I Have a Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Future of Multicultural America

By James Echols | Go to book overview

chapter 1
King's Vision of America
An Ethical Assessment

Peter J. Paris

In celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech, this volume demonstrates the enduring significance of his words as the clearest societal vision ever portrayed of what America can and should be. If America is to be a racially just nation, King's vision must be normative for every political platform and public policy agenda throughout the nation. This particular chapter will describe the context of the March on Washington, analyze the structure of his speech, remind you of its content, and evaluate its ethical import.1

During his short lifetime Martin Luther King Jr. became a world citizen. Out of the segregated crucible of Atlanta's black ghetto, a young man emerged into the public realm of national and international visibility—a man destined to lead his people and nation out of the bitter experience of racial oppression into a new era of freedom and justice. Reluctantly, he accepted the ominous responsibility that had been thrust upon him. For little more than a decade thereafter he saturated the nation's public arenas with thousands of speeches and sermons aimed at clarifying the nature of the moral problem that threatened to destroy the social order. In those many prophetic utterances he sought to justify his opposition to racism by appealing to the principles in the nation's founding documents, and to the biblical symbols of love and justice long revered in his black church tradition. Thus, rising from a social biography of low esteem, Martin Luther King's name became a

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