Why 'I Have a Dream' is a great American speech
The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28 offers an opportunity for reflection on the nature of the speech itself. Why was it effective? And why does it continue to stir us today?
ABC News interviewed several top scholars on this issue, including Arizona State University professor of English Keith Miller, as part of its coverage of the anniversary.
According to Miller, who is an expert on the rhetoric and songs of the American civil rights movement, King excerpted pieces of other famous texts – including the Declaration of Independence, Emancipation Proclamation and the song “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” – as a way of tying the civil rights movement to other great moments in American history.
"He's appealing to the most sacred touchstones that there are in the United States," Miller is quoted as saying. "He's incorporating these other voices that are more or less unimpeachable."
King also referenced multiple biblical passages, many from the book of Exodus, for example, which paralleled the struggle of those fighting for greater rights in the U.S.
"So [the speech] is a revamping of Exodus, or a later chapter of the Exodus," said Miller in the article.
Miller’s latest book is “Martin Luther King's Biblical Epic: His Final, Great Speech,” published by University Press of Mississippi in 2011.
The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.