let freedom ring

When we think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech, it is often the words “I have a Dream” or “Free at last” that we remember best. But the reality is that none of those words are the most frequently spoken words in the speech. What is spoken the most is a word that defines a concept that we, as Americans — all of us — consider a right.

What is freedom though? What does it mean to be free and how do we define it? Is it different for each of us? I’m pretty sure that my freedom, the ways I define it, are going to be indicative of my experiences and yours of your own. But I also think of how much the concept of freedom has changed the world. I can still hear Mel Gibson yelling, as William Wallace in Braveheart, “Freedom!” at the end of the movie. He wasn’t free, but he knew that his actions would induce the Scots to fight for their own freedom even more (and beyond the movie, William Wallace was a great warrior of the Scots (as anyone who has visited the battlefield at Stirling can attest), fighting for their freedom from a tyrannical government). How many other times has the bell of freedom been rung? And in how many other places?

Tonight in our Stylistics class, I started thinking about Dr. King’s speech on a more detailed level. I was thinking beyond the metaphors, beyond the parts of speech, trying to understand the way Dr. King meant these words, how he wanted his audience to accept them, and how he wanted the world to hear them.

The words he used the most were “Freedom,” “Let,” and “Negro.” If I’m only thinking of those three words, then some of the power of his speech is lost. Is he asking for Negros to have freedom? Should “the man” LET them have freedom? Should we throw out “let” altogether in this equation and only look at Negro and Freedom? Does that ring more true? Is it more powerful to link only those two words together?

What happens when we start to add in some of the other words he used less: “ring,” “one,” “dream?” Freedom rings. It rings bell towers, it rings in hearts and minds, it rings with rally cries and marches. It rings from coast to coast, border to border. It rings around the world, and beyond (especially if it is true that our radio waves reach into far galaxies).

Dr. King had a dream. That dream’s name was freedom.

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