The Martin Luther King, Jr. Guide to Inspirational Writing

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Guide to Inspirational Writing

Reader Comments (89)

    • Excellent point. Sometimes it’s not as much about the words (which are moving), but about the delivery and the context.

      If they’d been delivered by a lesser speaker, in front of a smaller crowd, would those words be as forceful now, written down, on this blog?

      • Apparently, Hitler had the same oratory style as Martin Luther King, sadly how he was able to generate a massive Nazi following. Ironic to say the least.

  1. I love that speech. I noticed that he uses the same words a lot at the beginning of each sentence and that definitely adds to the effect.

    Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to influence thousands of people with your words?

    • Find a core issue native to the human person — like freedom. Challenge the status-quo by taking the risk necessary to speaking to that issue. Be prepared. The result of your influence, in that context is generally immediate but may not be favorable.

      I have a question. What is the dream of the politically correct?

  2. I’ve got this one on my wall of inspiration:

    “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

    What a guy, eh?

  3. If you’re able to inspire, you’re able to widen the reach of your message enormously … It’s a very powerful thing …

    I have written an in depth post on spicing up your communication through power factors such as inspiration, idealism and so on …

    Anyone interested can find it on my blog …


  4. Damn, that speech is so freaking magnificent, I could hear every single word, how amazing is that?

    Such a plethora of incredible benefits can’t be anything but enchanting (and he beautifully breaks the don’t say ‘I’ more than ‘you’ “rule”, in such a wonderful way).

    Brian, will you follow up with takeaways from this forever inspiring piece?

  5. Brilliant writing and a great lesson in leadership… especially for those who try to inspire people with “I have a 5-point plan” or “I have a long-term strategy.”

    My favorite quote is his streetsweeper quote, which I posted today. Happy MLK Day.

  6. A fine homage to one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. May the legacy of Dr. King live on.

  7. Nice to have this put in front of our eyes again. I suspect we could all hear his voice as we read. And see him again in our mind’s eye.
    (There are audio clips at this site of his most memorable words: )
    Just as we can probably still hear, see, practically touch JFK’s “Ask not..” speech.
    Truly inspiring vision comes first…the words,the sounds, the sight, the form it takes…these have much to do with the imprint on our psyches…the echoing timelessness of those visions presented in contexts that move us deeply. Ideas that matter. Thanks, Brian. I would not have revisited the original document this year as I have so many times in the past. It bears repeated remembrance.
    All best, Jan

  8. Thanks Brian.

    I grew up in Detroit and stood in the street with MLK — I was a kid — but we marched for civil rights with millions of Americans. And we helped make America a better place.

    I think those turbulent days in the 60’s were inspiring and tragic. But today, I am going to dwell on King’s inspiration.

    “To make art, develop an infallible technique, then place yourself at the mercy of inspiration.” I have no idea who said it.

    MLK honed his writing every week. World changing.



  9. Thank you, Brian, for printing this.

    What a great tribute to an even greater, life-changing man. I admire him enormously for all he did in a difficult, hostile environment.

    Thank you Martin, for your courage and your tenacity. And thank you for elevating the fight from violence to brotherhood.

  10. I agree with Moshin’s point.

    The fact that he was a great orator made it even more powerful than me reading it and trying to decide what to emphasize and where to pause, etc.

    The voice is a powerful thing, especially in the “hands” of a magnificent speaker.

  11. The fact that he was a great orator made it even more powerful than me reading it and trying to decide what to emphasize and where to pause, etc.

    Agreed. But the words, and the structure, and the repetition, and the lyricism, and the way the two recurring concepts of the dream and freedom come together in that legendary last line… that’s damn fine writing.

  12. Great speech. The ‘Let Freedom ring…’ portion reminded me a lot of Walt Whitman’s work.

    Are we ever gonna see a Whitman guide to poetic copy? 🙂

  13. So inspiring. It’s funny to think of the repeating phrases and how powerful that is- and to think of the many who were there that day, including Bob Dylan.

    So many believed his message- so much so that he was killed for it because people were afraid of it coming true.

