MLK’s Dream & How It Relates to Human Trafficking: an Analysis


“I Have a Dream…”

On the 28th August 1963 Martin Luther King Jr spoke these iconic words as part of his speech that called for an end to racism in the United States at the Lincoln Memorial. 250,000 civil rights supporters listened to this speech that was to become one of the defining moments of the American Civil Rights movement. In a single speech King verbalised the precedent that has continued in America and much of the world until today. His speech continues to inspire and inform in every subsequent generation.

Today, 52 years after MLK delivered his speech, Carys Barry takes a more in-depth look at just why it has had such an impact.

The Purpose of King’s speech

King is discussing the mistreatment and exploitation of the African American community in America. He calls for real freedom and justice as discussed in the declaration of independence.

Martin Luther King was dreaming of an end to the inequality in regards to civil rights in America on the basis of race. African Americans were still forced to use separate public utilities, schools; they were routinely discriminated against in housing and employment and were even abused and lynched by some white supremacists as well as being unable to fully exercise their basic right to vote. These social customs and laws had been fought against for years. The systemic racism could not be fully shaken, but Martin Luther King gave this speech in the context of this actually becoming a realistic possibility. He aimed to raise the public consciousness of racism and to end racial discrimination and segregation.

King’s main focus was freedom, a notion that is as powerful today as it was then. King’s speech epitomises the wish, that was mostly achieved, of an equal nation of blacks and whites.  

Why King’s speech is so iconic

King’s speech recognises the desperate situation that made the speech necessary whilst simultaneously emanating hope. That is what we need to do. We need to recognise that our societies’ attitudes facilitate and sustain human trafficking, but that there is a hope in standing up for change; for standing up for the dream that there will be a time where slavery doesn’t exist.

Staying true to the speech and what we can take from it

King has educated, inspired not just the people present during his speech but every subsequent generation since that day in 1963. His speech transcends time and even subject and the notions discussed have been used to support not only civil rights but every person’s rights and freedom the world over. It would be a disservice to what Martin Luther King was attempting to achieve to corrupt his words and twist them to apply to any and all subjects that take our fancy and not appreciate the actual message he was attempting to convey. However, King’s speech encompasses massive topics that can certainly be applied to other subject matter than civil rights without corrupting the central dreams of freedom, equality and justice.

In his speech, Martin Luther King is simply appealing to the government and to society at large to practice a commitment to the existence of “inalienable” human rights as set out by the constitution and to stay true to its belief in human freedom. Unequal racial rights is one of many chronic problems of injustice and inequality that continue to plague both America and the UK even today.

Like inequality in rights on the virtue of race there is an inequality of freedom that exists, despite it being entrenched in law that everyone has the right to freedom.

In an effort to stay true to what Martin Luther King’s speech actually says I will follow his speech drawing out, where applicable anything that can be applied to modern slavery.

How the speech relates to slavery

The theme of human trafficking can take inspiration from King’s speech as King continually links back to the issue of slavery, namely that despite slavery being eradicated legally, in reality exploitation and mistreatment continued regardless of the law. Martin Luther King begins the speech by linking his speech to Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation as the speech fell on the centurion of the emancipation which freed millions of slaves in 1863 by saying: “one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free”. And 150 years later the slave still is not free. The “joyous daybreak to end the long night of bad captivity” is only over legally. It is true that in 1863 it became illegal to own a slave, a massive step towards freedom and yet millions of people continue to be exploited illegally.

King is appalled at the fact that millions of legally-free slaves are not free in reality. This remains a truth for all individuals trafficked today. Our pride as a society for abolishing slavery legally should be in equal measure to how appalled we are to the fact that it has not only not been eradicated in reality but has in fact thrived. King speaks of freedom and that is something that we should not stop seeking until it is true for every single person globally.


Martin Luther King goes on “to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now.” We need to know that “Now is the time”. It is time to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Now is the time to make freedom a reality for everyone, not just those who are visible but for the invisible masses who are being trafficked and exploited for profit at the expense of their inalienable right to justice.  

When should we stop?

King asks the ultimate questions of “When will you be satisfied?”,ultimately what is the aim, when can we stop fighting. He answers: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality’, in a similar way in regards to human trafficking “when will you be satisfied?” is a pertinent questions that is only answered in a similar way: we can never be satisfied as long as people are the victims of the unspeakable horrors of human trafficking. Therefore we need to keep up the fight “knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” 


Martin Luther King now reaches the most famous part of his speech and discusses his dram. King repeats “I have a dream” eight times and these words resonate throughout history:

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

King, ultimately, has a dream of freedom and justice. This is a dream that should continue for us all and we should be proclaiming along with King that:

“I have a dream today!”

With this faith

King uses this dream as the driving force behind the campaign:

“With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

King’s dream gave the people listening, and people ever since, hope – it gave them an aim so that they had a manifestation of their hopes to work towards. We need “this faith”…we need the same dream of freedom and justice for all to drive our efforts. 

Let freedom ring!

Ultimately Martin Luther King is calling for freedom. He finishes with saying that we need to ‘Let freedom ring’. How can we claim to be a free world if there exists more slavery today than ever before? We are so proud of the freedom that we have created for every people in the Western world, but there exists an underbelly of slavery in our society so that Martin Luther Kings dream of being able to: “join hands and singl:

               Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Although true then for the African Americans there remains the need to push for this to be sung by all peoples through the true eradication of slavery. 

Kings call for a change in attitude to make the change in law real.

Here King is referencing the attitude towards different races in America. This mirrors the reason why trafficking exists in modern society. It exists because of the attitudes that are entrenched in our society, attitudes that facilitate the presence of slavery. An attitude that people CAN be exploited and attitudes that some people are inferior to others, for example women, that means that not only is trafficking justified to the traffickers, it is allowed to continue by others through their participation in the social acceptance of such thinking. King reminds us in this speech that despite something being legally eradicated it does not mean that it does not exist. Despite slavery being eradicated legally that does not mean that exploitation is not continuing and we need to be part of the social change that makes this exploitation an attitude of the past.

In the same way that King, on the anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, used this as a platform for his own call for change, On the anniversary of Martin Luther Kings speech and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation I have a similar dream of real freedom for all and that the abolition of slavery will not only be true in law but true in reality. This will only come from the attitude change that Martin Luther King called for in relation to civil rights at the Lincoln memorial 52 years ago. 

Why King’s speech resonates is the same reason for which slavery needs to end.

When we think back to King’s speech the reason it resonates with us so strongly is because he is fighting against something as clearly abhorrent as discrimination, segregation and unequal civil rights on the basis of skin colour. So what is our 2015 equivalent? What will be our shame that generations of the future will look back to us in 2015 and ask how could they let that happen? I believe that one day one of our equivalents will be slavery. Hopefully this discussion of the “I have a dream” speech that has inspired so many generations will inspire you to stand up for what you dream. If that dream is that slavery will not only be abolished but eradicated there are lot’s of ways that this dream can become a reality. Through educating yourself and others about the signs of trafficking you can help to rescue those who have been trafficked. We also have to help to change the attitude of society where exploitation is accepted and therefore facilitates the existence of trafficking.


Martin Luther King’s dream will live in history and will continue to inspire and educate generation after generation. I hope that we continue to use his speech as inspiration to continue to fight for the equal rights of men no matter the race and to fight for other issues relating to freedom, justice and rights like slavery. In this way Martin Luther King’s dream that all people will have equal rights, justice and freedom can become a reality. Today I have been inspired by Martin Luther King to continue to fight for a real end to slavery rather than just a legal abolition of slavery.

“We can never be satisfied”, until we are all “free at last”. “Now is the time”!