Monday, January 19, 2009

the true meaning of its creed

[Lincoln's Memorial is] but a hollow mockery, a symbol of hypocrisy, unless we can make real in our national life, in every state and every section, the things for which he died.

One of the passages excised from the remarks of Robert Russa Moton, President of the Tuskegee Institution, by the sponsors of the 1922 Lincoln Memorial dedication event, when he spoke at the dedication ceremony of the monument. As reported by Anthony Lewis in his review of Eric J. Sundquist's book King's Dream in the New York Times Book Review.

Also reported in the New York Times piece: Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech? He ad libbed the dream part. Anthony Lewis writes:

A remarkable fact of which I was unaware is that the last third of the speech — the part about the dream — was extemporized by King. He had a text, completed the night before. But as he was addressing the crowd, protesting the indignities and brutalities suffered by blacks, he put the prepared speech aside, paused for a moment and then introduced an entirely new theme.

“I still have a dream,” he said. “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.’ ”

With that quotation from the Declaration of Independence, King made clear that his vision of the future for black Americans was for them to be part of the larger society, not embittered opponents of it. He reiterated the point a few minutes later. Faith in his dream, he said, will bring a day “when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.’ ”

Why did King abandon his written text that day at the Memorial? It may be, Sund­quist suggests, that despite shouts of approval he felt he had not really connected with the audience. His wife, Coretta Scott King, thought the words “flowed from some higher place.” In any event, the result was for the ages.

“Speaking suddenly from the heart,” Sundquist writes, “he delivered a speech elegantly structured, commanding in tone, and altogether more profound than anything heard on American soil in nearly a century. In the midst of speaking, King rewrote his speech and created a new national scripture.”

Video: Martin Luther King, Jr, I Have a Dream

1 comment:

mrtn said...

Thank you! Was just about to sit down to write about improvising speeches.

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