The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Have a Dream

Hadley Jennings
"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustration of the moments, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live ou the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created eaual.'" --Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream.
As we all know, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. represented all African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement and he gave many influential speeches including the I Have a Dream speech as shown in this picture.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bared the weight of many African Americans on his shoulders. He stood for the race and was an iconic image to the race. The fact that Dr. King represented a classification of people makes any photograph of him a metonymy especially this photograph. In the words of Hariman and Lecaites, a metonymy is a “reduction of a more general construct (such as “class”) to specific embodiment.”  This photograph represents all the African Americans in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement and the I Have a Dream speech was the extra hope they needed to overcome the inequality they faced. Dr. King embraced his race and overcame the many obstacles to get equal rights for his race.
Dr. King implied a “specific direction for collective action”, a phrase that Hariman and Lecaites used to describe a metonymy on page 89 in the book No Caption Needed, everywhere he went.  Dr. King had a specific goal and direction in mind at all times and he outwardly expressed his direction and view: equal rights for African Americans. He became a model by which to live. He never used blunt force against the government or white race, but he was persistent and did what he said he was going to do. He became a model for all African Americans at that time because he showed respect to the people who hated him most: white Americans. African Americans modeled themselves after the character and motive that Dr. King had. This photograph also is a metonymy in other ways than the fact that the iconic image of Dr. King is in it.
When a viewer looks at this photograph they see Dr. King in the front of the photograph, but it is what stands in the back of the photograph that really defines Dr. King in general: a population of African Americans. This large population of primarily African American and some white Americans is who Dr. King represented. This setting of the photograph is also very significant. It is in Washington, D.C. the capitol of the United States. Any African American picking up a newspaper in the days following the I Have a Dream speech would feel pride in their race, encouragement that things will get better than they are right now, and they would feel a sense of identity. The sense of identity comes from the heart and soul of African Americans. They have worked hard lives and have a lot of sorrow and pain in their lives. To see Dr. King boldly speaking of his dream for the race, the African American viewer would hypothetically put themselves in Dr. King’s shoes. They wonder what if that was me? Would I be able to stand up like he did? How can I stand up and make a change like Dr. King? This photograph draws collective purpose just as the Migrant Mother photograph did during the Great Depression. This image would make an African American want to be a better individual and a better representation of their race.
This better representation of their race would encourage the African American people and make them feel happy and proud to call this man of great stature a part of their race. In my mind this image is an iconic image and a metonymy. This photograph follows the lines Hariman and Lecaites drew in the text, which leads me to come to my conclusion. Hariman and Lecaites describe a metonymy and an icon as, “A visual convention for managing powerful tensions between individual liberty and collective obligation.” (pg 89, par 3). This image of Dr. King giving the I Have a Dream speech describes just that. The African American people had tremendous struggle for their individual liberties and freedoms, but it was only by collective action that the freedom was granted to them. The specific collective action I am referring to is meeting together with thousands of African Americans, with one purpose, in one iconic place, with one iconic image-the I Have a Dream speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.

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