Read Like a Writer:
Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream"
Reading like a writer is a powerful exercise that helps writers see new things they might try in their own writing. Here is a guide for reading three sentences from Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech through the lens of a writer:
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most inspiring speeches in American history. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of 250,000 people, he called for the end of discrimination and racism and painted a hope for a brighter future.
Let’s read a few sentences from his speech like writers. What is it about the way this speech was written that makes it so powerful?
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice . . . 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. I have a dream today.”
Did you notice the repetition?
Repeating the line, “I have a dream” creates a rhythm to the speech that makes it almost like a poem. Is it okay to repeat lines? Yes! Especially the lines you want people to remember.
It is because of this repetition that this speech is often called his, “I Have a Dream” speech. It is this message of looking ahead to a better future that makes this speech powerful.
Did you notice how personal it is?
Remember, Dr. King was talking to 250,000 people from across the whole country. He didn’t just want discrimination and racism to end in “Mississippi” but wanted it to end everywhere. His dream wasn’t just for his “four little children” but for everyone.
But there is power in being specific. When we talk about our own experiences, everyone understands. This speech is more powerful because he made it personal.
As a writer, you can repeat lines and include personal examples in your writing too. These moves can add power to your writing and help your reader to appreciate your message.
Dr. King wrote this message for an audience in 1963. It is still important and relevant today. Write your own speech to share from the steps of your school auditorium or even the steps of your front porch. What is your dream for our country? What message do you think our nation needs to hear?
Try to repeat an important line and make it personal to you.