movement, which had been going on for many years. It also gave white people an insight into how African Americans felt about their nation and what they wished for their country to become. His nonviolent tone and approach to the oppression that African American’s have endured under the white man’s power was precisely what was needed for the United States government to act.
Kings speech was revolutionary, and his peaceful political power played a major role in fighting against years of injustice and oppression and caused the white man to feel compassion for African American’s. It is truly an eye-opener to see how much King’s words resonate within the realms of today’s society, with the newly-developed movements to continue to fight discrimination in society, and the historical impact that his word has had on society decades later. This speech has and will continue to have an inspiring message within it and will continue to impact people for decades to come. We realise that his words have greatly helped change our modern society and circumstances, and although we have progressed a great deal in more than 50 years, we can still progress so much further together as a nation and as a society.