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January 15, 2006 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Why we have a Martin Luther King Day. What an amazing speech. [Coral cache][via]
posted by Malor (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I know this is a one-link wonder, but... it feels like it's enough by itself. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I was never exposed to this as a youth... this is the first time I've ever heard this speech.
posted by Malor at 6:04 PM on January 15, 2006


We're still fighting, that's why.
posted by Kwanzaar at 6:13 PM on January 15, 2006


This is the last great American speech. In the 19th century most successful American politicians were great speechmakers. Even in the first decades of the 20th, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt could deliver magnificent speeches. Sometime before the second world war the talent left us, unfortunately, hanging on for just another generation in the black churches.

I have no idea why this is, but there is not a person in the country today who can hold a candle to King.
posted by LarryC at 6:17 PM on January 15, 2006


Slow link (might be getting hammered).

Another copy.
posted by Mikey-San at 6:17 PM on January 15, 2006


we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt...
posted by R. Mutt at 6:17 PM on January 15, 2006


Sometime before the second world war the talent left us, unfortunately, hanging on for just another generation in the black churches.

Yeah, yeah. Everything was better in the olden days, Gramps. Google "a date which will live in infamy," "books are weapons in this war" or "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

That said, Dr. King is my second-favorite American. He might be number one if he were white.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:29 PM on January 15, 2006


.
posted by killdevil at 6:30 PM on January 15, 2006


The Coral Cache link, cleverly disguised with <small> tags, is still running fast for me. If the main link is slow, the mirror should be fine.
posted by Malor at 6:35 PM on January 15, 2006


That said, Dr. King is my second-favorite American. He might be number one if he were white.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:29 PM PST on January 15


Jews count as white in your book?
posted by stirfry at 6:38 PM on January 15, 2006


This is the last great American speech. In the 19th century most successful American politicians were great speechmakers. Even in the first decades of the 20th, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt could deliver magnificent speeches. Sometime before the second world war the talent left us, unfortunately, hanging on for just another generation in the black churches

This seems true, and why is this? Only several hundred people were present for Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address but it is remembered because it is pithy and profound. Jack Kennedy's "Ich bien ein Berliner" speech is remembered only because he said "Ich bien ein Berliner". (sp.?)

Dick Nixon's "Checkers speech" was broadcast nationally and it is remembered only for the man's whining self-pity, and All I remember about Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech is wanting to wipe the spit off of his lower lip.

I guess the days of the stemwinder really are over.
posted by longsleeves at 6:41 PM on January 15, 2006


.
posted by Rothko at 6:47 PM on January 15, 2006


Curley, I've gotta take the bait - who's your favorite American?
posted by jonson at 6:59 PM on January 15, 2006


Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
-- from MLK's "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
posted by orthogonality at 7:07 PM on January 15, 2006


Oh, there are ringing phrases still, like those Mayor Curley cites. But the speeches they came from are not as memorable. FDRs inaugural address is pretty good, but not great. Here is FDRs radio address to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor, all 200 or so words.

Compare these to the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or Daniel Webster, or William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech. Then compare Lincoln to FDR to, say, Clinton, the best orator of our recent presidents. I don't see how you deny the downward trend.

This doesn't mean the nation is going to hell or anything, just that we value public speaking far less than we once did.
posted by LarryC at 7:09 PM on January 15, 2006


In trying to think of any really moving speech I've seen/heard in my lifetime (born in '73), the only one that comes to mind is Reagan's address the night of the Challenger explosion. Of course, the most memorable part was the quote from a poem (which Google tells me is by John Gillespie Magee), but I still remember the speech as very well delivered and properly uplifting. I was really hoping that 9/11 would produce an epic speech from W, but I wasn't impressed. (I had to Google it to remember even a single line.)

As for why we don't get speeches as memorable as King's, Lincoln's, etc., I wonder if it's not another example of the fragmentation of our experiences. Ah, I was about to try and explain that concept, but no one needs an epic Banky speech. ;)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 7:13 PM on January 15, 2006


Remember when you were a kid and you'd argue with your friends over which ballplayer might break Maris's record, or Aaron's record, or DiMaggio's?

I don't know if Dr. King can ever be surpassed, but if I had to pick an individual most likely to take his place among the greats in the hall of fame of rhetoric, I'd pick this guy.
posted by edverb at 7:26 PM on January 15, 2006


This white Southerner is proud to live in Dr. King's city, ashamed of the differences that still separate us (and not just whites and blacks either), and full of hope that I'll live to see his dream realized.
posted by socratic at 7:30 PM on January 15, 2006


LarryC's point is very good. I wouldn't even chalk it up to complicated theories about the modern world; I think we can look straight to two influences that are now mostly lacking in formal education.

1. Instruction in rhetoric, and
2. Sermonizing

Rhetoric used to be included in school curricula, both as part of the art of composition and as performance. Until the 30s/40s, daily recitation was common. You memorized a great speech, poem, play excerpt, and then recited it for the school audience. You were graded on standards like elocution, feeling, vocal projection, etc.

