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Dr. Martin Luther King “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”


Dr. Martin Luther King, who is widely known for his Civil Rights movement leadership, strived to bring changes in the social structure of the states addressing the problem of economic inequalities. His speech “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” is considered to be the reflection of American rhetoric, by means of which King managed to demonstrate a poignant vision of the civil rights struggles future supporting garbage workers’ strike. The speech was given in 1968 in Memphis, aimed at Washington Poor People March. This address to the public is referred to the most inspiring speeches of the political leader which success is closely connected with the rhetorical canons Martin Luther King used to stick to.


Martin Luther King managed to adapt the religious world view of the slaves to Biblical stories; his central message of the speech was concentrated on the human way to the land of future. It is necessary to underline the fact that the principal stress of the speaker was focused on negative effects caused by people’s lack of hope, ‘You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite formula for doing it… He kept the slaves fighting among themselves (Luther King, 1994). The future of the country was presented in the ‘promising land vision’, based on the development pattern of America. The invention common topic is considered to be antecedent or consequences people face in their way to the land of future. But let us think about the effects?… Would have they really been reached and faced?… The theme of promising land was presented on the basis of religious harmony set in the society; Martin Luther King showed that only human dream can become the background of maintop experience, ‘And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land’ (Luther King, 1994). King’s rhetoric demonstrates political and religious interference.


Martin Luther King used to align particular rhetorical appeals in some oration parts. His exordium demonstrates strict ethical appeals rather than his own authority establishment. His civil rights agenda covered US dismantling legal segregation; King managed to present gradually social isolation being the basic obstacle to the American ideals (Miller, 1998). The statement of facts was illustrated through problematic perception of the human rights convention; the difficulties of the 20th-century life were focused on human faith, belief and dream, ‘…the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement.’ (Luther King, 1994). Though the refutation and conclusion lead to logical emotional appeal expressed by Martin Luther King, underlying the fact that God’s will is to be performed and final aim will be reached by common faith in future of national freedom.


‘I’ve been to the Mountaintop’ appeared to be stylistically significant speech; King used a number of metaphorical expressions in order to construct the atmosphere in America and present the nation as a strong society whose sickness severity is closely connected with American powerful potential to reach greatness. Metaphorical style appeared to be the principal road map aimed at audience’s understanding of its reality and demands. (Caldwell, n. d.) The first metaphor used in the speech is referred to the sick nation; the speaker tried to portray his disgust with the national state being infected with racist disease. ‘And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.’ (Luther King, 1994). The next point is related to the identification of the Jericho Road having the meaning of danger embodied in American nation, because of people’s tragedies and deaths associated with ‘The Good Samaritan’ discourse. And finally, Martin Luther King metaphorically disclosed the promised land reflecting his hope for America to be the land of the future with a strong free nation. It is necessary to underline that fact that this stylistic mean was aimed at symbolic promoting King as Moses.


The way of speech presentation can be analyzed on the basis of the psychological performance King produced. The expressiveness and emotionality of orator’s speech speak about his effectiveness in rhetorical intention meetings. King’s successful remembering of the details of the speech, covering all the quotations he used, highlights his involvement in the speech message. Martin Luther King divided the text into several manageable portions allowing him quickly sticking to the memory. The speech demonstrates deep psychological involvement of King into the sense and faith; the way of words proclaiming and confidence of the speaker means high level of memory practice (McElrath, 2007).


King’s hope for better future in America and his life being free from prejudice was clearly reflected in the way of speech delivery by the speaker. It is necessary to stress that significant effect and success of the speech ‘I’ve been to the Mountaintop’ is closely connected with voice confidence and powerful language; he stressed that the only business of the nation covering black and white people is focused on building liberation and justice which can be the result of power redistribution. ‘Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence’ (Luther King, 1994). Means of delivery expressed by Martin Luther King through personal power of faith, emotionality, and meaningful gestures made the speech persuasive and effective (Montefiore, 2006).


The speech “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” by Martin Luther King appeared to leave a significant print in American history; the text was presented as the reflection of the worker’ soul and their desire to be free from prejudices and slavery. The problems of racism, inequality, and social discrimination were highlighted by King through the hope for a better future.

Rhetoric analysis of the speech demonstrated King’s means of producing an influence on the nation; it is necessary to stress that “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” refers to the speeches that changed national perception and the whole world; King is referred to as the masters of American rhetoric reflection for his persuasive and confident character. It should be noted that Martin Luther King left a significant print in world history for his talent and inner power to produce a positive effect on the mass.


  1. Caldwell, G. (n. d.) Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968: in Memoriam.
  2. King, M. L. (1994). I’ve been to the Mountaintop. Harper San Francisco.
  3. McElrath, J. (2007). The Everything Martin Luther King Jr. Book: The Struggle. the Dream. The Legacy. Everything Books.
  4. Miller, K. (1998). Voice of deliverance: the language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and its sources. University of Georgia Press.
  5. Montefiore, S. (2006). Speeches that changed the World: the stories and transcripts of the moments that made history. 7th Edition. Cambridge Editorial Partnership.

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