I Have a Dream Introduction | Shmoop (2023)

I Have a Dream Introduction

Guys, you need to know this one. It's the dang "I Have A Dream" speech. It was given by a dude who not only nabbed the Nobel Peace Prize, but whose birthday is now a national holiday. It's probably the most oft-quoted speech in American history, and it's symbolic of the whole Civil Rights Movement.

And—oh yeah—it's an insanely powerful piece of oratory goodness that will give you a serious case of the inspiration-fueled goose bumps…if it doesn't lead directly to you breaking down in tears.

In fact, there's pretty much no even remotely respectful-enough way to intro this historically game-changing speech: you kind of just have to listen to it yourself.

Like, now. Do it.

There are other speeches that hold up just fine when you read 'em on the page. "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" doesn't really get better with JFK's heavily accented attempt at the German language. Obama's "State of the Union" still kicks plenty of butt when you don't listen to it in stereo. But listening to "I Have A Dream" adds to the overall experience in two major ways.

That Old-Timey Sound

The first thing it adds for the listener (that's you) is a feeling of being old. Even though 1963 isn't all that far in the past, the tinny AM radio-sound of the recorded speech makes it sound positively antique.

And this underlines that what MLK is saying was way ahead of his time.

In a time of segregated drinking fountains, schools, and restaurants, "I Have a Dream" was a futuristic bombshell. While much of America was stuck in the 1800s on the subject of race, Martin Luther King, Jr. was flying a starship.

The speech reinterpreted American history, from Revolution to the momentous end of slavery under President Lincoln. It essentially asked, "What gives?" Where was that promised "life, liberty, and happiness" for African Americans suffering the indignity of discrimination? Because—and it's important to remember this—the idea behind the Civil Rights Movement wasn't so much a revolution as a return to how things should have been in the first place. It suggested that the idea of equality shouldn't be a change, but a fulfillment of the original American Dream.

(Video) I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King .Jr HD (subtitled)

But King wasn't just ahead of his time…he was also (tragically) ahead of our time.

Because we're definitely not at the point of realizing his dream, even today. To name just one example (because to list all the examples would take about a thousand pages): MLK addresses police brutality against African Americans. The modern Black Lives Matters movement is still taking action for this very cause. What MLK was dreaming about more than half a century ago still hasn't come to pass.

That Amazing Preacher's Voice

The other reason you should use your ears and not just your eyes when absorbing the "I Have A Dream" speech is that MLK's oratory skills are, frankly, out of this world. This man's voice contains amazing amounts of power, sadness, hope and—yes—anger. We dare you to listen to this without getting choked up.

Of course, it would be possible for any droning Ferris Bueller-style high school teacher to deliver the "I Have a Dream" speech and have it be moving. MLK is, after all, calling for an end to legal segregation. (This goal was achieved with the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, which outlawed segregation from the federal level, which: took you long enough, U.S. government.)

Martin Luther King, Jr. is also outlining his dream: a world without racism. And he doesn't just tell us what his dream is, but also suggests what it might look like. His ideas were really about a unified society—one where even former racists participate in the group hug He takes the positive approach (everyone will love each other) as opposed to the negative angle (we're going to end this horrible thing once and for all).

This is massively affecting stuff, guys. You'd have to be made of stone to read it and stay totally dispassionate. But you'd have to be made of diamond to listen to this speech without shivering, because King's voice is so insanely filled with equal parts passion and empathy.

So get to listening, Shmoopers. This is seventeen minutes that will change your understanding of American history—and the American present—forever.

What is I Have a Dream About and Why Should I Care?

We get it: listening to most people's dreams is hideously boring. The last thing you want to do before having your Wheaties (or, if you're anything like us, your Big Gulp filled with coffee) is hear someone drone on about something like:

I was in my house—but it wasn't really my house, but it still was, you know?—and there was this horse but I knew it was really an elephant and then somehow I was suddenly in the swimming pool…

(Video) Martin Luther King Jr. 'I have a dream' speech

Yep: hearing someone talk about their dreams is the worst except when that person is MLK. When you're hearing about MLK's dream, you'll end up being moved, roused, impassioned…and angry.

Because although Martin Luther King was talking about his dream way back in 1963, it still hasn't been 100% realized.

And it's not like the guy was talking about the kind of things you usually hear about in dreams. He wasn't asking for wings, or a never-ending bag of Swedish fish, or a machine that simultaneously powers the entire U.S. electrical grid and makes calorie-free French fries.

He was asking for simple equality. And America still hasn't been able to deliver.

Racism continues to be a major issue in America. While the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s succeeded in ending many forms of state-sponsored segregation, economic inequality and persistent racism continue to create obstacles for African Americans today. (Source) Violence between the races lingers, sometimes in the shadows and sometimes in the open.

Sure, MLK stated that, "1963 is not an end, but a beginning" (7.3). But seriously, guys: it's been more than half a century. We really should be past the beginning stage by now.

But no. Just check out this (abridged) timeline of racism-related events since 1963:

  • 1976: An order to desegregate school buses leads to riots in Boston. A photographer captures a rioter beating an African American man with an American flag.
  • 1980: Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan taps into anti-black prejudice in order to secure votes for his campaign. Criticism of government welfare programs becomes linked with perceptions of African Americans as lazy. (Source)
  • 1992: Four policemen in Los Angeles are caught on video beating an African American taxi driver named Rodney King. After they're acquitted of wrongdoing, race riots break out across the city.
  • 2005: Hurricane Katrina floods most of New Orleans, destroying homes and displacing thousands of people. African Americans living in the city's poorer quarters are trapped waiting, sometimes on scorching rooftops, for slow-arriving government assistance.
  • 2015: South Carolina citizen, Coast Guard Veteran, and African American Walter Scott is fatally shot by a white police officer while running away from a police officer after a physical altercation. The officer is indicted for murder.

