Washington, July 26 : A professor of communication studies at Rowan University has hailed Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech - delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 - as a "near perfect rhetorical event".
Dan Schowalter, who has taught the speech more than 30 times in his classes, says that the effect of the speech was such that the march for Civil Rights 45 years ago was "set up as a rock concert".
"Bob Dylan was there. Joan Baez was there. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was the headliner. He had a rock star persona. There was a real chemistry between King and the audience," he says.
He also says that King delivered the speech at a time when America was open to it, stressing that that 1953 would have been too early, and 1973 too late.
He even says that King's message is great both technically and ideologically.
"In terms of delivery, it's sermonic in style. There's a cadence to the speech. And when he gets to the 'I have a dream' passages, he quits looking at his notes. It's as though he's speaking right from his heart," he says.
Schowalter reveals that King's speech uses over 60 metaphors, including those about water and currency.
He says that the speech alludes to passages in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Bible.
While other activists like Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael spoke about the need for a revolution for Civil Rights, King effectively talks about his "dream", he notes.
"The fact that he called it a dream makes it less threatening. King's dream is the American dream. His speech is essentially the story of being able to achieve, to sit at the table of brotherhood. It's a familiar story," he says.
Schowalter has revealed that he often uses in his classes the example of the way King deftly repeats key phrases like "Let freedom ring" and "I have a dream" to demonstrate to his students how the use of repetition works in effective public speaking.
He, however, adds that repetitions do not always work in writing.
"In writing, we'd call it redundant. But in the speech, the repetition is central to its success. Still, you have to do it right to make it work," he says.
Schowalter also attributes the success of the speech to the venue that had a 19-foot-high visage of Lincoln facing the crowd.
"I don't think you can get any more poignant than staging the speech at the Lincoln Memorial. When you have great moments of rhetoric, it's a confluence of context, of the setting, of the imagery of the speech," he says.
According to him, 'I have a dream' is relatively short as it comes in at just over 16 minutes, and demonstrates that less is, indeed, more when it comes to effective oration.
"(Barack) Obama's recent speech on race was brilliant. But it was 45 minutes long," says Schowalter.