Rhetorical Situation Analysis of Martin Luther King's Dream Speech

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On August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a 17-minute public speech to over 200,000 supporters of the Civil Rights Movement. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a response to continued racial bias nearly 100 years after the end of slavery and a call to action, meant to unify the country in the fight to end segregation. King used his time at the historic event to urge Americans, of all races, to work together throughout the country to ensure equality for all citizens. Though King’s delivery of the speech is widely recognized as impactful because of his passionate sermon-like delivery, the context of the speech contains many rhetorical components. Those rhetorical efforts combined with King’s zealous delivery influenced the audience of the time and remains inspirational today. The issues that King and others in the Civil Rights Movement faced in 1963 were sever. Unemployment was extremely high for black Americans and even though 100 years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation, segregation and discrimination against black Americans continued throughout many parts of the nation. King used allusion to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the introduction of his speech to remind the audience of the pertinence of their gathering. The Negro American Labor Council and other civil rights groups had organized the March on Washington for Negro Labor Rights to demand economic justice for all Americans. The audience was very diverse, with many races, genders, income levels and social groups represented. The gathering became the platform for King to not only respond to the constraints that racial divide had placed on the black American community, but to challenge the current conditions with a call for the audience to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood”. King used a variety of language and imagery in...
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