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Monday, August 26, 2013

MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech Springs From Early Work

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 1963. (AP)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addresses marchers during his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 1963. (AP)

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pre-1963 manuscripts, notebooks, sermons, letters and other materials are archived at Boston University, where King studied in the 1950s.

Those who are familiar with the archive say you can see the themes King outlined in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in some of this material.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the speech, Here & Now’s Alex Ashlock paid a visit to the archives.




It's HERE AND NOW. This week, the nation is marking the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech there.


THE REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.


HOBSON: The anniversary has particular resonance at Boston University because King was a student there in the 1950s. He earned a Ph.D. in theology from B.U. in 1955. And the school's library still maintains an archive of his early papers, some of which predate the "I Have a Dream" speech. HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock reports.

ALEX ASHLOCK, BYLINE: If you visit the archives, you can see photos, read speeches and sermons, and of course hear Martin Luther King's voice. Here he is about a year after the march on Washington announcing he's donating his papers to Boston University.


KING: Well, I've chosen Boston University for several reasons. I had the privilege of studying here for three years, and it was this university that meant so much to me in terms of the formulation of my thinking and the ideas that have guided my life.

ASHLOCK: The material King donated to B.U. predates the march on Washington. It includes manuscripts, notebooks and King's correspondence with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy and many others. You can also see how he did in the classroom.

VITA PALADINO: If you look on his report card, he got a C in logic, so he wasn't being logical telling black people just walk peacefully in front of these whites.

ASHLOCK: Vita Paladino is director of the Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, where that report card and the other King documents are on display. Dr. King was 35 when he donated his papers to Boston University. At the press conference on September 11, 1964, a reporter asked whether it was a little too early in his life to be putting his personal papers into a library.


KING: No, I don't think so because of the number of papers that I have. They come, letters come in by the hundreds every day, and I think it's necessary to get these things deposited somewhere so that they will not be destroyed. And there are many ways that they could be destroyed if they are not in the right place.

ASHLOCK: Among the documents in the archive is a sermon Dr. King first delivered in 1959. It's called "Shattered Dreams," and it touches on themes he would return to many times over the years.


KING: So many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don't finish them. Because life is like Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony." At so many points we start, we try, we set out to build our various temples. And I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.

ASHLOCK: Dr. Walter Fluker is the Martin Luther King Professor of Ethical Leadership at Boston University's School of Theology. He says that early sermon planted the seeds that bloom in the "I Have a Dream" speech.

DR. WALTER FLUKER: Before he's the great humanitarian, he's a black Baptist preacher. And what you hear at the march on Washington is not simply a great orator. There were other great orators there that day. You heard an individual who left the text and went off into a glorious, fluid movement of oratory.


KING: So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. 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.


ASHLOCK: Professor Fluker says those words should be remembered and the message is still relevant 50 years later.

FLUKER: It may be a tad provocative, but isn't it ironic that on this 50th anniversary of the march on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech that we see these incredible challenges to civil rights, the practical gutting of the Voting Rights Act, pushback on affirmative action and the incredulous judgment around Trayvon Martin. And we go to Washington in 2013 to remember "I Have a Dream." I think it's a great time to redream the dream.


KING: So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

HOBSON: Dr. Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington. Our story was produced by HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock.


HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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