Can You Write With the
Of Dr. Martin Luther
snack: Since we're going to be working with one of the most famous speeches
in history, the "I Have a Dream" speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, let's
make "Saturday Dreams"! Slit a hot dog down the middle, fill the slit with
cheese slices, and broil in the oven. Eat on a soft bun with mustard and
ketchup. It's dreamy!
Pencil, paper and a
of the "I Have a Dream"
speech from the link below
If you have a laptop
available and can play the
audio of the speech (see
link below), so much the better
It wasn't just the ideas
expressed by the late Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. in his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," delivered Aug. 28, 1963
to more than 200,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington,
It wasn't just WHAT the civil rights leader said - it
was the way he said it. Dr. King was a timeless master of the art of rhetoric -
defined as communication using the most persuasive and highest-quality language
and word imagery matched for the audience and the setting.
That speech is one of the most influential and
inspirational pieces of rhetoric in American history. Most amazing of all, half
of it wasn't even planned. Halfway through, Dr. King started improvising, or
speaking from his heart instead of from his script.
He spoke with passion and with power, using a number
of rhetorical devices to strengthen his message - but it wasn't calculated that
way. It was a spontaneous eruption of pure genius that, even today, many
Americans respond to emotionally and gratefully, for he put into words what
many people were feeling.
Dr. King's "word pictures" seized the nation's
attention and admiration, and encouraged the civil rights movement as never
His background as a Baptist preacher in the South gave
him the communication experience necessary to inform and inspire, adjust his
message to the crowd perfectly, and have the courage to switch away from his
pre-planned script. That communication choice built instant rapport and trust
from that audience. They could see that Dr. King wasn't trying to preach TO
them, but to talk WITH them. And that made what he said all the more
The speech is an excellent example of these
characteristics of good rhetoric:
Unity - Dr. King wove references to American history and
the Bible into his speech, establishing common ground with his audience as he
compared the plight of the Old Testament Hebrews enslaved in the Bible to the
plight of American blacks, first enslaved and later under segregation and
discrimination. In the 1960s, people were a lot more familiar with their Bibles
than many people are today. Even so, Dr. King knew the Bible better than most
people. But he didn't use obscure Bible references that only a preacher would
know; he used familiar stories with well-known outcomes. That unified him with
his audience and showed that he didn't consider himself better than them.
Coherence - Dr. King used "word pictures" full of metaphors -
symbols - that got his meaning across better than if he had just come right out
and said what he meant. These metaphors painted pictures in the listeners'
minds that helped them understand the content and stick with Dr. King's logical
"seared in the flames
of withering injustice"
segregation and the chains of discrimination
Clarity -- his word choices were exactly right to get his
points across, neither choosing overly simple words nor too difficult ones. Dr.
King earned a Ph.D. from Boston University and had a scholar's approach to
language, using it skillfully to reveal ideas and never to obscure it.
Force - When
something is repeated over and over, the message gets across more and more
strongly. Dr. King used an element of music in his speech - "refrain." In
music, it's a repeated chorus; in a speech, it's a repeated phrase. Here are
n "I have a dream"
n "let freedom ring"
n "we can never be satisfied"
examples of powerful rhetoric that Dr. King used included multiple shifts in
sentence lengths; dramatic shifts in tone, from angry to joyful; and the use of
questions as well as exclamations.
Beauty - This speech is like a beautiful painting that you
are drawn to look at and want to be a part of. Dr. King used admirable language
skill in the way he varied his sentence lengths, shifted his tone from "quiet"
to "loud"; use hyperbole (exaggeration), and asked questions as well as making
statements, making his speech arresting and very enjoyable to listen to.
Read Dr. King's speech, watch
the video, or both. And now here's today's challenge:
Choose something important, that you feel very strongly
about and that needs to change, and outline a short (5 minutes, tops) speech about
it on index cards.
it's ending some form of injustice; maybe it's mean people; maybe it's how much
everything costs these days. Maybe it's your life's dream! Maybe it's your
hero! Whatever moves you, powerfully, you should express with words,
powerfully, the way Dr. King did.
don't have to write out the entire speech word for word. Instead, get the main
ideas and "word pictures" in mind, and then improvise - or speak from your
heart - just glancing at the cards from time to time, so that it's a "speech"
and not a "read."
in mind the elements of good rhetoric, listed above, as you prepare.
give your speech to someone. Because, as Dr. King well knew, it's never truly
communication until both sides are there - the speaker AND the listener -
sharing the message, and communing with hearts and minds.
people listen to YOU the way they did to Martin Luther King. And they will - if
you have a dream, and keep believing in it 'til it comes true!