The greatest speech ever?

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. It is arguably one of, if not the, greatest speeches of all time.

Martin Luther King JrHe gave it on 28 August 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Picture the scene – there were up to 250,000 people demanding equal rights for black Americans gathered together.

Martin Luther King Jr stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his rousing speech, while the crowd hung on his every word – both in person and those watching via their TV sets at home.

It predicted a day when the promise of freedom and equality for all would be a reality in America.There has been much written since then and today on whether in fact that has happened. It was an incredibly volatile time and the speech marked a tipping point.

The dream part of the speech…
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and 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 colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Why was it important?
The event galvanised people of all races and paved the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Internal communication professionals are often called on to offer advice and guidance on leadership communication, to help shape messages and to coach senior managers in their communication efforts. Do take some time today to listen and watch it as it’s a striking example of effective communication and one of the most important speeches in history.

The clip below is 15 minutes long. What strikes you about it? What makes it great?

For me it’s the clarity, passion and conviction behind his words that makes it so compelling.

He wants to be clearly understood and the choice of language is simple and concise – there are no long words or jargon here to alienate listeners. You are on that vivid journey he pictures as he draws you in and guides you through his vision with absolute sincerity and clarity.

If you’d like to read the full text of the speech you can do so here.

BBC releases new speech
To mark today’s anniversary, the BBC has created a new version, with global figures celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr by reading the words from his speech.

They include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Congressman John Lewis, who spoke at the 1963 March, Dr Maya Angelou, American author and Civil Rights activist, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Laureate and economist, Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered British teenager Stephen Lawrence. You can hear it here.

The original speech in full is here and you’re welcome to comment below or tweet me @AllthingsIC if you’d like to offer your views:

Post author: Rachel Miller


  1. David Wraith says:

    It’s also stuffed full of rhetorical devices – repetition, power of 3, contrasts, metaphors to name a few. Nancy Duarte has a great dissection of it in her book ‘Resonate’, which is well worth a read.

  2. Thank you for your comment David. It does indeed, powerful stuff. Ooh nice, thanks for the book tip, I’ll take a look,

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