    So, we remember him warmly today.

    Thanks for the great lessons in his speech.

  14. I agree completely with what you say in comment #19 Brian.

    Without having been written down, practiced, tweaked and committed to memory, it wouldn’t have been near as powerful a speech.

    The words made the voice and the voice made the words.

    Without each other, they’re like 2 sparrows in a hurricane.

  15. His heart spoke first and then came the pen.

    It is still quite amazing to read this speech and hear his voice!

    This quote says it all:

    “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” [thanks Josh]

    We celebrate MLK everyday!

    Thanks Brian!

  16. Thanks Brian!

    What an amazing man. What a heart. What a fierce model for ‘right’!

    This speech for freedom and equality is the equivalent to Chief Seattle’s Speech on the environment.

    On my blog today, I talk about how we, as copywriters and all business people can apply the same high principles to our work.

    To SEE everyone as ONE … we’re all part of the same family … the human family.

    And, as such, in our marketing for our clients, we can do our part to SEE our clients and their perspective customers as life’s treasures …

    and treat them accordingly.

    We’re all ONE, despite the perceived differences.

    Along with you all, I honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today and everyday!

    He gave his life for truth, honor and freedom for all. What conviction!



  17. It’s astonishing writing *and* astonishing delivery. I tried to unpack some of it on the blog, and probably shouldn’t have–I really admire the way you’ve left the words here to speak for themselves.

  18. What a classy way to honor the man and the principles by posting this speech and letting it stand on its own, without comment. Watched this (again) on YouTube. Great orating and great writing.

  19. I really appreciate you paying respect to Dr. King. He deserves all the respect he will ever receive and then some. It’s good to know people are continuing to push his message. For all the people who won’t know what you did today, THANK YOU!

  20. Every time I come across this amazing speech, I am shocked by the date. 1963. Such recent times (though before I was born). This country still has its racial struggles but we have come a LONG WAY in such a SHORT TIME. It goes to show how powerful words can be. Thanks for posting M.L. King’s words and inspiration.

  21. It’s kind of breathtaking, isn’t it Marilla? Yes, there’s plenty of work that remains to be done, but the progress in just about generation is amazing.

  22. Nothing at all against Dr. King, but why is this the only holiday still named after a person? What happened to Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday? They were changed into the generic President’s Day, but why?

  23. this speech mayed me to believe and myself that no mattrer color you are or what race you came from that you will always make it no matter what poeple think about you .dr king i wish you were sill alive so i can tell you how you god used you to save amercia. may god bless your god we trust.

  24. The power of words . . . jeez.

    Sends goosebumps up and down the spine, across my face, and down my arms.

    The truth is: we all possess this power of voice, words, motivation, and inspiration.

    R.I.P The King.

  25. As immortal as any words ever written (or spoken). There’s a T.E. Lawrence quote:

    “All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.”

    MLK definitely dreamed in the daytime.

  26. Stop dreaming and start planning – I got this sentence when I flew away from CES. We do need dreams. We need plans too.

    Thank you!

  27. Just a little bit of topical humour: wouldn’t this speech if entered in blog form today get flagged as keyword stuffing? The internet certainly has changed how we think and how we create and share our content!

    Thanks for the throwback to an awesome orator!

  28. This is great. I find it interesting that he had a DREAM, not a strategy, or a business plan or a system. He had a DREAM. That is what we all must start with.

  29. A thought – yes the speech is one of the best ever written, delivered with passion and power to people ready to hear the message. BUT…freedom needs to be watched and preserved every day. Freedom is taken away from us in small subtle ways. Freedom is lost when we allow other people to decide what we can and cannot do. What we can and cannot say. And I believe that in 2013 there is a need for another Martin Luther King to remind America and the world that freedom is precious and choice and personal control and responsibility is what EVERY single person needs to take, hold dear and allow others to have. Just because we think differently is no reason either of us should be chained, shackled or suppressed. Just because we believe differently, celebrate different holidays, different customs or enjoy different lifestyles gives no other person the right to remove our freedom. Brian, I believe and I have seen Copyblogger bring issues to light that help the cause of freedom. There are many bloggers, authors, speakers and ministers who understand the importance of freedom. I’ll get off my soap box and say thank you for reminding your readers of a wonderful. powerful moment in history.

