Having taught speech communication at the University of Georgia as a young Ph.D. in that academic field, and having later served as a speech coach for decades, I welcome the widespread celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given 50 years ago on Wednesday, Aug. 28.
One major reason for the speech’s lasting impact: King’s life was consistent with his rhetoric. He did what he encouraged others to do. Surrounded by threats, bullied by hecklers and racist law officers, he endured arrest, followed Gandhi’s example of nonviolence, and ultimately gave his life in the advancement of civil rights.
Second, the speech still resonates because of King’s vivid illustrations. We “have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” he said. Yet the nation’s response to promises of justice was marked “insufficient funds.” Even so, he said, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”
Third, Dr. King used catchy, attention-riveting words, such as noting that Negroes were stranded on “a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Fourth, King spoke with stirring emotion, which emerged naturally from his genuinely intense belief in his message. In the magic of the moment, he departed from his prepared text to speak directly from his heart.
Fifth, he sustained magnetism because his theme was consistent. He allowed no room for partial, delayed solutions to segregation. Compromise was not in his vocabulary as a leader.
Yes, because King lived the message he spoke, used vivid illustrations, coined creative words and phrases, spoke with obviously genuine emotion, and stuck to a consistent, unwavering theme, commemorating the anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech is more than justifiable — it is morally imperative.