We all have dreams, some are good and some are bad, but beyond that, they’re something we want in life or are afraid of, one of the most powerful dreams in history was the dream of equality. The foundation of the United States is based on the premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Throughout the history of the United States, racial equality has been an. Until the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was able to skyrocket the advancements of the Civil Rights Movement through his, I Have a Dream and I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speeches along with his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. During his time he leads the Civil Rights Movement, helped end racial discrimination, and helped in gaining equal rights protected by federal law. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential activists in American history who was able to bring equality to the U.S through the methods of his speeches, nonviolence protests, and consistent activism.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929, and was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. “His leadership was fundamental to that movement’s success in ending the legal segregation of African Americans in the South and other parts of the United States” (Carson). Dr. King came from a large family of pastors starting with his grandfather, his father and later becoming one himself. “Martin Luther attended segregated public schools in Georgia, graduating from high school at the age of fifteen; he received the B. A. degree in 1948 from Morehouse College...After three years of theological study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class, he was awarded the B.D. in 1951...With a fellowship won at Crozer, he enrolled in graduate studies at Boston University, completing his residence for the doctorate in 1953 and receiving the degree in 1955” (The Nobel Peace Prize). Dr. King came from a long line of pastors starting his grandfather, his father, and later himself becoming one himself in 1954 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King always had a sense of strong civil rights activism growing up he was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1955 he accepted the leadership of the first great Negro nonviolent demonstration during the time of the bus segregation. “King was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times; he was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963, and became not only the symbolic leader of American blacks but also a world figure” (The Nobel Peace Prize).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s most powerful and well-known speech is his “ I Have a Dream” speech on August 28th, 1963. The speech took place at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (I Have a Dream). Dr. King opened his speech with “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation” (I Have a Dream). To connect and show everyone that was watching that at one point in history African Americans were given their freedom in theory giving them equality, but in reality that wasn’t the case.
Dr. King then goes on “But one hundred years later (All right), the Negro still is not free. (My Lord, Yeah) One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. (Hmm) One hundred years later (All right), the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later (My Lord) [applause], the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. (Yes, yes) And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition” (I Have a Dream).
Showing how much African Americans are discriminated against even after the end of slavery, demanding and pleading for a change in the world. Ending his speech with “I have a dream (Mhm) that one day (Yes) this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed (Hah): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Yeah, Uh-huh, Hear hear) [applause]...I have a dream (Yeah) [applause] that my four little children (Well) 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. (My Lord) I have a dream today [enthusiastic applause]” (I Have a Dream).
During the time period between the 1950s and 1960s, The United States was separated internally through racial divides that varied from separated schools, bus seats, bathrooms, and restaurants. Dr. King was one to stand up because of the social injustices he experienced growing up and wanted to create a better world for future generations to come where everyone could be equal and not judged on the color of their skin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “ I Have a Dream” speech is relevant to this day because it and himself were an essential part of the Civil Rights Movement. Without his impact, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 might not have ever been put into action leaving the United States divided to this day.
Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on April 3rd, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. Dr. King delivered a speech for the sanitation workers on strike, because of the unfair treatment even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. [Applause] Now we've got to keep attention on that. (That's right) That's always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window breaking. (That's right) I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that 1,300 sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn't get around to that. (Yeah) [Applause]” (I’ve Been on the Mountain).
This is relevant because many during this time were able to accept the fact that they would have to treat African Americans as equals. Creating the stigma that they were nothing, at this point, the debates over equality were mixed so the news wouldn’t then acknowledge the newly illegal mistreatment. This is extremely relevant to today’s society with racial prejudice, especially with the new not giving all details or sides of a story, especially today with police brutality.
Lastly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s Letter from a Birmingham Jail on April 16th, 1963. “King’s 12, April 1963 arrest for violating Alabama’s law against mass public demonstrations took place just over a week after the campaign’s commencement” (Letter From a Birmingham Jail). Where his nonviolent approach was mocked and criticized as unwise and untimely and for being an outsider. “Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Roy T. Matthews pg.320). During this time in 1963, there was already traction for The Civil Rights Act of 1964 being put into effect. Tensions were extremely high all over the country where many wanted to see the leaders of the movement bested and fail. This is relevant in today’s society as well as similar to recent police brutality protests.
In Dr. King’s speech, he stated “ One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws...two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (Roy T. Matthews pg.320).
As he states that some laws are just and unjust and need to be fought for change. In today’s society, many do this with police brutality protests they have to make a big enough cry to be heard to gain change while obliging the rules. Dr. King’s influence and mentality of peaceful protests are still used today and are a model of protests for change.
There are some of the most influential events by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that made him one of the most influential activists in American History. Who was able to break down barriers to create a new society for future generations to come. Through these two speeches and his letter along with all his other endeavors, Dr. King was able to gain nationwide support for his, paired with his non-violent tactics preaching pacifism. Through his methods, he has become a role model for many shaping our society into what it is today thanks to his constant support for equality. Dr. King truly did end racial discrimination having a society today where it is mainly frowned upon now. Where we have him and many others to thank for creating a society that pushes and strives for equality for all rather than going back to these ideals. Where we aren’t judging based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
- Carson, Clayborne, and David L. Lewis. “Martin Luther King, Jr.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1 May 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Martin-Luther-King-Jr.
- “‘I Have a Dream,' Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 25 Jan. 2019, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom.
- “‘I've Been to the Mountaintop,' Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 23 Apr. 2019, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/ive-been-mountaintop-address-delivered-bishop-charles-mason-temple.
- “‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 29 May 2019, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/letter-birmingham-jail.
- “The Nobel Peace Prize 1964.” NobelPrize.org, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/biographical/.
- “Selection from Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Experience Humanities: Volume II: The Renaissance to The Present, by Roy T. Matthews et al., McGraw-Hill Education, 2014, pp. 318–322.