A master rhetorician, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., often used repetition in his speeches to make critical points. Sometimes, he did it to involve his audience, who would often chant along on the repeaed line. One of his best-known repetitons came in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address (April 3, 1968), which made light of a near-fatal assignation attempt a decade earlier. Dr. King had been stabbed in the chest with a letter opener. Doctors had feared to remove the knife before he reached surgery because it was lodged so close to his heart: they told Dr. King afterward that if he “had sneezed” with the knife in his chest, he could have died.
Dr. King in his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop, repeated the line “If I had sneezed,” recalling that dangerous moment with dry humor.
“I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”
“Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters.”
“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.”
“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.”
“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.”
“I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.”