And, like we said, this is the very tippy-top of the iceberg when it comes to racism in America. Racism is pervasive, it's endemic, and it's very much a problem.

So, while we can 100% understand your reluctance to listen to anyone's dreams, you need to listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s. And if you've already heard it, listen to it again. Because it is, if anything, even more relevant today.

I Have a Dream Resources


King Institute
Stanford University's King Institute compiles resources, primary texts, and an encyclopedia.

Nobel Page
The Nobel Prize website is a good source for accurate information on King's life and achievements.

Library of Congress Page
Compilation of primary and secondary sources on the history of civil rights.

Movie or TV Productions

The story of MLK's 1965 protest march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, starring David Oyelowo as Dr. King.

Citizen King
Three-part PBS Documentary debunks myths about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jeffrey Wright portrays MLK during the era of bus boycotts in the 1950s.

Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306
An Academy-Award nominated short film about the day MLK was assassinated.

Articles and Interviews

Martin Luther King in his own words.

NPR Compilation
National Public Radio collects its coverage of King-related topics.

New York Times Compilation
An archive of MLK articles, then and now, from America's most prominent newspaper.

(Video) “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King. Speech Analysis | Free Essay Sample


"I Have a Dream" full video
Going strong at around one million views.

Quick Bio from Bio
Biography.com provides a quick overview of King's life.


Transcript of "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
One of the most influential documents from the Civil Rights Movement, with text and audio.

Audio and Text of MLK Speeches
A compilation of some of his most famous addresses, including "I Have a Dream"


Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial
Dr. King greets the crowd.

Picketers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
A view of the front of the crowd carrying signs toward the Lincoln Memorial.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez Playing at the March on Washington
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

MLK at the Podium
There were a lot of microphones.

(Video) MLK's "I Have a Dream" by Shmoop
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What is the first paragraph of the I Have a Dream? ›

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

What is the I Have a Dream Speech about simple summary? ›

"I Have a Dream" is a public speech that was delivered by American civil rights activist and Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In the speech, King called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States.

What is the essay I have a dream about? ›

I Have a Dream, speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., that was delivered on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington. A call for equality and freedom, it became one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement and one of the most iconic speeches in American history.

How does the I Have a Dream Speech start? ›

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.

What is the most famous line in I have a dream? ›

"I have a dream that my four little children 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." From his famous August 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

What are 3 main points in the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. describes the founding promises of America (freedom, equality, and justice for all) and the nation's failure to keep those promises, particularly to Black Americans.

Was it a dream short summary? ›

“Was it a Dream?” is a story written by 19th century French writer, Guy de Maupassant. It is a narration that questions one's judgment and emotions and instills doubt within the reader. It follows the story of a man who spends all his spare time mourning over his lover's grave.

What is the thesis of the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

The thesis in this speech I Have A Dream was very clear which was that all people should be equal, and that the African American should be able to live an equal life and to be part of the country in order to participate in everything that will make this country great and his dream to see all the people coming together ...

What is the meaning of the poem I have a dream? ›

King emphasizes that he has a “dream” that the future is going to be different and that one day his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” and that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and ...

What is the main purpose of why we dream? ›

However, the prevailing theory is that dreaming helps you consolidate and analyze memories (like skills and habits) and likely serves as a “rehearsal” for various situations and challenges that one faces during the daytime. We also know much — but not all — of what's going on physiologically during dreams.

What is dream Big summary? ›

Summary. The premise of the book is to help readers find where their purpose lies and help them make a plan to achieve their ambitions. The book is set out in 7 sections. The first section is the longest and deals with character issues to prepare the reader for pursuing his/her dreams and ambitions.

What is the best explanation of what dreams are? ›

“Dreams are mental imagery or activity that occur when you sleep,” explains Dr. Drerup. You can dream at any stage of sleep, but your most vivid dreams typically occur in rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep.

Why was the I Have a Dream Speech so powerful? ›

King's firm belief in racial equality, civil rights and justice for all was part of what made his speech so powerful. Because he believed in the power of his cause and the beauty of a better future, the crowd of over 250,000 did as well. Without conviction, any change you're trying to accomplish will likely fall flat.

When did Martin Luther Do I Have a Dream Speech? ›

Martin Luther King's famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the 28 August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, synthesized portions of his previous sermons and speeches, with selected statements by other prominent public figures.

What did the king say in his speech? ›

He spoke about his role as the monarch

"In that faith, and the values it inspires, I have been brought up to cherish a sense of duty to others, and to hold in the greatest respect the precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities of our unique history and our system of parliamentary government.

What is the first form of dream? ›

V1 V2 V3 V4 V5 Form of Dream
Base Form (V1)dream
Past Form (V2)dreamt/dreamed
Past Participle Form (V3)dreamt/dreamed
s / es/ ies (V4)dreams
'ing' form (V5)dreaming

Do you have a dream paragraph? ›

Everyone has his or her own dreams and one wishes to make those dreams come true. Making dreams come true is a difficult job as it requires courage, determination, far-sightedness, patience, hard work and perseverance. My dream in life is to become an astronaut.

When did the I Have a Dream Speech start? ›

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered this iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Where was the I Have a Dream speech first given? ›

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. A little-known aspect of the speech's history recently came to light: its first delivery, which was given in a high school gym in North Carolina.


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