King's Dream Eric J. Sundquist

Icons of America
Publication date:
02 Jan 2009
Yale University Press
320 pages: 229 x 152 x 27mm
16 b&w illustrations

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"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.

Eric J. Sundquist is UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature, UCLA. He is author or editor of eight 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.

?Writing in an unusually clear and cogent style, Sundquist analyzes the rhetorical precedents and the starburst of rhetorical, political, musical, and cultural associations related to ?I Have a Dream.???Keith Miller, author of Voice of Deliverance 

"Sundquist's careful, thoughtful study unearths new and fascinating evidence of the rhetorical traditions in King's speech."?Drew D. Hansen, author of The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation

"Eric Sundquist brings vividly to life a watershed moment in world history as he examines one of the most important political speeches of all time."?Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage

"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."?Publishers Weekly

"The ['I Have a Dream'] speech and all that surrounds it?background and consequences?are brought magnificently to life in Eric Sundquist's new book, King's Dream. . . . 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."?Anthony Lewis, New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

"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."?Library Journal (Starred review)

"In highlighting the roots and ongoing struggle over the content and use of the ['I Have a Dream'] speech, Eric J. Sundquist has produced one of the best short books we have on the ideas of racial equality from the early days of the American republic up to current Supreme Court decisions."?George Bornstein, Times Literary Supplement

"A fascinating new book. . . . King's Dream is a romp through poetry and politics, music and movies, biblical law and laws of the land. . . . Sundquist demonstrates brilliantly how King seamlessly wove together his religious world with his political one. . . . [He] brings his historical and literary brilliance to the study of King, revealing the multiple meanings of the dream and the uses of King's words."?Edward J. Blum, San Diego Union-Tribune

"King's Dream . . . is irresistibly topical. . . . Sundquist is very good at showing how King's metaphors and allusions finesse a perennial tension?between the pragmatic and the apocalyptic?within African American political culture."?Roger Gathman, Austin American-Statesman 

"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."?Clay Risen, Washington Post Book World

"Eloquently, encyclopedically and exhaustively, Sundquist catalogues networks of juxtaposition and conjunction in relation to King's address. Classical allusions rub up against quotations from movies, videos, comic books, TV shows and the Internet."?George Elliott Clarke, Toronto Globe & Mail

"Sundquist weaves together history and rhetorical criticism to offer a compelling account of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers."?Choice

"Sundquist . . . brings King's famous speech?along with its background and consequences?to life in this scholarly yet powerful book."?Elsa Dixler, New York Times Book Review

Chosen as one of the Best 100 Books of 2009 by the Toronto Globe & Mail

?An insightful and incisive reading of what is probably the most familiar speech ever made by an American. . . illuminating and well-written.?

?Robert Cook, Journal of American History

"Sundquist's close reading of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech reveals the essence of the Civil Rights movement in America. . . . . Sundquist's book represents perhaps the most detailed analysis of King's speech to date. It does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting King's words with the thoughts of other African American leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Malcolm X. . . . Sundquist powerfully reminds his readers that one cannot begin to comprehend the history of race relations in America without fully understanding the 'I Have a Dream' speech."—Raymond Frey, Magill's Literary Annual 2010