Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King' Day and His Dream

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Yesterday's New York Time's Book Review focused on tomorrow's inauguration and the new Obama administration. Among the reviews was one by Anthony Lewis - "A New National Scripture" - of the book King's Dream by Eric Sundquist, a professor of literature at UCLA. Per Lewis, Professor Sundquist's book "analyzes the origins and meanings of Martin Luther King's famous ["I have a dream"] speech," given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, as part of the March on Washington events.

I watched Dr. King's speech again on YouTube this morning, and the full text can be found at this website.

No matter how many times I hear the speech, it never fails to inspire. This was especially the case this morning, only a day after we watched yesterday's pre-inauguration concert set on the very same steps from which Dr. King delivered his speech (although there was probably a temperature difference of 60 or 70 degrees between the two events!). I have not yet read Professor Sundquist's book but learned from Lewis' review that roughly the last third of the speech -- the part that contains the famous "I have a dream" portions -- was extemporized by Dr. King on the spot that day. If you watch the clip you will see that Dr. King's speech is interrupted by applause just after the 12:00 mark - just after the following portion:

"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair."

Prior to that point of the speech Dr. King had been following a text he had prepared -- you can see earlier in the clip that he looks down at his notes (in the days before teleprompters) from time to time. However, after his pause to allow the applause to die down, he delivers the following and never looks down again for the balance of the speech:

"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...."

Truly remarkable. Thank you again Dr. King.

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