King's Dream

King's Dream

by Eric J. Sundquist
     
 

“I have a dream”—no words are more widely recognized, or more often repeated, than those called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963. King’s speech, elegantly structured and commanding in tone, has become shorthand not only for his own life but for the entire civil rights movement. In this new

Overview

“I have a dream”—no words are more widely recognized, or more often repeated, than those called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963. King’s speech, elegantly structured and commanding in tone, has become shorthand not only for his own life but for the entire civil rights movement. In this new exploration of the “I have a dream” speech, Eric J. Sundquist places it in the history of American debates about racial justice—debates as old as the nation itself—and demonstrates how the speech, an exultant blend of grand poetry and powerful elocution, perfectly expressed the story of African American freedom.

 

This book is the first to set King’s speech within the cultural and rhetorical traditions on which the civil rights leader drew in crafting his oratory, as well as its essential historical contexts, from the early days of the republic through present-day Supreme Court rulings.  At a time when the meaning of the speech has been obscured by its appropriation for every conceivable cause, Sundquist clarifies the transformative power of King’s “Second Emancipation Proclamation” and its continuing relevance for contemporary arguments about equality.

Editorial Reviews

Anthony Lewis
The speech and all that surrounds it—background and consequences—are brought magnificently to life in Eric Sundquist's new book, King's Dream. A professor of literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sundquist has written about race and ethnicity in American culture. In this book he gives us drama and emotion, a powerful sense of history combined with illuminating scholarship.
—The New York Times
Clay Risen
Each chapter of Sundquist's intelligent and important book focuses on one of several themes in the speech, unpacking the sources of the words and placing them within a broader civil rights context. His last chapter, "Not by the Color of Their Skin," is one of the most incisive analyses of the affirmative action debate I have ever read.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

To this day, nobody knows what prompted Martin Luther King Jr. to depart from his prepared remarks during the August 28, 1963, March on Washington and deliver what is probably the most famous impromptu speech in American history. Was it the realization that the 40-year-old preacher from Atlanta hadn't yet connected with his audience? Was it the manifest destiny he felt as a child, that one day he would "have me some big words" like the preacher of his own church? Or was it the provocation of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who called to King to "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin!" According to Sundquist (ToWake the Nation), not even the master orator could put a finger on his extemporization. "I started out reading the speech," King recalled, then "all of a sudden this thing came out of me." The author investigates the origin of King's powerful words and places them in the context of JFK's political maneuverings, the powerful new medium of television news and the complicated strategy behind the simple march. Exhaustively researched, this book delivers an exegesis of the speech and a captivating account of King's motivations and turbulent times. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

How can both those currently in favor of and those against affirmative action claim that Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous words about black and white children being judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" support their causes? Sundquist (UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature, UCLA; To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature) argues that our over-familiarity with the words of King's "I Have a Dream" speech actually prevents us from understanding it. Phrases from the speech are now so ubiquitous that they have appeared in Apple computer advertisements and on women's thongs. Sundquist reestablishes King's speech within the larger cultural dialog that it originally belonged to by examining sources such as King's other speeches, the language of cultural debates about race in America at the time that King spoke, and the original audience's probable understanding of King's biblical, political, and constitutional references. An academically strong, readable, and fascinating book; highly recommended.
—April Younglove

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300150902
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
11/10/2008
Edition description:
Large Print
Pages:
456
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.92(d)

Meet the Author

Eric J. Sundquist is UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature, UCLA. He is author or editor of twelve books on American literature and culture, including the award-winning volumes To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature and Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America.

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