I Have A Dream – The Entire Speech

Martin Luther King - LPI’ve written posts here before about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he and his life and work meant so much directly to my parents and indirectly to me as I was not quite eight years old when he was assassinated. I’ve studied him at length over the years and I’ve grown to admire him greatly.

I recall that a few weeks after Dr. King’s murder, my parents bought the album that you see pictured here, which included Dr. King and many other speakers from the day, including Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis. The liner notes by the way, were written by the great jazz writer and 1st amendment advocate Nat Hentoff.

That album was on heavy rotation in my home for at least a year, maybe more. In that time I became extremely familiar with Dr. King’s words from that day and the majesty of his oratory. In addition, I was exposed to the stentorian tones  of Mr. Randolph and the youthful passion of Mr. Lewis both of which have stuck with me to this day.

As I got older and did a little acting, I was asked on many occasions to recreate Dr. King’s word from that day in 1963. As I took on the daunting task of memorizing the entire 16 minute plus speech, the words grew in meaning for me exponentially. I always felt that the public was cheated each year during January and February when television would truncate everything down to the words “I have a dream” and “Free at last, Free at last…”. To me it was if you had reduced the entire Holy Bible to “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).

In most cases, I was asked in performance to “skip to the good part”, beginning with “I say to you today my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…”. (This is the first mention of the immortal words, which occurs about 11 minutes in, when King decided to abandon his prepared text and decided to “preach”, using words he first had used in a speech in Detroit two months earlier.)   As a performer,  I understood why folks asked me to do this. There’s still a little over five minutes left in the speech and all of it is highly memorable.

But it was still frustrating as even five minutes was too much for some. I remember the youth pastor of a church that I was attending, begging me to come out to Jones Beach one Sunday evening to deliver “the good part” at a summertime concert. He asked me to come in full suit and tie, which made me feel ridiculous while everyone else, this pastor included, was in t-shirt and shorts. He then took a few minutes to apologize to the audience before I came on, because I was going to deliver “the whole speech” as he called this 5 minute segment and he then begged them not to leave while I performed.

Having been set up for failure, I nevertheless went on, in spite of being now mocked by some drunks who felt empowered by this man’s apology. The final insult came when this youth pastor returned as I finish to literally hold me in place on the stage while he told people “you see, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” While a loud, bad Christian rock band played behind us and he screamed about “Freedom” and “Brotherhood”, while hoisting my hand in the air with his. I’d never been a theatrical hostage before. It was a new experience. And I left feeling totally used and extremely angry.

Anyway I told that story because I had to finally get it off my chest after twenty years. I can now put it to rest. The main reason I write today is to post this video of the entire 16 minutes of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was once titled “A Cancelled Check” during earlier drafts. If you watch this you may figure out why. I’ve also included a clip of Dr. Billy Taylor’s beautiful King tribute “His Name Was Martin” featuring  Dr. Taylor on the piano and the wonderful Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. And a fascinating piece by the great Max Roach, featuring his drum solo against some of the famous quotations from the speech.  I hope that you’ll enjoy that as well.

Until the next time, the struggle (and the jazz) continues…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: