I Have a Dream: The Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. (2023)

On the third Monday of January, Americans celebrate the life and achievement of one of our most respected citizens— Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a leading force in the drive for civil rights in the United States, and he showed through words and actions that non-violent, persistent activism can achieve tremendous results by appealing tothe moral conscience of Americans.


James Karales’s majestic photograph "Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights, 1965" in the Picturing America portfolio gives us a memorable image of the American moral conscience in action. Transcending its documentary function as a record of the the protest march that Dr.King called and lead that brought 25,000 Americans on a four day trek across the state of Alabama, the photograph shows the desire for political freedom is the shared heritage of all Americans.More information and classroom activities on this Picturing America selection are available in the Picturing America Teachers Resource Book, no. 19-B)

To supplement the video produced by the Biography Channel about the march from Selma to Montgomery provided above, EDSITEment has a number of resources, activities, and lesson plans to help teachers, students, parents, and caregivers understand the impact Dr. King had— and continues to have— upon our country and the global efforts towards peace and civil rights. To learn about Dr. King’s career, visit the extensive biography, timelines, chronolologies, and journals available on theNEH-funded Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project.

Students will likely be most familiar with Dr. King’s famous "I Have a Dream" speech given during the August 28, 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." At the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, the transcript and (partial) audio recording of "I Have a Dream" are both available in English, with transcripts also available in twelve other languages (including Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese). Introduce K–2 students to the civil rights movement and to the "I Have a Dream" speech with the EDSITEment lesson plan Dr. King’s Dream. This exemplary speech is one of many that mark Dr. King’s rich oratory abilities, and an exploration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project website will provide ample examples of American oratory, in which King drew upon natural law philosophy, Biblical references, spirituals, and a deep knowledge and understanding of American principles and history. For example, the eloquent call for justice in King’s "I Have a Dream" speech concludes with the lines from a well-known spiritual:

"Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring, and when this happens...when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

EDSITEment has plenty of resources for students of all ages on Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Older primary school students can engage with the subject of the late Dr. King with the grades 3–5 lesson plan Let Freedom Ring: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School and World History studentswill be able to investigate the deep links between Dr. King’s pursuit of change through nonviolent means and the successful campaign by Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi to free India from British colonial rule in the grades 6–8 lesson plan Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Power of Nonviolence. Finally, in the grades 9–12 lesson plan, Ordinary People, Ordinary Places: The Civil Rights Movement, high school students will have the opportunity to learn about the civil rights movement by visiting places, such as the South, where the battles of the movement took place.

The civil rights movement was not free of inner conflict among civil rights leaders. There were sharp disagreements about tactics and strategies. In Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, high school students learn how the views of the leaders of the civil rights movement diverged on about the methods necessary to secure those rights. In this curriculum unit they will find out about the differing philosophies of Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Dr. Joseph H. Jackson (among others) through their speeches and correspondence. In addition to these resources, teachers, parents, and caregivers can use the following supplementary activities, which draw on EDSITEment’s reviewed websites and peer-reviewed lesson plans, to introduce students to the legacy of Dr. King.

Activity: Spiritual Influence

Dr. King’s power use of spirituals is the subject of Activity 5 in the EDSITEment lesson plan Spirituals. Sit down with your students or children and read through the speech. As they get the sense of the cadence of the speech, and the use of call-and-response, share with them the power of spirituals discussed throughout the lesson. How does call-and-response help shape and form communities? What kind of community is Dr. King trying to form, based on his speech?

Activity: Investigating the National Archives Digital Vaults

To help students understand the power and magnitude of the march on Washington in 1963, visit the EDSITEment-reviewed The National Archives website’s new feature, The Digital Vault together. Sit down with your students or children and explore historical images of the March on Washington by using Digital Vault's search function.

  • At The National Archives website, find the Digital Vault homepage
  • Type "I Have a Dream" into the search text box.
  • From the left hand side column, pick the "Martin Luther King" tab
  • Pick any of the digital images which appear

Through these archival documents, students can begin to understand the broad importance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy in the United States, as well as the right to assemble guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment that make such movements possible. As a conclusion to this activity, explore the Bill of Rights together and discuss how they specifically apply to important issues of both the recent past and today.

Activity: The Early Years

Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project and read with your students or children some of Dr. King’s earliest prose. His childhood letters to his family and friends, such as his To Martin Luther King, Sr. (January 18, 1940) and To Alberta Williams King (June 20, 1940), showcase a young person deeply aware of his community, committed to family, and diligent in his studies. His hard work resulted in the following speech written for a public-speaking contest, for which he was selected as a representative to the state-wide competition. In this speech, the young Martin concluded "My heart throbs anew in the hope that inspired by the example of Lincoln, imbued with the spirit of Christ, they will cast down the last barrier to perfect freedom."

With your students or children, read the letters the young King wrote to his parents and then read aloud all or part of his speech that he wrote and presented as a student. The notes that precede the text of the speech relate an important anecdote in which King and his teacher were forced to give up their seats on the long bus trip to Georgia for the competition. Ask your students or children how these early written texts and the experiences they relate reveal aspects of Dr. King’s character and even foreshadow his future work in civil rights. To conclude the activity, ask them to write a letter to a friend or relative in which they detail the aspects of their daily activities. What does their letter reveal about them and what their future may hold?

Featured Lessons

  • Birth of a Nation, the NAACP, and the Balancing of Rights
  • JFK, the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement
  • Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Dr. King's Dream
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and the Power of Nonviolence
  • NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaigns: The Quest for Social Justice in the Interwar Years
  • Ordinary People, Ordinary Places: The Civil Rights Movement
  • The Music of African American History

Featured Websites


I Have a Dream: The Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.? ›

[17]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.”

