Origins of the DreamHughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

Origins of the DreamHughes's Poetry and King's Rhetoric

W. Jason Miller

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780813060446

Publisher: University Press of Florida

Abstract

Since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, some scholars have privately suspected that King’s “dream” was connected to Langston Hughes’s poetry. Drawing on archival materials, including notes, correspondence, and marginalia, W. Jason Miller provides a completely original and compelling argument that Hughes’s influence on King’s rhetoric was, in fact, evident in more than just the one famous speech. King’s staff had been wiretapped by J. Edgar Hoover and suffered accusations of communist influence, so quoting or naming the leader of the Harlem Renaissance—who had his own reputation as a communist—would only have intensified the threats against the civil rights activist. Thus, the link was purposefully veiled through careful allusions in King’s orations. In Origins of the Dream, Miller lifts that veil and shows how Hughes’s revolutionary poetry inflected King’s voice. He contends that by employing Hughes’s metaphors in his speeches, King negotiated a political climate that sought to silence the poet’s subversive voice. By separating Hughes’s identity from his poems, King helped the nation unconsciously embrace the incendiary ideas behind his poetry.