"I Have a Dream" Speech, Martin Luther King

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The historical narrative document “I have a Dream” is a political speech which was delivered by Martin Luther King on the 28th of August 1963 in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The speech was aimed at the 250,000 Civil Rights supporters, both black and white, who had gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a key moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. One imagines that Martin Luther King hoped that his words would not only be heard that day in Washington, but that they would be carried across the rest of America too.

Martin Luther King was born on the 15th of January, 1929. When he finished his studies in Sociology he went on to read Divinity Studies at Crozer Theological Seminary. He became a Baptist pastor in 1954 and from then on started to campaign for civil rights issues. In 1955 he was elected President of the Montgomery Improvement Association which staged a year long boycott by African Americans of Montgomery buses over segregation and inferior treatment of blacks. When the boycott ended on the 21st of December 1956, Martin Luther King and the M.I.A. had achieved desegregation of Montgomery buses; the leader had gained great prominence and became primarily a civil rights activist. He was a man with great promise and was viewed as an inspiration and leader by African Americans.

In January 1957 the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott founded the Southern Christian Leadersip Conference (SCLC), made up of churches and clergy from across the South. Martin Luther King was elected President as he had played a fundamental role in the Conference’s creation. As the bus boycott had achieved such success the SCLC’s objective was to organise non-violent protests to gain equality for blacks.

The SCLC’s Birmingham campaign preceded the March on Washington, and King’s inspirational “I have a Dream” speech. Between 1957 and 1962 17 black churches and private homes were bombed in Birmingham. In 1963 the SCLC took on Birmingham as a major campaign, setting up headquarters and organising peaceful protests, demonstrations and sit-ins. On Good Friday, the 12th of April, Martin Luther King personally led an officially banned demonstration march; all the protestors were immediately arrested. When King’s wife had no news from her husband, she contacted the White House and President Kennedy became personally involved. King was kept in jail for 8 days, although he received preferential treatment due to the President. His involvement in Birmingham gave the campaign even more prominence, taking it nationwide and it led to Kennedy bringing in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Police actions and their treatment of the protestors sparked national outrage. The Birmingham campaign led to other protests across the country, culminating in the March on Washington.

The rally was the group effort of several different civil rights organisations, all with different approaches and outlooks. The organisers were A. Phillip Randolph, Martin Luther King, James Farmer of CORE, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, John Lewis of SNCC and Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women. They were known as the “Big Six”. The objective of the March was to have important civil rights legislation passed on the following issues: racial desegregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a public-works programme to provide employment; the prohibition of racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a minimum wage (2$ an hour); and the self-government of the District of Colombia, an area with a black majority.

The Kennedy administration originally opposed the demonstration fearing riots would take place which would jeopardise the newly introduced Civil Rights legislation. When they realised the demonstration would go ahead anyway the White House became actively involved in the organisation, re-drafting speeches and inviting white organisations to attend in the...
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