  30. Brian, I admire your inventiveness. Put up the speech with only the title offering commentary. Let them go at it.
    You do understand people.


  31. I just finished listening to this speech again. Of course, the entire speech is 17 minutes. Although, called the I Have a Dream speech, Dr. KIng’s set up took about 10 minutes. During that time he carefully outlined the context of the movement in 1963. He also uses the Rule of 3’s on several occasions. He carefully takes note of who is in the audience and establishes a strong connection. His skill as an orator is almost flawless. He holds back, pacing the momentum for full impact. Then he carefully releases the arrows that make his points over and over again, hitting the target message with precision each time. Then after the I Have a Dream section, lets the audience know what they are to do next. It is a powerful and beautiful exhibition of skill.

  32. You should have reprinted the whole speech, especially the part about America having given its citizen’s of color a bad check and Dr. King refusing to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

  33. I can’t ever hear or read this speech without tears coming to my eyes. How appropriate that the second inauguration of the nation’s first black president should occur on the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. I’m proud to be an American.

  34. I forwarded the Copyblogger link to King’s epochal speech, to the President of Pax Christi Australia, Fr Claude Mostowik. He forwarded Pax members a related article: The Three Evils of Mankind: Dr. King Had Other Dreams by Tom and Judy Turnipseed, CounterPunch January 21, 2013:

    On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 26 years old; Coretta had just given birth to their first child.

    E D. Dixon, another Montgomery pastor, asked to host a meeting in King’s Dexter Street Baptist Church—not because of King, but because the church was the closest to downtown–across from the capitol. King attended the poorly planned meeting, was reluctantly drawn in, and his greatness began to emerge. It wasn’t necessarily the perfect time for him–he was young, with a new family, not much money or a lot of experience.

    He even, at a critical point in his life, hesitated. On our Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Pilgrimage this past fall, we sat at the very table in his Kitchen where he sat, uncertain of himself, discouraged, and frightened for his family by all the threatening calls they had received. He almost called it quits that night. In the middle of his doubts, he had his “Kitchen Epiphany” when he faced down his fears with the conviction that God stands by those who stand for justice. The world doesn’t need a perfect person to do what he did. The world needed him. And this week we celebrate the 84th birthday of this leader of nonviolent protest, freedom fighter and hero in the struggle for civil rights and racial justice.

    He led waves of ordinary, courageous people on the streets of the South from the bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, voter registrations drives, to the Freedom rides.

    In the face of overwhelming odds, King knew those ordinary people needed a dream like all people do – one that speaks to our spirits through both our heads and our hearts. And because he knew that, on August 28, 1963, he stood at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington before 125,000 people and delivered one of the most well known and quoted speeches ever made and maybe the greatest.

    ”I have a Dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 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. I have a dream today.”

    But Dr. King had other dreams.

    We forget that King had a dream beyond racial justice. He also believed that we can overcome war itself, as he hinted at in Oslo in 1964 and later. He dreamed that man would find an alternative to war and violence between nations just as he was finding a way to put an end to racial injustice. The madness must cease.

    President Obama, in his Nobel Prize speech, expressed the view that we’re stuck with war and there’s nothing we can do about it, indeed that it is often justified. Dr. King in his Nobel speech made it clear that he believed our destiny is ours to choose. “World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable”, he said. He knew—as we UU’s know “that we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” He tells us that we must either “learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

    He became more and more convinced that he had to speak out strongly against the war on Vietnam and so in 1967 and ‘68 he did. He delivered his most famous antiwar speech “Beyond Vietnam” at Manhattan’s Riverside Church exactly one year before he died. It’s hard to understand just how radical it was at the time. His closest advisors tried to talk him out of it because they felt it would dilute his civil rights work. It would alienate President Johnson who was a civil rights supporter, but also pursuing the war. And it did. He would be labeled unpatriotic for his criticism of America’s foreign policy. But he felt that ending discrimination in America and ending the massacre in Vietnam were not separate. As a man of conscience, a man of compassion, he had to speak. And he paid the price for speaking out. All the major media backed the War. He was regularly attacked in national newspapers. The New York Times wrote editorials against him. Many of his supporters turned against him. He was called a traitor and a commie.

