Monday, January 15, 2007
"I Have A Dream" :
Hearing Martin Luther King for the First Time
Twentieth Century America heard its share of Great Speeches. From Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fear Itself” inaugural to John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to “Ask Not”, there is much to hear, and to drink in.
But Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech surpasses them all. Rather than a great Twentieth Century Document, Dr. King’s speech is part of the American Testament- it stands with Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
It reminds us of what this country stands for, at our very core, and what we hope to show the world.
But there is one thing which is unique about King’s Dream speech. Unlike Jefferson’s written document, or Lincoln’s address, Martin Luther King’s speech was recorded…it is possible to hear it again today in his own words.
FDR’s voice and speeches remain to us as well, but there is a difference. Because of the quality of the recording equipment, one important character has been left out of the 1930s audio. We hear the President's words, but the immediate and visceral reaction of the listeners has been lost to history.
The Dream speech is different. 1960s recording technology allows us to experience this speech as all speeches are meant to be experienced: as a dialogue between speaker and listener. As we play back the recording of King's address, it is possible to hear the audience murmur in pleased surprise, to feel their breath catch in their throats as they realize that King is adding an immortal page to the book of the American Soul.
The ability to listen with the rest of the audience makes this speach unique. And, when time is devoted to careful listening, that ability, to hear Martin Luther King again for the first time, makes it one of the most emotional patriotic experiences possible.
Size limits prevent me from posting the entire speech, but here is the peroration. If you stumble across this page today, I hope you’ll take five minutes to listen, and a few more to reflect.