Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King.
I am prepared to die, Nelson Mandela
One of the most memorable speeches in modern history comes from Nelson Mandela, the man who fought tirelessly against South African apartheid. His revolutionary work, however, had him wrongfully arrested in 1962 on charges of treason and for inciting the public to strike against the government. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison but delivered this great speech during his trial.
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Quit India, Mahatma Gandhi
Suppressed under British rule for almost a century, the Quit India movement and Mahatma Gandhi’s subsequent speech prompted the Indian people to fight for their freedom. Given in August 1942, Gandhi called for a passive but determined resistance in order to achieve complete independence from British rule. Gandhi’s dreams were eventually actualized five years later: India finally received its independence on August 15th, 1947.
“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master.”
I have a dream, Martin Luther King
Delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington in 1963, this iconic speech marked a watershed in the struggle for equality raging in America. Interestingly enough, Martin Luther King actually ad-libbed the famous four lines that remain etched in oration history.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, 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 out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
Delivered by Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, the Gettysburg Address is arguably the most famous speech in American history. Though the original wording is unknown, the short speech – given during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – encapsulated the very things that define America as a nation.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Hope Speech, Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to California public office before being shot down and killed by a city supervisor. During his political career and gay rights activism, he was particularly renowned for his rousing “Hope Speeches” that encouraged equality and envisioned a hopeful future for all citizens. His last hope speech is considered the best.
“Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s; without hope the us’s give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.”