Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rev. M. L. King's "I Have a Dream" speech: 50 years ago

Contemplating the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s immortal "I Have a Dream" speech, given to such galvanizing effect on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I was happy to find that we have two relevant items that suitably honor this great man and martyr for justice. 
The first is At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965–68, the last title in Taylor Branch's award-winning trilogy devoted to the civil rights leader. As Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times:
Selma, in many respects the high-water mark of the civil rights movement, stands as the narrative anchor of "At Canaan's Edge," the third and final volume of Taylor Branch's monumental history of the life and times of King. As familiar as the epochal Selma showdown may be to readers, it is recounted here with enormous dramatic verve - and a keen understanding of both its historic significance and the ways in which so much that occurred in America in the ensuing years "would be a consequence of, or reaction to" it…. What "Canaan's Edge" makes indelibly clear is the daunting burdens of leadership cast upon King's shoulders. Mr. Branch not only shows King's inspirational and managerial skills in dealing with the Selma crisis ... but he also shows the continuing, day-by-day balancing act that King continually had to perform: trying to reconcile the demands of grass-roots groups with larger, national agendas; trying to mediate between more radical figures like Stokely Carmichael and more conservative ones like Roy Wilkins; trying to work with the federal government on the War on Poverty while protesting that same government's prosecution of the war in Vietnam; trying to continue to promote his faith in nonviolence in the face of growing militancy on the part of a younger generation.
That King was a humanitarian, man of conscience, and advocate for world peace is amply demonstrated in the documentary King: Man of Peace in a Time of War. One segment shows him in a rare and candid TV interview, speaking from the heart about race relations, patriotism, justice, and Vietnam. It's a beautiful example of civilized, respectful political discourse. Also included is footage of the "I Have a Dream"  speech (a moral, inspirational, and rhetorical masterpiece that never ceases to amaze), along with seldom-seen interviews from the days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Other countries are marking the anniversary of King's 1963 speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as well. Britain's Radio 4 is broadcasting a reenactment at 2:30 pm (their time?) on the BBC World Service. The Guardian reported as follows:
The speech will be recreated in its entirety using audio of King's original delivery, interwoven with lines recorded by figures associated with human rights campaigning including Doreen Lawrence, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for going to school, and Nelson Mandela's granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela..... The recording will feature contributions from US congressman John Lewis, who also addressed the Washington crowd on 28 August 1963; singer-songwriter Joan Baez, another leading figure in the American civil rights movement, and writer Maya Angelou, a co-ordinator for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Other contributors will include the Dalai Lama; Nobel laureates John Hume, Shirin Ebadi, Muhammad Yunus and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights and first female president of Ireland; Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean-American writer and human rights campaigner; Wei Jingsheng, the Chinese democracy campaigner; Indian peace activist Satish Kumar; and Maestro Abreu of the Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar.
Further reading: Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy; The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert That Awakened America; Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation; Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall. Supreme Court Justice Marshall (right) struggled tirelessly to combat racism, discrimination, and segregation during his tenure with the NAACP.


  1. The struggle for human rights never ends--neither does the problem of how far to go to attain them where they are denied. Is a violation of human rights in Syria reason to commence the ultimate denial of human rights--war? Are we confident in our ability to punish only those who deserve it?

    The ghost of Dr. King is a voice for nonviolent protest and patience, because he believed that justice was inevitable, though the struggle prolonged. It is good to hear that voice today.

  2. It's amazing to think that King made that speech 50 years ago today. In the face of struggle and oppression he stood up and spoke so eloquently.

    I highly recommend the book Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy.

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