As to #2, I'm being a little disingenous. It wasn't just sermons that made people great speakers. People in the world before TV lived in a much richer oral culture than we do today. Hearing people talk was a form of entertainment debates, lecture circuits, lyceum programs, election speeches given in person, Fourth of July proclamations, etc. You grew up in a world in which you were exposed to public speaking all the time. Not all of it was good, but much was, and some of the best examples obviously survived. When movies and TV came along, the oral culture started to change to a visual/image culture, and public speaking declined in both frequency and importance.

So people don't get the training they once did, and they don't see as many good examples of speech as they used to.
posted by Miko at 7:44 PM on January 15, 2006


I was never exposed to this as a youth... this is the first time I've ever heard this speech.
posted by Malor at 9:04 PM EST on January 15 [!]


I am hoping that you did not grow up in the United States, as if you did your school failed you.

This is one of the most important and moving speeches in our country's history, and we actually get to hear its very compelling delivery.

Thanks for the post Malor.
posted by caddis at 7:48 PM on January 15, 2006


It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

a really remarkably undernoted line in the speech. such a very important concept, and one which still holds true today.
posted by shmegegge at 7:51 PM on January 15, 2006


ashamed of the differences that still separate us

Socratic, you reminded me of some of King's other words. He often cautioned his audiences that there would be moments when his dream appeared absolutely impossible. He knew how entrenched the ideas he was fighting were. So he carefully reminded all of us not to ever become distracted or defeated by the slowness of change. To King, "Civil Rights" encompassed, but was also larger than, the issue of equality for black and white. Civil Rights, to him, meant the whole dream. Fairness for all, an end to poverty, just governance.

He said:

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil-rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

So let's be audacious.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on January 15, 2006


Miko: I have faith. "With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

Yes.

But it still hurts that we can't trust each other. Still, it gives us something to work on.
posted by socratic at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2006


"And the other thing is, I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. (Thats right) And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. (Yes) Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. (That's right) Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. (All right, Thats right) Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that."

"Where Do We Go From Here?" Annual Report Delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, August 16, 1967, Atlanta, Georgia.
posted by ontic at 8:01 PM on January 15, 2006


That said, Dr. King is my second-favorite American. He might be number one if he were white.

WTF ?
posted by R. Mutt at 8:36 PM on January 15, 2006


caddis, I grew up in a liberal part of California with good schools, and I never heard that speech. I heard it referred to probably thousands of times, but never the speech itself.

I think part of it was that I was growing up while this was still very controversial. It's probably in the school curricula *now*, but it wouldn't surprise me if it didn't get there until sometime in the 90s.

And of course, it's my own fault for not looking it up myself sooner. It just didn't occur to me until 3quarksdaily posted it today. Reading it fresh, and then hearing it, was a very powerful experience, and I wanted to share, in case others had missed it the same way.

It strikes a chord with me, because we're starting the whole thing over again with the Arab/Muslim world; somehow, they're not worthy of rights. Somehow, we're forgetting AGAIN that all humans are created equal.

And it's especially galling, when you look to see how hard MLK fought for freedom for himself and his people (OUR people, dammit), that just forty years later, we're happily putting the handcuffs on. We gladly -- gladly -- give up our freedoms to those who are lying to us, whose only real motivation is profit for themselves and their cronies.

A great man made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom just one generation ago, and we have forgotten.
posted by Malor at 8:54 PM on January 15, 2006


I'm more of a Malcom X fan.
posted by j-urb at 8:54 PM on January 15, 2006


Everyone should bootleg "Eyes on the Prize" and watch it. Check your local P2P network or contact me.
posted by anthill at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2006


That said, Dr. King is my second-favorite American. He might be number one if he were white.

WTF ?


For fuck's sake I was joking. Or I'm a nazi. Frankly, I don't care which explanation you choose because you have Down's.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2006


Thank you for the post. I had never heard this in its entirety and took my time this morning to listen to it.
posted by keijo at 9:11 PM on January 15, 2006


17 minutes well worth it, thank you!
posted by nostrada at 9:19 PM on January 15, 2006


Besides this particular speech, I'm also very interested in King's less-discussed later writings regarding economic justice and the "Poor People's Movement."

The language in the original post though, made me think why do we have this as a federal holiday? Are there other holidays around the world that celebrate a social leader? No offense, but, after all, we are celebrating his birthday and not the independence day of a wonderful new country or the anniversary of the day he rose from the dead to create a new religion.
posted by tublecain at 9:44 PM on January 15, 2006


"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated.
posted by Jikido at 9:51 PM on January 15, 2006


I memorized this speech as a schoolkid for a contest, and it always stayed with me.

Another man who could make a speech: Adlai Stevenson.
posted by QuietDesperation at 9:52 PM on January 15, 2006


video, from a documentary of sorts, but most of the speech is there - the footage goes back and forth between King and shots of the marchers.

I have to say, I listened to the speech about 20 minutes before I watched it, so my expectations for watching it weren't so high - but it's pretty amazing. Well worth a looksee.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:25 PM on January 15, 2006


That said, Dr. King is my second-favorite American. He might be number one if he were white.

WTF ?

For fuck's sake I was joking. Or I'm a nazi. Frankly, I don't care which explanation you choose because you have Down's.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:11 PM PST on January 15 [!]


