There’s been a lot of talk in our house about the “I Have a Dream” speech. In honor of Dr. King’s birthday, Girl Child’s social studies teacher assigned students to copy the text — all 17 minutes worth — but no one was feeling spirited about it. I, of course, was thrilled because not only is MLK one of the greatest intellectuals and humanitarians, but that is one of the most rousing speeches ever delivered.
But unless you have a conscientious social prodigy on your hands, it’s mission impossible to get kids to even pretend to be interested in it. Quiet as its kept until Monday morning, we’re going on over to the brand new King memorial here in D.C. to hear the reading of the speech. Maybe if I wow her with these fun facts about “I Have a Dream” beforehand, she’ll be more into it. But she’s 13, so I doubt it. Still, I’ll share, in case you have better luck with your children.
1. It was the highlight of the March on Washington.
Thousands had gathered in D.C. to participate in the historic protest that started at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial. The speech was watched by between 200,000–300,000 people — numbers differ depending on who’s telling the story — and millions more viewed it live from home. It was the largest march of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s speech was the defining moment.
2. He drew from an olla podrida of inspirations.
If you pay attention, you can catch references to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, even Shakespeare. And of course, there were plenty of references to Biblical scripture. After all, he was a minister.
3. He remixed the original version on the spot.
Standing in front of almost a quarter million people might not seem like the time to revise what you planned to say. Dr. King had a speech all written and ready for that day, but he started ad libbing toward the end when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” He scrapped the papers and went into what he knew best — preaching — and accented his sentences with “I have a dream.” But those words were never part of his original speech. He winged it on the spot.
4. He procrastinated. Just a little bit.
When a guy’s trying to rid a nation of inequality, social perversion, and injustice, it kind of cuts into his speechwriting time. Dr. King was so busy organizing the march that 12 hours before he was scheduled to stand in front of the masses at the Lincoln Memorial, he didn’t even know what he was going to talk about, much less have anything written.
5. It’s the greatest of all time.
“I Have a Dream” has been ranked the top speech of the 20th century and hasn’t budged from that spot since he delivered it on August 28, 1963. Its influence and impact also led to Dr. King becoming the youngest recipient — and the second black winner — of the Nobel Peace Prize one year later.
6. He’s still standing on that historic spot.
The brand new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial — which is so appropriately peace-filled and beautiful, if you haven’t seen it yet — was completed in October 2011 and has been designed so that the statue of Dr. King looks directly at the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech.
It may take some coaxing and bribing — or threatening — to get them to sit through it, but I think the speech is something all kids need to see. It’s so impassioned and heartfelt, but poignant and relevant to the times, that even they can find something in it to connect with and, hopefully, commit to memory.
What, if anything, have you taught your kids about Dr. King? What have they learned in school?
Image via runneralan2004/Flickr