Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. “I Have a Dream” is a public speech delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963, in which he calls for an end to racism in the United States. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, the speech was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Beginning with a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation (issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863), which freed millions of slaves in 1863, King observes that: “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. Toward the end of the speech, King departed from his prepared text for a partly improvised peroration on the theme “I have a dream”, prompted by Mahalia Jackson’s cry: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” In this part of the speech, which most excited the listeners and has now become its most famous, King described his dreams of freedom and equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred. The speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century in a 1999 poll of scholars of public address.
Among the most quoted lines of the speech include “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!”
The March on Washington put pressure on the Kennedy administration to advance its civil rights legislation in Congress. In the wake of the speech and march, King was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine for 1963, and in 1964, he was the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, triggering riots in many US states.