Rhetorical Devices, Pathos, Ethos and Logos in ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

Keywords: Martin Luther King, Jr.,African American,Abolitionism,Rhetoric,Emancipation Proclamation,United States,Slavery in the United States,African-American Civil Rights Movement,Racism,Racial segregation

On August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed thousands of people from the Lincoln Memorial. This speech, also known as “I Have a Dream”, would become the most well-known speech in history. This speech was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s perspective on segregation at the largest civil rights rally in history. King wanted to make it clear that people must end racism and that African Americans should be granted civil and economic rights. King was able portray his ideology using the rhetorical tools: logos, pathos, and ethos. This allowed his audience to connect with him and understand his message.

The speech was delivered with passion and energy that allowed the audience to stay focused and engaged. Pathos creates a caring, yet powerful atmosphere. To allow his audience to relate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses the American Dream as his personal motivation. His audience can relate to the common desire of all people: that everyone deserves freedom. The repeated phrase “Now is …”” throughout his speech gives the audience the motivation to act. King uses the example of a father to show that he only wants the best for his children. Parents who are like King will identify with him as a father, and share his aspirations for their children. This is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s example of credibility and knowledge. He stands by the people to make America great again.

King opens his speech with a glimpse into his vision for a future that is free, non-discriminatory and full of long-lasting happiness. King often refers back to American history in his speech and mentions the leaders who helped create free America. His speech is infused with ethos. King’s speech is rich in imagery. His phrases often paint a picture of a peaceful, dream-like nation with unity and peace. King envisioned a united society that wouldn’t be easily divided by race or discrimination. King’s greatest regret is that Lincoln’s promises never came to pass and that African Americans are being fed fake promises. The speech also includes a reference to the Emancipation Proclamation (and its promises) which adds an ethical appeal.

King references Abraham Lincoln, the former president, throughout his speech. King continues to express gratitude for the extraordinary abolishment of slavery, and acknowledges that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. He refers repeatedly to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He repeatedly states that they are refusing to keep their promises to the people. These references allow his audience to trust him and to respect the information he delivers to them. Martin Luther King used logos to persuade the audience to fight for equality. King refers specifically to the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery and freed all slaves. King states that “the Negro still is not free.” This is supported by references to segregation and police brutality toward African Americans. King also uses logos to emphasize that not all white people oppose African Americans. They should not be stereotypical because they realize that justice should exist for all people, regardless of their race and will support you in your fight against segregation. King makes logical references to segregation, discrimination, and how it will never be fixed.

Although the speech is well-crafted in terms of imagery and thought-provoking sentences, it is very emotional. King didn’t want African Americans to lose sight that their dream of total freedom was only possible when they had the same rights as white Americans. This speech strengthened the ties between whites and African Americans for equal rights. A sense of unity has been created between all people by King speaking up for the causes he believes in. While King died before any actions could be taken, he was able with his speech to save freedom and individualism for all and achieve the goal Martin Luther King had envisioned. This speech was a landmark moment in American history because of its use rhetorical devices, logos, pathos and ethos.