    He was attacked for many of the same reason we peace activists who oppose the wars in Iraq, Pakistan Afghanistan, and all our military actions around the world, are attacked today and his answers to them were a lot the same as ours are.

    First he connected the war with racism and the struggle for equality. Far more black men were sent to fight and die than their white brothers, who had the financial means and connections to escape the draft. Young black men denied equal rights in our society were going off to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia. Today, in our voluntary military, there is an economic draft, where those same young black men–faced with lack of jobs and few opportunities–are forced to join the military to survive.

    King was not limited by a narrow nationalistic view, by the idea of our country, right or wrong. He thought of himself as a world citizen. His dedication was not limited to the needs of African-Americans or the cause of civil rights. He was dedicated not just to save the soul of America but to work for the betterment of all, the brotherhood of man. He felt a special need to speak out against our militaristic nature. It was impossible to preach non-violence to young angry black men until he had spoken clearly to the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world of his day”—his own country.

    He spoke of the collateral damage of the war and of the suffering of the people we claimed to be liberating—not the soldiers on each side, or the military government, but of the civilians, people who had been under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades. Even for those we came to support, “we poisoned their water, killed their crops, destroyed their families, their villages” and often brought death. And in today’s wars waged by our country, the collateral damage continues to grow. In World War I there was one civilian killed for every 10 soldiers on both sides. Nowadays it’s just the opposite. With the technological advances in killing tools, there are at least 5 innocent civilians killed for every one soldier.

    And what about the wars’ effects on our own people? Then as now, “This business of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.”

    His strongest response to his critics about his opposition to the war was economic and I agree with that today. He said “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” When Judy and I feed the homeless in the park every Sunday with Food Not Bombs, we set up our sign. On one side is our logo, on the other, General Eisenhower’s words.

    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

    Today the military represents 55% of our discretionary budget. The Afghan war alone costs us $2 billion a week. And the arms manufacturers and war mongers are selling weapons to both sides, getting rich off the blood of our young people. Those who will stand up and speak out fearlessly against such insanity today are needed now more than ever.

    At the end of his life, King was consumed with his dream of ending poverty. He spoke about it as early as 1964 in his Nobel Prize Lecture, but by 1968, he was speaking out strongly about the interrelatedness of racism, war and poverty. He was truly on dangerous ground. He expanded his vision from working to achieve equal rights for African Americans and peacemaking, to bringing an end to systemic poverty and seeking economic justice for all. Before, he was trying to change the way people in and out of power thought about race and war; now he was trying to change the way people in and out of power thought about power.

    On the day of his death he was in Memphis supporting the sanitation workers’ strike—for fair wages and decent working conditions. On the agenda was the Poor People’s Campaign, a plan to bring thousands of the poor of all races on another march to Washington to demand jobs and, most radical of all, not just a living wage, but a guaranteed income for all. In 1968 he understood economic exploitation and his dream was to end it.

    Throughout his life King faced the three great evils of mankind—racism, war, and poverty. His dream was to overcome all three. The night before he died King delivered his last great speech of hope, assuring his followers that his dreams would not die. If they, like us today, would continue to pursue those dreams, he knew that someday we would get to the promised land.

    Tom and Judy Turnipseed live in South Carolina. They can be reached at:

  35. Mucho gracias Seigneur Brian Clark for this blog post. Once more you’re proving with this blog post how nice to tend a loyal tribe. For me personally and most likely for other people of color and loyal readers of CopyBlogger, you touched our hearts.

    “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land . . . So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
    — “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, April 3, 1968 (the day before his assassination)

    The Mountain Top Speech :

  36. “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.”
    This quote still grips me.
    Standing ovation,
    Still one, if not the best speech ever presented before an audience.

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