I was guessing that it was because if he were white he would have ascended to power, or something like that. Nevermind though, it looks like you were just trolling.
posted by blasdelf at 10:33 PM on January 15, 2006


tublecain, definitely—the world is full of holidays named after 20th century people, some of which I bet are actually observed in the way federal holidays in the USA are.
posted by Firas at 11:44 PM on January 15, 2006


I'm more of a Malcom X fan.

Even if you don't take to his message, his rhetoric was a fine, fine thing.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:18 AM on January 16, 2006


We are still segregated.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:59 AM on January 16, 2006


I Have a Dream, remixed
posted by jessamyn at 5:00 AM on January 16, 2006



"A band of brothers and sisters in a circle of trust"
posted by matteo at 6:26 AM on January 16, 2006


Hail to the King, baby.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2006


The difference between Dr King and others: his speeches contained zero hate in his message.
posted by tomplus2 at 9:42 AM on January 16, 2006


It's probably in the school curricula *now*, but it wouldn't surprise me if it didn't get there until sometime in the 90s.

You know, I still think this is weird. I heard this speech in Grade 4, when we did a school play on MLK. This was, um, 1978. I remember it really vividly: Each kid a few lines of the biography to read, telling King's life story from birth to death to legacy. I remember being disappointed because I got the shortest line.

But looking back, I realize what a great honor it was. My line was: "On April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was shot and killed by an assassin."

I still remember it.

Anyway: I went to a school on the semi-urban East Coast that was about 50% black, 50% white. Perhaps because it was pretty well integrated, I was exposed to more black history and heritage than many Americans my age. I am always coming across oddities that result from this fairly well rounded education, like being surprised to find that most other white people don't know all the words the words to "Lift Every Voice and Sing", whereas at my school we learned it right along with "America the Beautiful".

The difference between Malor's school and mine is sad in itself. And kids today are still growing up in America hearing vastly different messages about race and ethnicity, depending on where they live. Our very system of education is another crime of inequality that I'm sure King would've spent more time on, had he lived.
posted by Miko at 10:01 AM on January 16, 2006


Tacking on a link to an NPR story about "Lift Every Voice." I love this song; musically and lyrically alone, it's a much better song than our actual national anthem.
posted by Miko at 10:14 AM on January 16, 2006


I've read it and heard it a number of times. Still gives me goosebumps.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:47 AM on January 16, 2006


Thinking that my friend Martin Luther King might turn over in his grave if he knew the holiday in his name was becoming just another day of shopping, TV, and relaxation, in 1994 I went to one of Martin's comrade-in-arms, Congressman John Lewis. "How do we make it a day on, not a day off?" I asked.

"King's Disappointment", by Harris Wofford.


See also:


"God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war". "
MLK, Patriot Prophet", by Michael Eric Dyson.
posted by matteo at 12:22 PM on January 16, 2006


From his January 1965 Playboy interview [NSFW] with Alex Haley:
If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn't function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.
In the same interview, he describes how segregation affected his daughter Yolanda:
She was only six at that time, but she was already aware of segregation because of an experience that we had had.

PLAYBOY: Would you mind telling us about it?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: Not at all. The family often used to ride with me to the Atlanta airport, and on our way, we always passed Funtown, a sort of miniature Disneyland with mechanical rides and that sort of thing. Yolanda would inevitably say, "I want to go to Funtown," and I would always evade a direct reply. I really didn't know how to explain to her why she couldn't go. Then one day at home, she ran downstairs exclaiming that a TV commercial was urging people to come to Funtown. Then my wife and I had to sit down with her between us and try to explain it. I have won some applause as a speaker, but my tongue twisted and my speech stammered seeking to explain to my six-year-old daughter why the public invitation on television didn't include her, and others like her. One of the most painful experiences I have ever faced was to see her tears when I told her that Funtown was closed to colored children, for I realized that at that moment the first dark cloud of inferiority had floated into her little mental sky, that at that moment her personality had begun to warp with that first unconscious bitterness toward white people. It was the first time that prejudice based upon skin color had been explained to her. But it was of paramount importance to me that she not grow up bitter. So I told her that although many white people were against her going to Funtown, there were many others who did want colored children to go. It helped somewhat. Pleasantly, word came to me later that Funtown had quietly desegregated, so I took Yolanda. A number of white persons there asked, "Aren't you Dr. King, and isn't this your daughter?" I said we were, and she heard them say how glad they were to see us there.
Try to ignore the giant floating boobies; Playboy could really use a print version.

He made a brief reference to Funtown in his April 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was written in response to a group of clergymen who had written an open letter to him criticizing sit-ins, calling them "unwise and untimely." King was arrested during protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He started his draft of the letter in jail on the margins of the newspaper the clergymen's letter appeared in. Recordings [Real audio] of King reading the letter.

Funtown had long been abandoned by 2002, when a group of volunteers built small huts on the site for homeless people.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2006


Kiraracha, that's a great, great post... better than many FPP's. I'm going to flag it Fantastic.

I'm sorry I didn't see it before, I thought the conversation had already died down in here.
posted by Malor at 10:53 PM on January 20, 2006


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