The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. waves to the March on Washington crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of his “I Have a Dream” speech. (Associated Press)

The speech took less than 18 minutes to deliver.

It was inspired by wording in the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the works of William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address.

It talked about the “shameful condition” of a country where basic rights, including life and liberty, were denied because of skin color.

It was named the top American speech of the 20th century in a poll of scholars.

Its most famous lines — eight sentences that begin “I have a dream” — were not in the original text. They were added as the speech was being delivered.

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Martin Luther King Jr. stood in the shadow of Lincoln’s great statue at the 1963 March on Washington urging the people gathered to be a force for justice. Black people had the same right as white people to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

Throughout his speech, King employed a language tool called anaphora (uh-NAFF-o-ruh), in which words are repeated at the start of sentences to make a bigger impact. The best example was his use of the phrase “I have a dream.” Each time he said it, the crowd got more excited.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, 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 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. . . .

That part of his speech was an idea King had used in previous speeches. King, an experienced preacher by then, added it as he sensed the crowd’s mood.

As the final speaker on the long summer day, King wanted to leave the crowd revved up. To do that, he began repeating himself again.

He mentioned mountains and hills across the country, each time urging people to “Let freedom ring!”

It was a stirring message of hope and promise, not just for black Americans but for all Americans. As one newspaper reporter wrote, “He sent the crowd away feeling that the long journey had been worthwhile.”

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