I Bet You Didn't Know This About Martin Luther King's Speeches

Updated on December 8, 2018
Martin Luther King, Jr. giving "I Have a Dream" speech at March on Washington in 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr. giving "I Have a Dream" speech at March on Washington in 1963

Points to Remember

  • His "I Have a Dream" speech initially was supposed to be a speech about a "Bad Check"
  • Filled with emotion & moved by the audience, he added an impromptu mini-speech about his "dream"

His "I Have a Dream" Speech Wasn't Supposed to Be About a Dream

Believe it or not, the iconic speech that Dr. King gave in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was not supposed to talk anything about a dream. Actually, he wanted to talk about a bad check that the United States government had written to black people. What bad check was he talking about? Dr. King stated that the Constitution & Declaration of Independence was a promissory note that our Founding Fathers signed, promising all U.S. citizens the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He went on to say, "It is obvious this day that America has defaulted on its promissory note[...]and has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'" (King, 1963).

Then, he went on to explain that black people did not believe that the "bank of justice [was] bankrupt" (King, 1963). And for that reason, he was speaking on behalf of the black people with a sense of urgency that they had waited to cash this check long enough and that rebellion and unrest would continue to devastate the country until the government made good on its check.

Where did the "I Have a Dream" part come in at? Well, Dr. King wrote out his speeches and read from his notes. However, when he came to the end of his "Bad Check" speech, he had so riled the colossal crowd and he himself was so moved that he extemporaneously went into the "I Have a Dream" portion. His advisers had suggested beforehand that he not refer to his "dream" in this speech because it might come off as sounding cliché, being that he had borrowed many parts of the "dream" speech from a speech given by Reverend Archibald in 1952.

You can read the entire "I Have a Dream" speech by clicking on the link.

The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life, Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Points to Remember

  • "I Have a Dream" was not MLK's favorite speech
  • "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" was his favorite speech

His Favorite Speech Was Called "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life"

The world has placed "I Have a Dream" on the highest plateau, but many may be surprised to find that the "I Have a Dream" speech was not Martin Luther King's favorite speech. His favorite speech to give was one titled "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life." You can read the transcribed speech here.

Why was it his favorite speech to give? I assume it's because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a Reverend, given his license to preach at 17 and ordained a minister at 19. He often preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Georgia.

The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life deals more with the spiritual aspect of things. Dr. King said the three dimensions of a complete life are length, breadth, and height. The length of life is accepting yourself and accepting the tools that God has specifically given you, then using those tools to the best of your ability to fulfill your purpose in life (King, 1967). This is considered self-fulfillment. The breadth of life, in Dr. King's words, mean "the outward concern for the welfare of others" (King, 1967). It is all about humanitarian efforts, putting the welfare of others before yourself. And finally, the height of life, in Dr. King's words, deals with reaching up to the Higher Power. He states, "Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest. We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up for the God of the universe, whose purpose changeth not" (King, 1967).

I highly recommend that everybody read or listen to MLK's favorite speech because of how much it will benefit your life. You can read the entire "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" by clicking on the link.

Martin Luther King, Jr. final speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop" given April 3, 1968 the day before he died
Martin Luther King, Jr. final speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop" given April 3, 1968 the day before he died

Points to Remember

  • "I've Been to the Mountaintop" was MLK's final speech
  • He eerily prophesied his upcoming death
  • He died the day after this speech
  • He was in Memphis supporting the garbage men strike

He Prophesied His Death in His Final Speech Given the Day Before He Died

Martin Luther King's final speech was called "I've Been to the Mountaintop." It is the speech he gave in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, the day before he was shot and killed while standing on the balcony of Lorraine Hotel.

His final speech was given to support the garbage workers in Memphis who were on strike until their working conditions were improved (two men had been crushed to death in the back compactor of the garbage truck).

His final words of the speech were basically prophetic. He spoke of his impending death as though he knew it was about to happen very soon. But he comforted his listeners by letting them know that even though he wished to live a long life like everybody else, he wasn't concerned about longevity anymore because he'd been to the top of the mountain and his eyes "[had] seen the coming of the glory of the Lord" (King, 1968). Watch the videos below to see him poignantly give his final speech or you can read the actual "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech by clicking on the link.

Dr. King's Final Words (Short Clip) - I've Been to the Mountaintop

Dr. King's Final Words (Full Clip) - I've Been to the Mountaintop

Martin Luther King & wife, Coretta Scott King
Martin Luther King & wife, Coretta Scott King | Source

4 Interesting Facts You May Not Have Known About Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • He was born Michael Luther King, but Daddy King changed his name to Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was 5.
  • A deranged black woman named Izola Ware Curry nearly stabbed him in the heart with a mail opener while he was at a book signing, which prompted a speech called "Thank God I Didn't Sneeze" (the doc said if he had sneezed, he would've died).
  • His wife and young children rode with his deceased body on the plane from Memphis back to home.
  • Coretta Scott King never married again after her husband died.

What Do YOU Think?

Who would you like Dr. Martin Luther King to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Jessica B Smith


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      • jessicabsmith profile imageAUTHOR

        Jessica B Smith 

        5 years ago from Sanford, NC

        Thanks for your comment. I think MLK sitting down with the Palestinian leaders (and any other government leaders dealing with an oppressed people) would definitely be a good idea. Those in government can learn so much from this man’s ideologies and demonstrations of peace, unity and love.

      • lions44 profile image

        CJ Kelly 

        5 years ago from PNW

        Great article. I learned a lot. Who would I want him to sit down with today? Palestinian leaders. Why? I have always believed that if they had adopted King's tactics of passive resistance and had their own "Pettus Bridge" moment, that the international PR disaster would have led to a peace agreement with Israel. The pressure on the govt. would have been too much.

        The images of Americans being beaten while trying to cross a bridge in their own country was a powerful turning point. Everyone saw it on TV. Today images are even more powerful. Voted up.


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