Speeches addressing civil rights issues are among the most famous and inspiring in American history.
From Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I have a dream” speech to President Barack Obama’s historic inaugural address as the nation’s first African-American president, speeches with a civil rights theme rightfully take their place alongside the soaring oratory of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address.
The content of civil rights speeches can be aspirational, instructive, or even incendiary, and they provide a window into the thoughts and hopes of millions of those yearning for their share of the American dream. The civil rights movement of the 20th century mainly fought for equality for African Americans — and these are the most important civil rights leaders of the last century.
As we mark the end of Black History Month, 24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of some the most important civil rights speeches in American history.
In order to compile a list of the most important civil rights speeches in American history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed source material from the Library of Congress, the African American Museum, online sites such as blackpast.org and americanradioworks.publicradio.org, and the online libraries of former presidents. In compiling this list, we considered the historical significance of the speech, if it represented a departure or shift in tone or direction for the speaker, its effectiveness in bringing about change, and if the speech stands the test of time.