Professor Katherine Hines
October 20, 2015
A Comparison of ‘I Have a Dream’ and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’
Martin Luther King Jr., known for his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, is regarded as a fluent and motivational speaker. This was evidenced by his most famous speech, ‘I Have a Dream’, which he delivered during an organized demonstration in Birmingham. After this event, King and some of his supporters were imprisoned. Following criticisms for his actions, he wrote a letter from Birmingham jail, justifying his actions and reaffirming his dedication to the Movement. This essay briefly describes the similarities and differences between the ideas expressed in the two pieces of writing, such as ideas of the American Dream and the widespread violation of justice for Blacks.
Ideas of the American Dream surface in both ‘I Have a Dream’ and ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’. The two articles are packed with references to the American Dream, particularly as it relates to equality, justice and freedom of expression, and access to opportunities for social mobility. However, ‘I Have a Dream’ contains more ideas of what it means to be American, given the fact that King was addressing an audience of thousands of people, the majority of whom were Blacks. The language in his speech is thus motivational, aimed at stirring the Blacks into nonviolent protest for their civil rights. He makes a striking reference to the Blacks ‘cashing the check’ that was granted a century earlier in the Emancipation Proclamation. This reference is important since money is an essential element of the American Dream. Also, King uses more imperative language in trying to motivate African Americans to demand their rights.
On the other hand, because ‘Letter from Birmingham’ was addressed to the few clergymen who were critical of King’s actions in a state to which he did not belong, the ideas are more personal and defensive. The personal nature of his...