Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"I've Been to the Mountaintop" Speech Analysis

During the 1960s, the fight for racial equality began to really pick up speed. During this time, racism was a growing problem that was creating uproars through hate crimes, and violent protests. On April 3, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee, Martin Luther King Jr. (figure 1) gave a moving speech about the unfortunate reality of society. He was able to convey his powerful message of peace by using metaphors and different analogies that people could easily relate to. Not only did Dr. Kings “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech lead to the gradual acceptance of African Americans in what was during that time an all white society, but it gave new freedoms to those who were once discriminated against.
Figure 1. Martin Luther King giving his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech. Photograph. 3 April. 1968 Web. 5 Oct. 2010

Upon starting his speech, Dr. King immediately dives into the issues that he planned on addressing. He explains his picture-perfect America by using metaphors such as, “I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promise land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.” Martin Luther King wants to convey that he has strong hope for America to change their prejudicial ways. He believes that with the help of everyone in their local communities, we can all come together to obtain equality for people of all races. Dr. King uses an abundance of poetic techniques throughout his speech. His repetitive phrase, “If I had sneezed” (King 1) gives his speech personal style while conveying his metaphor for death. Since death is a very common occurrence in peoples’ lives, Dr. King was able to relate himself and his personal memories to the memories of others.

Dr. King uses his own life experiences in order to get on a more personal level with his audience. He discusses visions of what an ideal America used to look like, “I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn't itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over” (King 1). Martin Luther King Jr. also reflects on other historically famous speeches such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural speech when he stated, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” (King 1). By addressing FDR’s speech, Martin Luther king Jr. has provided himself with a very strong and reliable source. He is showing other Americans that not only is he educated in the history of US politics, but also that he is no different than anybody else. He strives to portray the poster image for social equality in society by mentioning such things such as, “We are saying -- We are saying that we are God's children. And that we are God's children; we don't have to live like we are forced to live.” His reference to God builds a more private relationship with his audience. By mentioning such an important figure in Christianity, Dr. King is also able to reach a much broader spectrum of people. By emphasizing the pronoun, “we”, Dr. King reiterates the message that all men are created equal as stated in the US Constitution.

The speech is effective in the sense that Dr. King was able to grab the audiences’ attention by using everyday scenarios as well as in depth metaphors in order to get his message across. His powerful words led to an increase of freedoms for the African American community and tolerance for all Americans. Dr. King’s outstanding public speaking ability and nonviolent persona has influenced the US to celebrate the differences in humanity.

Works Cited
King, Martin Luther. "I've Been to the Mountaintop." Memphis, Tennessee. 3 April 1968. American Rhetoric. Web. 5 Oct. 2010.

Flaherty, Benjamin, Jeff Seidman, and Marshall McLelland. Cyberlearning-world. 1991. Web. 5 Oct. 2010.

Works Consulted
"Martin Luther King - Biography." Nobelprize.org. Web. 05 Oct. 2010. .