What was the dream vision of Martin Luther? ›

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 their character.

What are the 3 main ideas in the I have a dream speech? ›

In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. describes the founding promises of America (freedom, equality, and justice for all) and the nation's failure to keep those promises, particularly to Black Americans.

What is 1 Martin Luther King Jr's main purpose in I have a dream ____________? ›

Martin Luther King Jr.'s main purpose in 'I have a Dream' speech is.... To urge all people to peacefully work together for racial equality. In paragraph (5), King uses the extended metaphor of a check to...

How did Martin Luther King's vision change the world? ›

MLK helped bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Each of these bills helped African Americans access civil rights across the country. King's speeches and writings allow us to continue learning from his beliefs and practices today.

What was the main focus of Dr King's speech? ›

King had one goal with his speech: to encourage public opinion in favor of creating an equal society for all races. Every sentence in his speech works toward this goal by examining positive outcomes of eliminating racism.

What were the main points of I Have a Dream? ›

The main idea of the speech is to protest against discrimination and to fight for freedom and equality. It is like a sermon with references to the Bible, the US Constitution, and the Declaration of US Independence.

What are 3 rhetorical devices in I Have a Dream Speech? ›

In “I Have a Dream”, Martin Luther King Jr. extensively uses repetitions, metaphors, and allusions. Other rhetorical devices that you should note are antithesis, direct address, and enumeration.

What is the central idea of the I Have a Dream Speech commonlit? ›

King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech to over 250,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. In this speech, King discusses racial inequality in America and his hopes for African Americans' civil rights.

What is the conclusion of I Have a Dream? ›

King transitioned into the conclusion by going into his famous quote “I have a dream”. Towards the end of the speech he says, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

What are 3 things Dr Martin Luther King Jr are known for? ›

King participated in and led marches for the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and other civil rights. He oversaw the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and later became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

How did Martin Luther King Jr I Have a Dream speech impact the world? ›

Popularly known as the "I have a Dream" speech, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced the Federal government to take more direct actions to more fully realize racial equality.

What is the story behind the King's speech? ›

The Oscar-winning biopic The King's Speech retells the true story of King George VI as he overcame his stutter to lead the country through WW2 with his historic speech – a film that celebrates its 10th anniversary.

What techniques did Martin Luther King use in his speech? ›

King drew on a variety of rhetorical techniques to “Educate, Engage, & Excite” TM his audiences – e.g., alliteration, repetition, rhythm, allusion, and more – his ability to capture hearts and minds through the creative use of relevant, impactful, and emotionally moving metaphors was second to none.

How does Martin Luther King use imagery in his speech? ›

Throughout “I Have a Dream,” King uses imagery of hills and mountains to invoke the future of the civil rights movement. Just as climbing a mountain requires enduring pain and difficulty in order to reach… Tanner, Alexandra.

How does MLK use logos in his speech? ›

Kings use of logos is clear throughout the speech, for example when he explains “police brutality” and “creative suffering” it provides strong logical appeal for the reader. Logically any human being can understand and sympathize with the issue of the denial of basic human rights to the African American people (King).

What is the central idea of his speech? ›

A central idea, also known as the main idea of the speech, represents the specific objective of the speech. The central idea statement is usually just one sentence that sums up the major ideas of a speech. It also tells the audience what they should expect to hear about in the rest of the speech.

What is the ideology in the I Have a Dream Speech? ›

It is important to note that the ideology of freedom and equality to all is deeply rooted in the idea of "America", but whether it is actually applied or not is another issue. This ideology helps King to reach out to all Americans, even those who do not stand in his audience during this speech.

What is dream argument summary? ›

The dream argument is the postulation that the act of dreaming provides preliminary evidence that the senses we trust to distinguish reality from illusion should not be fully trusted, and therefore, any state that is dependent on our senses should at the very least be carefully examined and rigorously tested to ...

What is the plot summary of a dream within a dream? ›

"A Dream Within a Dream" explores the significance and reality of life. The speaker watches as the things that are important to him are taken away and struggles to hold on to them. Realizing, that no matter how hard he tries to hold on, he lacks control, and questions if life is just "a dream within a dream".

What is the plot of the dream? ›

Set in France around the turn of the seventeenth century, it is the story of a young woman named Constance who is in love with Gaspar, the son of her father's enemy. Because their fathers killed each other in battle, Constance feels she cannot marry Gaspar, even though he loves her too.

What is the central idea of the story was it a dream? ›

The theme of this short story is the blind flattery of a person and the glorification of their image out of ignorance or naivety thus resulting in the loss of truth.

What is the main idea of the Letter from Birmingham Jail? ›

It says that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts.

What is the central idea message or purpose of a story? ›

Theme is the main or central idea in a literary work. It is the unifying element of a story. A theme is not a summary of characters or events. Rather, it is the controlling idea or central insight of the story.

What is the point or idea that is central to your story? ›

The central idea is the central, unifying element of the story, which ties together all of the other elements of fiction used by the author to tell the story. The central idea can be best described as the dominant impression or the universal, generic truth found in the story.

What is the plot of a dream like a dream? ›

The drama's plot follows the life experiences of a patient, who's suffering from an incurable illness. It integrates stories happening in various places and times. From the early Republic of China to modern times, the show moves through different cities around the world.

What are the central issues that King addresses in his Letter? ›

King addresses six major issues in his letter: negotiation, timing, breaking laws, triggering violence, the myth of time, and extremism.

What is the purpose of nonviolent direct action as explained by Martin Luther King Jr? ›

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.


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